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IP contact centers pose significant challenges

Careful planning is necessary to cross a minefield of issues

By , Network World
December 05, 2008 09:17 AM ET

Network World - IP contact centers are proliferating, but they still pose a set of potential gotchas that businesses need to beware of as they consider upgrading from the TDM world, experts say.

Hidden costs, personnel considerations and cripplingly complex integration are among possible pitfalls corporations face as they make the shift to more feature rich and flexible IP centers.

With more than half of all contact centers still based on TDM, the bulk of contact center executives still face tough decisions about how to successfully migrate from one technology to another, says Sheila McGee-Smith, president of McGee-Smith analytics. Here are some of the challenges they face:

•  Start with the basics: The underlying IP network might not be fit to support the contact center. "Voice quality is so much more important in contact centers," says Matthias Machowinski, an analyst with Infonetics. "It's the No.1 thing."

As a result, in general adoption of IP contact centers lags adoption of IP voice. "Businesses are reluctant because of reliability concerns and voice quality," he says.

So before deployment, a full network assessment is called for to gauge QoS and ensure the levels required to support professional grade quality to handle customer-facing calls.

It is essential to consider call quality for each type of agent based on location, because they will access the contact center over varying infrastructure. For instance, the call quality for an agent working from home depends not only on the corporate infrastructure, but the quality of the broadband service to the agent's home and even the agent's home network, Machowinski says.

Businesses should tap the in-house VoIP expertise that they may have developed for their non-contact center calling. This should be readily available because typically companies are willing to use VoIP on calls within the company but not to outside parties, McGee-Smith says. "They're willing to have IP on intra-company calls, but to take orders or support customer service they are more reluctant to use IP contact centers because of quality issues. Usually you're the last man standing," she says.

•  Sticking with your current call center vendor could reap big cost benefits, but maybe not. "Do I attempt to keep what applications I have as I migrate to IP or do I scuttle the whole thing and start again?" McGee-Smith says. "If you use the vendor you have, there are may be issues with upgrading."

For instance, a 7-year-old TDM contact center may be so different from a vendor's current IP offering that the disruption of the upgrade won't be any worse than installing a new vendor's gear, she says. "Is it more disruptive to switch vendors than it is to stay with the same one? My premise is it's not, really," she says. "It might be no more disruptive to start from scratch."

The flip side is that upgrading – even though it may amount to a rip-and-replace – may be had at a bargain price because the vendor wants to retain customers and will pay a premium. Vendors will readily offer 30% off the per-seat price, but that's not enough to clinch a deal. "If they offer 50% or even better, then you're making me pay attention. If not then it makes more sense to put my paper on the street with an RFP," she says.

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