Taking aim at the call center's costs, carbon footprint

Going 'virtual' helps in many ways

For today's contact centers, there's good and bad news when it comes to saving money and reducing carbon footprints, says Jeff Marshall, lead technical consultant at worldwide IT consultancy Dimension Data. On the one hand, they have moved to voice over IP (VoIP) and saved a lot of money by getting rid of all the old iron -- the old PBX -- that was in their closet. That's a step in the right direction.

"But now when management comes and says we need to increase efficiency, call center managers often say, 'I've already done that,'" Marshall says. These managers are not really resistant to change, they are just focused on whatever business metrics the center is measured on. Unfortunately, this often comes at the exclusion of cost savings and more substantial environmentally friendly methods.

But in fact, he says, call centers offer more opportunities for organizations to save money on operations, increase both call center agent retention and satisfaction, and decrease the organization's net carbon footprint by going "virtual." With VoIP and pervasive high-speed Internet connectivity, all the infrastructure is in place. Key ingredients for success include presence software and a willingness to maximize the benefits of remote and flexible working arrangements.

The result is a virtual call center space on the Internet that can support agents working from home or remote sites anywhere in the world that have high-speed Internet and can support VoIP. This results in faster, easier access to Tier 2 and 3 support from across the IT organization.

Presence and unified communications

Electronic presence technology and unified communications -- blending elements such as Cisco VoIP with Microsoft Communicator to show who is available and how best to contact that person -- are the key to this. "Using [collaboration software], when call center agents get a call, they can see on their screen that, for example, Jeff Marshall is available and how to best contact him -- via work phone, mobile phone, IM, e-mail and more," Marshall says.

Electronic presence allows the call center to substitute the high-speed Internet and a phone connection for physical commuting, which in itself reduces the carbon footprint of the organization in the larger sense, although generally commuting isn't included in an organization's carbon calculations.

Marshall says it has other advantages for the organization as well as the agents -- chief among them is greater retention of good agents.

According to Marshall, remote agents are generally happier with their jobs in part because they can work more flexible hours and, of course, don't have a significant part of their day taken up by sitting in traffic. Dimension Data's ninth annual Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report, a survey of contact centers around the globe, states that: "Pursuing such flexible and sophisticated schedules will attract a wider variety of potential staff members." Aberdeen Group reports "it was found that over 35% of [best-in-class] companies currently have seen a greater than 10% improvement in customer satisfaction upon implementation of remote agents."

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