The challenges of the contact centre are growing and customers are quite rightly demanding more from their inbound services. The landscape has changed with the advent of IP-based telephony which has allowed the development of many new advanced applications that will support this renaissance.
The contact centre is often the gateway into the housing provider and is the first experience a customer has when contacting the company either for information, to report repairs or make a complaint. Either way, an opinion is formed almost immediately when initial contact is made. So why do so many companies not put more emphasis on designing contact centres correctly or using technologies that can change how housing providers interact with their tenants?
Changes are also taking place in how and where contact centres are being deployed. This is partly owing to housing organisations needing to reduce costs and partly due to technologies growing stronger and more cost effective. Some housing providers are investigating the cloud as the means to deliver this service while others are forming shared services partnerships to take advantage of savings and efficiencies not possible by themselves.
At the same time, customers’ expectations continue to grow. Not only are social housing organisations seeking more for less but so too are customers, particularly around mobile services, making an enormous difference to how landlords and their customers communicate in the future.
New technologies and new ways of creating customer contacts will inevitably become the norm, with social networking and video being used to enhance and add to the customer experience but much can be done with traditional IP-based technologies that can improve operations and customer service. Before we explore the features that can be employed to improve the performance of contact centres, it is important to identify some of the main constraints and challenges facing many organisations in the sector:
- Compliance – senior managers need to be aware of the regulatory requirements demanded by the governing bodies;
- Complaints – handling complaints properly is a key part of efficient housing operations;
- Reporting – it is essential to be able to report on statistics relevant to the operation of the business such as agent performance and cradle-to-grave call routing;
- Recording – all calls must be recorded to comply with regulatory policies;
- Training – it is imperative that staff can use these systems and make use of features that will improve company performance.
There are many features that can address the points above; some of the more salient ones are:
1. Improve customer service
A system must be designed to improve the way individuals work and offer housing providers levels of professionalism and customer service not previously available.
Using advanced ‘presence’ technology and automated call routing, customers can reach their primary contact or be routed automatically to the best alternative. For example, a customer wants to speak to their preferred contact regarding a maintenance query or a complex billing issue – they call the preferred contact on their desk phone but the contact is out of the office. With a traditional system, the call would end up in voicemail but more advanced systems will route the call directly to the user’s preferred device which might be a mobile or DECT phone or routed to an alternative contact that would be best placed to handle the call, enabling the customer to discuss the query with the correct contact on a first-call, first-time basis.
2. Reduce operational costs, system scalability and home working
An advanced IP contact centre should deliver a swift return on investment. This can be leveraged further by using centralised SIP trunk deployments, with the option of also letting the service provider provision local SIP trunks at each remote site. This allows the client to remove all complex hardware from remote sites, collapse the technology into central data centres and, where appropriate, aggregate all telephony traffic into a central resilient infrastructure.
Today’s IP contact centres should not only be able to handle inbound audio calls but also support hot desking, home working, team working, remote contact centre agents, audio conferencing, video conferencing and virtual networks. This gives housing providers the ability to look at the actual workspace requirements of staff and to maximise the efficient use of buildings, with some projects achieving savings of up to 25 per cent in office space.
3. Improve internal communications, ease of use & staff productivity
Some advanced IP contact centre applications such as IPFX will integrate direct with the most popular and frequently-used communication applications such as Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes. This creates a seamless user experience and reduces training costs as users and agents are already familiar with the interface.
Systems that employ integrated presence features should provide benefits such as the ability to transfer internal calls easily, view the availability of other staff and transfer calls to external staff and contractors, all of which help to encourage corporate-wide use of presence, leading to better communications and higher staff productivity.
4. Business continuity
This is one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of any contact centre system, yet without business continuity most housing providers couldn’t continue their business. Resilience should be considered as a given within any modern IP telephony platform and structured system designs should not only include this but it should be regularly tested. Many housing providers are using cloud-based platforms to provide this business continuity so that no customer call is ever lost, whether the outage is trivial, such as the loss of an individual handset, or more serious such as a fire destroying an entire site.
IP contact centre technology is developing rapidly and offers many useful features to housing providers, particularly when there is close integration with Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes, as long as it is used to address specific challenges.
Ian Warburton is the technical and operations director at ConvergeOne.