The rules of engagement

Contact centre networks are similar to enterprise deployments, but far from being the same. NME presents ten questions that IT managers should ask themselves and vendors when considering a contact centre network.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  November 14, 2007

Contact centre networks are similar to enterprise deployments, but far from being the same. NME presents ten questions that IT managers should ask themselves and vendors when considering a contact centre network.

How are contact centre networks different from any normal organisational network? What are the necessary infrastructure elements that I should be considering when building a contact centre network?

There are those who believe that a contact centre network is just the same as an organisational network and there are others who believe that the former requires a set of considerations and management that is more stable than any internal company network.

"The contact centre requires more focus and is generally a much more sensitive ecosystem than that of the office worker. If the office worker looses his e-mail for 10 minutes it is considered acceptable, but when customer calls are not being adhered to, dollars start to flow out of the window very quickly," says Neville Perry, converged applications manager for MENA at Avaya.

Wael Abdulal, sales business development manager at Cisco agrees with the premise adding that a call centre network also differs architecturally from any internal network since it would require more services on the network rather than just a composition of boxes.

"There are a lot more users and connections to a call centre and therefore, more possible complications. You have to understand the peak that your call centre is likely to receive and build your network to handle that peak and not what you get every day. If your link fails at your peak and you cannot redirect calls, your customers will suffer," warns Abdulal.

A contact centre network, therefore, has to be built to ensure that it is robust, scaleable and reliable. Additionally, it has to be built keeping in mind that the modern call centre of today handles not just voice calls but enquiries through different media including the web, e-mail, SMS, chat and even video.

"The enterprise will need to ensure voice-class availability, high performance connectivity and comprehensive security providing defence-in-depth," says Majdi Babaa, technical manager in the region at Extreme Networks.

NME recommends: Your contact centre network has to have a higher availability than your internal enterprise network. But take into consideration how important the contact centre is to your functioning and your business. The more critical the function, the more crucial that you ensure a continuous line and a robust network. If it is not critical, then it is a waste of time and resource to ensure 99.999 availability.

What should I watch out for when choosing vendors for the centre's network?

"Be careful to not get bound to a single vendor that does not support across the board open standards. This will bind you to them and not allow you to interoperate the components that you decide will work best on all playing fields," says Perry.

"It is crucial to understand the actual deployment strategy in terms of local support, whether directly from the vendor or via channel partners, proper RoI calculation and the user friendliness of the system," advices Hisham El-Amili, GM for the GCC at Mitel.

Abdulal states that it is important to consider the vendor's defence techniques across the different media that the centre might use for its agents to interact with the organisation's customers.

"And plan, plan, plan. I believe it is much more important to spend time planning for the network. If you plan enough and well, then the implementation becomes easy," he adds.

NME recommends: Do your market research and do not hesitate to ask vendors to substantiate their tall claims at each opportunity. Ask for a beta or a pilot, irrespective of whether the implementation is small or big. If you believe you do not have the internal expertise to evaluate vendors, then do not hesitate to involve consultants. It would be adviseable to call on third party consultants and not the ones that work along with specific vendors.

How do I build the topology of a network where I want to connect multiple contact centres?

"It is very important for enterprises with multiple call centres to have a proper failover strategy and these do require special skill sets. Cisco is open to working with multiple vendors and their products, but a Cisco product talking to another Cisco product is different; they can understand each other's functionalities and leverage them. It is not a major difference but there are certain minor differences," says Abdulal.

He also states that it is important to ensure that the design of the multiple centres is done well initially and all elements of the call centres are taken into consideration while setting up the network.

Perry agrees adding, "Some customers want a 20 seat contact centre with a disaster recovery 10 km away, where as another may want 500 seats split over 3 sites over two countries. These design aspects require comprehensive input from the vendor to ensure that once the systems need to scale the infrastructure is ready."

NME recommends: First, take the time to decide whether you really need multiple call centres and if your load justifies such a huge investment. Once that decision is made, choose intelligent network components, like routers and switches, that can be controlled to ensure that resources at each centre can be used optimally.

What is the best way to ensure effective load balancing between end node agents?

"This depends on scale, location (including VoIP regulation), redundancy, campaigns and target customers required. The most typical ways include cost, QoS and location of agents," says Avaya's Perry.

Abdulal states that Cisco has a unique solution for load balancing for contact centres where an intelligent router becomes a part of the centre and can do tasks such as announcements and even IVRs. This helps cut costs for the enterprise by ensuring that calls can be kept within certain geographies without the need to re-route to another call centre unless specifically needed.

NME recommends: Prepare yourself for a barrage of marketing spiel when you ask this question of vendors. None of them will hesitate to push their products and at the end of day, it might be a question of testing these products in your situation before making the decision.

What are the systems/technology that I should have in place in order to avoid dropped contacts?

"Avoiding dropped contacts is all about meeting customer expectation at all levels, even when not being able to meet the communication with a "live" person in real-time. End-users are well aware that they may not get through to a "live" person directly, but their minimum expectation is to be informed as to their waiting time and also be presented with sensible alternatives," says El-Amili.

Perry urges a robust reporting system that will allow supervisors to immediately view any exceptions in the system, e.g. dropped calls ratio and trigger alerts to the network monitoring system that will allow necessary actions.

Abdulal stresses the need to make any contact centre redundant in every piece of equipment that is used by it in order to be prepared and handle any exigency.

NME recommends: Dropped contacts are just one aspect of things that can go wrong in a contact centre - and one that goes wrong regularly. The answer lies not in the purchase and use of technology elements, but the way you architect, design and plan the network of the contact centre. Systems and hardware can always fail and it is up to prior planning to make sure that the failure does not halt the functioning of your centre.

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