Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) has recently become more common in corporations large and small. By combining separate voice and data transmissions onto the same line, this new communications option enables companies to lower their telecommunications costs and, after taking advantage of the savings, companies are looking to extend VoIP’s benefits.
“Now that many companies have put VoIP infrastructures in place, some are looking at ways to leverage their investments and gain a competitive advantage,” said Rich Costello, research director at market research firm Gartner.
In fact, a number of companies are looking to extend their customer relationship management deployments to more locations. Also, once this new voice infrastructure is in place, enterprises are able to deploy more sophisticated applications, ones featuring items, such as intelligent dialer systems, support for interactive live chat support and unified communications.
Yet, most installations have started simply. “The main attraction for most of the companies that have installed VoIP is reduced telecommunications costs,” Costello told CRM Buyer. With VoIP, firms can consolidate autonomous voice and data networks, a change that saves them money. The savings come from the communications lines themselves, one high speed line is needed for all communications rather than separate ones, as well as less expensive network equipment.
VoIP switches tend to be less costly and easier to maintain than traditional voice devices, such as PBXs (Private Branch eXchanges) and ACDs (automated call dialers).
The lower prices deliver many ancillary benefits. With the introduction of lower-cost-per-port speech engines and new competitively priced servers, the price of providing CRM applications goes down — sometimes quite dramatically. “With VoIP, companies can justify installing CRM systems for smaller workgroups and in more remote locations,” said Denis Pombriant, a principal with Beagle Research.
These newfound abilities have also spurred adoption of the outsourcing of CRM functions. “Because companies have more flexibility in where their call centers can be located and how they answer customer calls, many are using VoIP to help with outsourcing their call centers,” said Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group.
Also with new VoIP switches, companies do not have to rely on traditional dialers. In many cases, traditional hardware-based ACDs are being replaced with VoIP switches because the former is expensive, costing in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase, and difficult to upgrade, integrate and support.
A More Efficient Call Center
The new VoIP platforms offer appealing features, such as a quick connect function. This feature helps to reduce abandon rates by connecting the call with the agent prior to connecting with the customer, thus eliminating the lengthy pauses associated with dialer-generated calls that many customers associate with incoming sales calls.
Another function that many VoIP switches support is automatic recording, so a company can capture 100 percent of its calls. Consequently, calls can be automatically tagged and categorized for use to either streamline business actions or resolve disputes.
Companies can also automate many of their internal processes, and use the customer intelligence captured to refine and enhance its customer service and sales initiatives. Contact center agents can be trained via best practice interactions, which are captured and later organized via the VoIP recording component. As a result, improvements in contact center service quality and frontline supervisor productivity become more possible.
Solving disputes becomes simpler. A customer may say that they ordered seven items but the order taken indicates four. Since a record of the order has been kept, a company can check to see if a mistake occurred and then take steps to prevent it in the future.
Next Generation Applications Emerge
Enterprises are just beginning to examine which new applications they can run on their new VoIP platforms. Interactive chat has become more common in companies and VoIP makes it simpler to connect a voice user to this data application. “Companies can now be proactive and ask customers if they need help when they see that they may be having trouble navigating through a Web page,” Beagle Research’s Pombriant told CRM Buyer.
Corporations are also looking to move beyond VoIP to use video on their enterprise networks. “Video can offer some compelling advantages with call center interactions,” The 56 Group’s Greenberg told CRM Buyer.
Another new application is unified communications, where a speech engine is one of many elements (e-mail, instant messaging, PDA) designed to access data. Microsoft’s Office Communications 2007 Server features VoIP, video, instant messaging, conferencing and presence features that will be bundled within Microsoft’s CRM products as well as its Office and ERP (enterprise resource planning) software.
Cutting Costs and Raising Productivity
The potential benefits that unified communications offers include improved productivity and lower operating costs. Employees will be able to respond to messages instantly regardless of where they originate; businesses will be able to cut their communications cost because they will rely on fewer components.
Unified communications meshes well with the growing variety of user inputting devices. “There has been a growing emphasis on mobility and being able to communicate with users who may be working with devices, such as PDAs,” noted Gartner’s Costello.
While there has a great deal of progress with using VoIP in the call center, there are still a few barriers to adoption. Many companies do not have the infrastructure to support the new devices. In many cases, CRM hardware is a long-term investment, one spanning several years, so companies may have to wait months or even years before being able to re-examine their infrastructure.
Yet, those shortcomings are viewed as short-term issues. Many companies are now using VoIP to enhance their CRM deployment and many more will be joining them during the new year.