Voice, data converge in e-contact centres

Voice and data networks are converging. The Internet Protocol (IP) - a format for transmitting data between two devices - has become universally accepted. And the classic call centre is hard-pressed to handle today's e-business model. Together, these factors have led...

Voice and data networks are converging. The Internet Protocol (IP) – a format for transmitting data between two devices – has become universally accepted. And the classic call centre is hard-pressed to handle today’s e-business model. Together, these factors have led to the creation of a powerful new business application – the e-contact centre – with far-reaching implications for direct marketers.

Troy Gross, director of business market development for Cincinnati-based Cintech Tele-Management Systems, calls the e-contact centre – using an IP network as its foundation – ‘the quintessential business application’ capable of unleashing the full potential of converging voice and data networks.

The e-contact centre – essentially a software solution running on a server platform – enables a host of capabilities that are not feasible in today’s traditional voice applications, including the use of multimedia, the integration of the system with various existing networks, and the ability to spread the system out among different locations.

Cintech, together with IBM, markets an IP-based e-contact centre product called NetVIA that unifies voice, e-mail and Web customer-contact processes.

‘That’s the value proposition,’ says Gross. ‘You used to require three or four separate applications and they weren’t integrated. With e-contact centre technology, you can leverage your company’s investment in its existing phone network. IP data can travel over ATM (asynchronous transfer mode), ethernet, frame relay, cable modem or other technologies, so the application is indifferent to the transport technology deployed.’

And those are just the technical considerations. The system also consolidates management information, says Gross, tracking all activity whether voice, e-mail or Web. ‘This provides an enterprise with the statistics and trends necessary to manage a virtual e-contact centre and drive an e-business strategy.’

As their initial focus, IBM and Cintech plan to offer telecommunication service providers, such as Bell Canada and AT&T Canada, solutions and services designed to meet the needs of small and medium-sized businesses with multiple branch or departmental environments. Neither IBM nor Cintech sells its e-contact solutions to marketers or other businesses directly.

‘We look at a company’s data network,’ explains Gross. ‘They may need more or bigger bandwidth, especially for their Web site, or if they are doing e-commerce. IBM’s Global Services does an assessment and we take a look at their phone system.’ The next part of the job, says Gross, is converting the phone system from analogue to digital.

When that happens – that is, when an IP-based network is used for data transport and connectivity – physical boundaries are eliminated, and the business can be connected in a logically consolidated manner.

This has two distinct benefits, says Gross: ‘First, resources throughout the enterprise can be joined in a virtual community to deliver consistently superior levels of services,’ he says. ‘Small to mid-size business entities, such as departments, remote offices and even individual at-home workers, can participate in the e-contact centre with ease and speed.’

And second, continues Gross, is the enabling of remote management of e-contact centre resources.

‘It is now feasible and cost-effective across the enterprise,’ he says. ‘Consolidated management information and performance statistics can be accessed in real-time, and configuration changes can be made remotely, resulting in a significant reduction in the total cost of ownership.’

The transition to an e-contact centre from a traditional voice-based system can obviously be done, but Drew Kraus, a senior analyst with IT consulting firm Dataquest in San Jose, Calif., says many companies may require outside assistance and expertise.

‘We believe that businesses will look to leverage their existing investments in their voice and telephony networks by enhancing them with IP functionality,’ Kraus says in a report prepared for Cintech. ‘Further, we expect that many small and medium-size companies will look to their existing vendors, primarily the carriers, to address their evolving contact centre needs. Comprehensive solutions encompassing the necessary services, applications, transport and connectivity, while allowing an evolutionary – not revolutionary – approach are likely to be enticing to many organizations.’

Marketers can benefit from an e-contact centre in a number of ways. The primary benefit is spelled out by Cambridge, Mass.-based consultant Forrester Research. In 1997, according to Forrester, 97% of all business-customer interactions took place over the phone. By last year, that number dropped to around 60%, based on preliminary findings. And by 2003, voice is projected to account for only five per cent of customer contact, with e-mail and the Web taking up the slack. An e-contact centre gives marketers the tools to be ahead of these trends, simultaneously serving existing customers while attracting new ones.

With the trend to decentralization we’ve seen in the past decade, it’s becoming the norm to have employees located in different buildings – or even different cities, provinces or countries. An e-contact centre supports a virtual environment, allowing customer contacts to be distributed to individuals regardless of where they are located. This can allow many more employees to be included in the customer contact process. And because the IP network is the backbone, information about contact activity can be shared across the network in real-time.

Ultimately, as traditional marketers evolve into ‘e-businesses,’ the requirement for real-time intelligence and analysis increases. With business now being done on a 24-hour-a-day basis, seven days a week, marketers can’t wait days or weeks for information about these interactions.

‘An e-contact centre contributes to a company’s knowledge in two ways,’ says Gross. ‘It creates its own management information database that tracks details of all contact activity. It’s available to managers who are part of the system.

‘And second, the database is available for integration into the enterprise’s front- and back-office systems, adding critical new data for understanding how customers are entering the business and interacting with it.’

Also in this report:

- Virtual call centres a reality: New developments in ACD technology mean that any workstation can support a call centre agent p.D14

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.

The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.