Friday, August 26, 2005

SIP: The Telephony Community Hits an Inflection Point

Session Initiation Protocol or SIP is an exciting technology that promises to revolutionize the telephony industry as we know it. SIP is an industry standard for the connecting of IP endpoints. In plain English, this means SIP is a standardized method of connecting phones together, connecting phones to IVR ports, connecting phones to voice mail systems and connecting wired and wireless devices together. In short, SIP is the beginning of the end of limitations imposed by proprietary PBXs and their expensive support contracts.

In their place, SIP offers a business model of replaceable parts in which customers can choose their vendors based on service, competitive pricing and capacities without a concern for being locked into a single vendor solution.

The SIP model is producing an inflection point that parallels that which occurred in the Local Area Network (LAN) marketplace 20 years ago with the development of a single-chip Ethernet controller. This development drove the price of network adapters down to less than $100. Almost overnight, the data world lost interest in any connectivity standard other than Ethernet. Even token ring technology quickly became viewed as proprietary rather than an industry standard. The cost-to-performance ratio of Ethernet commoditized data connections and rendered almost a dozen other “standards” obsolete. SIP is the “Ethernet chipset” of the telephony world.

As with all inflection points, new and exciting business opportunities are a primary byproduct. In the telephony industry, the focus of consumers and technology provides will shift to applications and away from proprietary hardware.

Applications like the intelligent routing of all forms of communication will quickly become a necessity. As computers and phones overlap further and further, tools will be needed to allow phone users to filter, control and re-route incoming and outgoing communication to suit their immediate circumstances.

Spreading the cost of applications such as intelligent routing and silicon assistants across the hundreds or thousands of users in an enterprise means everyone can regain control of their lives without having to shut down the very devices that keep them connected; all at a cost that makes the ROI very reasonable.

These types of applications will provide a “communication umbrella” which will oversee the flow of all forms of communication; applying personal “interruption rules” to each device. Today, the only real way to filter incoming interruptions is a binary method; turn the device on for interruptions an off for peace and quiet. Tomorrow, consumers will have tools available to them which put them in complete control of who reaches them when and where without having to resort to turning the devices off.

Communication umbrellas are an ideal software subscription business for the carrier market looking to boost revenue through add-on products and services. Homeowners, small business owners and enterprise users looking to try out new technology before committing to a large scale deployment are all potential customers. Imagine controlling who goes straight to voice mail, who gets forwarded to your mobile phone and whose call launches a series of calls in order to find you wherever you are. This same technology also provides voice-controlled changes to the rules, is tied in with your calendar, can place calls on your behalf through voice commands, can conference callers based on voice commands and can read your e-mail to you. When all the communicating devices are easily connected, applications such as this are no longer a pipedream as the inhibiting integration nightmare is no longer part of the equation.

SIP is the long awaited catalyst that is unleashing the application community to revolutionize the methods by which we communicate with one another. Its impact is that basic and that profound.

If you would like help understanding the impact SIP could have on your business, please call me regarding available consulting services: 602-492-1088

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Business of Call Center Reporting

The results of a recent call center survey, “Merchants Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report 2005“ proves what many have suspected for years; our patience is wearing thin. Dimension Data’s recent report clearly highlights that more and more of us are choosing to hang up rather than wait for an agent to take our calls. For the third year in a row, the rate of abandoned calls has reached a new high: 13.3% of all calls placed never reach an agent. Appears agents are not being added to keep up with the increasing volume of calls.

Not surprising when you consider that at the same time, almost half of the call centers surveyed report that cost savings is a major focus of management. Seems that in the battle for cost savings versus service quality, cost savings is winning. Perhaps this singular focus on cost savings within the call center is simply a logical outcome of the data provided to the managers upon which decision are based.

Take a look at the content in the ACD reports supplied to the managers of a call center. In them will be found numbers indicating peaks, valleys, totals and averages for things like speed of answer, call arrival rates, talk times, abandon rates and hours worked; all valuable data that illustrates how efficient the call center staff is at taking and completing calls. Also included in these reports are figures indicating the cost of the staffing the call center for the reporting period.

While these reports are great for the managers overseeing the work of the agents, from a business perspective, these reports provide a very myopic view of the outcome of the work performed. An ACD report in the hands of a P & L owner represents a guide to where a lot of money is being spent. In other words, the call center represents a very big “L”. When a P & L owner is being asked to find ways of reducing costs and the ACD report appears, is it any wonder that reducing the number of agents appears to be a great way to achieve the goal with a minimum of impact. When you realize that 60-70% of the cost of operating a call center is personnel related, reducing staff is an easy solution. It’s also the worst when made based on ACD data alone.

The better decision starts with the call center implementing reporting tools that capture effectiveness data alongside the efficiency data. Effectiveness data measures the outcome of each call; was anything sold, how much, to whom, based on what incentive, is the problem resolved. These types of data points mapped against the individual agents can provide terrific insights into the customer base as well as the real agent skills. Effectiveness data allows the business to measure the impact of changes in service against changes in customer behavior.

Effectiveness reporting requires a system through which the raw data can be captured, stored and indexed as well as a system through which the data can be analyzed. Unfortunately, current ACD systems are not equipped to capture the necessary data elements much less analyze the captured data.

Not to worry. Today, there are software solutions from a handful of vendors that can provide true effectiveness reporting. These solutions capture the necessary data to highlight relationships between service delivery changes and customer behavior changes.

The results of implementing effectiveness reporting can be profound. Which customers are receptive to up-sell and cross-sell offerings? Which customers will increase their purchase if the agent spends a couple of extra minutes describing add-on extras? Which agents are better able to sell to which segment of the customer base? Which customers are willing to accept help from an agent when having trouble with a self-service system like an IVR or web site?

When effectiveness reporting is combined with traditional efficiency reporting, the business then has the information it needs to make truly intelligent business decisions.