Accomplishing Call Center Transformation with Unified Communications Softphones


The contact center industry is seeing a growing need to improve operational efficiencies, enable increased flexibility and agent versatility, and deliver vastly enhanced customer experiences. As such, contact center execs are asking themselves, “Can we meet these goals with the communications solution we already have in place?”

Moving to the Cloud—When, Not If

With the now established maturity and reliability of cloud-based contact center solutions, organizations have a choice between finding ways to innovate using their legacy assets or to shift to the cloud. The latter option is proving increasingly popular in the shape of major providers like inContact and Five9 developing proven cloud-based propositions. For many organizations, the move to a cloud-based contact center solution is like pushing on an open door—it’s aligned with their broader strategic cloud migrations of IT infrastructure and processes, extends their emergent OpEx-based cost models, and offers the promise of effortless future roadmap upgrades. What’s more, if you’re a small to medium-sized contact center, going the cloud route levels the competitive playing field by giving you access to out-of-the-box features one would otherwise associate with only the biggest players.

Among the other perceived benefits for those that make the shift, or are “born in the cloud,” is the ability to harness the power and flexibility of unified communications (UC) softphones to deliver greater productivity, streamlined workflow integration and a high and consistent level of agent and customer experience. And while this is true, the same can also be said for those still priming their migration strategies. In other words, it’s possible to leverage UC softphone capability to work with the infrastructure you have today and adapt as you plan for the contact center of the future.

Therefore, the question contact center execs should really be asking is how they can extend the value of their legacy systems and reach their goals by incorporating some of the latest advances in UC tools.

First, let’s examine the context for these goals in terms of key trends, market drivers and challenges in the contact center industry.

Development of Artificial Intelligence for Enhancing Human Agent Performance

While the cloud is very much yesterday’s “emerging” contact center technology, today’s takes the form of artificial intelligence (AI) and its nascent impact on customer experience. For sure, AI has applications in call routing that short-circuit the often time-consuming process of manually developing complex algorithms. Beyond that, we are still several years away from seeing customer-facing AI agents that successfully achieve the levels of interaction that humans currently can. The delta is in using AI to enhance human productivity; making human agents better at their jobs by, for example, proposing responses and next steps that accelerate decision making. AI systems do this by tracking vast amounts of real-time data as well as knowledge management databases. This complements the benefits of UC tools that equip agents with seamless communications among their teams, enabling them to make best use of knowledge that is not documented.

Growing Appetite for Dynamic Work Styles and Distributed Agent Teams

Enabling human agents is a perennial challenge in the contact center industry, particularly in terms of supporting the need for remote working without compromising productivity. Not only do contact centers need to counteract the threat of staff churn by facilitating flexible working preferences, but many actively pursue a policy of “virtual” or distributed contact center operations—a far cry from the traditional, static “four-walls” approach—to minimize facility overhead. Whatever the catalyst, working practices are becoming more dynamic, and UC softphones are increasingly valuable when transforming or building a strategic, secure workforce—whether in a single location, multiple satellite offices or with work-from-home agents—with real-time messaging and collaboration tools enabling agents to be reached regardless of location.

Agents and callers can interact in exactly the same way they would from a traditional office. The use of UC tools ensures that key performance indicators (KPIs) can be achieved in the most secure and productive way possible.

Minimizing IT Admin Overheads Amid Rising Tech Complexity

The other major issue with a more dynamic agent workforce is IT administration. Having a single office location makes it easy to ensure agents are using the right systems and updating them as per the required cycle, and for leavers to be removed with their login credentials revoked. A remote user base changes all that, and organizations have responded with a variety of architectural models including Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) policies, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions and simply issuing employees with preloaded Chromebooks locked down to a limited set of applications.

The challenge with all of these is to provide agents with access to the company’s contact center and call delivery system on an elastic demand basis, without having to make significant changes to the infrastructure environment. The beauty of a full-featured, customizable UC softphone in this context is the fact that it exists as a flexibly deployable application for any client endpoint. Agents can simply log in with a username and password, and the applicable calling accounts and settings are ready for them to use. IT and administration staff can easily and efficiently distribute, configure and centrally manage the UC application from the cloud, which makes it simple to roll out and scale up across multiple locations.

Greater Use of Customer/Agent Collaboration in Contact Center Workflows

We are also seeing a greater appetite for using collaboration in customer engagements, with top brands developing new ways of enhancing the communications experience during critical, high-value interactions. Screen-sharing and video-calling capabilities are increasingly common. Businesses introducing them certainly need to consider the new implications on workflow and process, but the technical constraints have been removed, with the right technology. A great example of this is the TurboTax Live service, where Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are on hand to go through your tax return with you via video conference. Such innovations effectively transform support-driven contact centers into premium revenue generators, but as such capabilities become normalized, we will likely see them offered as part of a standard customer service approach before much longer.

Apple’s latest drive to enhance agent/customer collaboration is even more pervasive—callers who need iPhone support can grant the agent access to view the phone screen and talk through necessary changes to settings. This is an exciting example of how contact centers are being taken in a whole new value-added direction through innovation.

Managing Adoption of New UC Capabilities in the Contact Center

The principal business cases for integrating new UC technologies into the contact center are cost efficiency and value creation. Each relates to adoption models in similar ways.

Organizations seeking cost reduction and enhanced productivity can expect to significantly boost the operational capacity of their contact centers through UC tools. As explained above, UC can support the “virtualization” of the traditional office-based contact center by rendering agent location irrelevant to their performance. Less office space and fewer IT hardware assets benefit the bottom line, especially when the UC implementation is able to leverage existing infrastructure. And, as the business inevitably moves to the cloud, it can plan a timescale of its own choosing while addressing the call center needs of the future.

The value creation business case is more focused on driving better customer experience and interaction capability to transform the strategic position of the contact center. Greater brand reputation, new revenue streams and enhanced service delivery all come under this banner, supported by the kinds of UC-powered innovation described above that leverage new forms of collaboration and agent-enablement. The adoption models here include use of legacy infrastructure, which necessarily demands a solution flexible enough to integrate with existing platforms and workflows. Alternatively, the business may elect to jump to a cloud-based deployment, or engage a classic contact center vendor to design and build a new solution from the ground up.

Embrace Your Transformation at Your Speed

The contact center industry continues to undergo major transformations, including the evolution of the customer experience and the structural reshaping of physical contact centers into virtual teams. All are fundamentally underpinned by advances in UC tools.

The wider market context for executing your own transformation is where you stand on cloud adoption. Ultimately, you need to implement UC technologies flexible enough to integrate with your current infrastructure as you transition to the next.

Todd Carothers brings over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, product management and business development to CounterPath Corporation. As Chief Revenue Officer, Todd is responsible for CounterPath’s sales, marketing and product management organizations. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from California State University, Chico with a minor in computer technology.