Toll-free calls and much more
Nagendra Kumar, Program Manager at Solution Engineering, Contact Center Business Unit , Cisco
IP has become the standard for new unified communications deployments today, and organizations having older TDM equipment and networks are migrating to IP at a very rapid rate. This convergence on IP has also brought significant changes in customer care.
Customer contact is no longer restricted just to 'call centers' and can now occur across the entire IP services landscape. Self-service applications play a vital role within such a framework, and allow organizations to harness the power of IP to provide speech- and video-enabled self-service in ways not possible before. This includes deployments that are simply 'services' in the network
The classic approach
Classic deployment models for enterprise self-service systems include interactive-voice-response (IVR) ports in one or more data centers. Typically, a caller seeking customer care dials a toll-free number and the call is routed through the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to a self-service system in the data centre. The caller then performs some amount of self-service and either hangs up (hopefully satisfied with the self-service) or is routed to live assistance.
Interestingly, this classic self-service data-center deployment model is not tied solely to TDM architectures and is often used on IP networks. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this scenario and it works especially well in cases where the self-service system is located with or near live assistance at a contact centre.
However, this model begins to break down in scenarios where subsequent live assistance may be required at multiple, distributed sites such as retail store locations, branch offices, or dispersed automatic call distributors (ACDs). In such cases it makes no sense for callers to be routed to a distant self-service system and be subsequently routed back to a local branch office or to a different ACD site.
One way to address the problem of inefficient routing is placing a traditional IVR self-service system at each branch-office location or ACD site. Doing that, however, introduces significant expenses and new challenges of maintaining and updating the self-service applications at all the sites (which may number in the hundreds or thousands).
Alternatively deploying self-service in the IP network offers a better way to provide improved customer care, while also saving costs. Specifically, self-service can be delivered through browsers deployed at many locations, under the central control of one or more application servers located in a data centre (or at any convenient site). The browsers do not necessarily introduce added expense to the solution because they take advantage of existing voice gateways that in many cases are already present in the network.
Such solutions help to deliver intelligent, personalized self-service over the phone and enables customers to efficiently and enjoyably retrieve the information they need from the contact centre. They also help customers use touchtone signals or their own voice to request self-service information. If customers request live agent assistance the call can be placed in queue until an appropriate agent is available.
Information given by the customer can be transferred directly to the agent, along with the call, to provide a seamless customer service experience. These solutions can additionally support video interactions, including self-service, queuing and agents, across mobile devices and kiosks.
Many businesses and organizations are already enjoying the advantages of introducing self-service on the network. A US nationwide retailer with more than 400 local stores deployed a network self-service solution and reported a significant increase in customer satisfaction.
Customers had to call only one number (of their local store), could easily speak to someone there if necessary after self-service, and have their questions answered more quickly.
This is because their call could be routed to another branch office or to a national contact center to keep hold times down and provide specialized assistance.
The retailer now enjoys higher customer retention and has lower operating expenses because of reduced telephony carrier routing costs. Examples like the above indicate that speech- and video-enabled self-services that use a network-based model enable the delivery of cost-effective solutions to businesses that want to improve customer care. Given its inherent flexibility and efficiency, network-based self-service can also be deployed to benefit other deployment models, with or without a formal contact centre.