Remote agents: the challenges of virtual and distributed contact centers.

Author:Kim, John
 
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With the growing trend of agents working from home and the consolidation of several disparate locations managed as one "virtual" enterprise, the technical challenges of setting up and maintaining such a contact center model can become overwhelming over time. Fortunately, many of these potential pitfalls can be avoided with proper planning and due diligence before the virtual contact center's launch. Now is the time to become familiar with some of the benefits of going "virtual"--technology and connectivity options for remote contact centers and agents, elements of PSTN versus VoIP for agent connectivity and security issues with both technology and agent management.

Benefits Of Going Virtual

Much has been written about the benefits of virtual agents and distributed contact centers, and the pros and cons of this model are well reported. To summarize the various findings, there is validation on many fronts about the real cost benefits of centralized management for multiple location enterprises, service and productivity levels of the workforce, as well as reducing overhead operating costs. In addition, there are other benefits seen with distributed workforces, such as improved security and reduced agent turnover.

Technology Platform Options

Fortunately for contact centers, there are a variety of options for those who are migrating to a distributed or virtual way of doing business. De-pending upon budgetary requirements, one can decide to subscribe to a hosted service (often called an ASP) or purchase a premise-based system.

Hosted systems allow annuity-based payments for a contact center infrastructure and do not require any hardware or software. Maintenance of hardware is typically conducted by the hosted vendor ASP (application service provider), and many now provide round-the-clock support, which is especially critical for inbound and help desk contact centers as well as outsourcers. There are two types of contact center ASPs emerging: those that offer their services over the PSTN and those that offer them via VoIP.

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While ideal for virtual agents and multi-location centers, the ASP model does place a contact center's information outside of the firewall and at the premises of the vendor; therefore, due diligence on the security of the ASP platform must be done. It is interesting to note, however, that there are some IT managers who refuse to employ a hosted system out of fear of putting their sensitive data outside of their premises. Yet many of the largest financial institutions have been doing it for years, safely and securely, using services from companies such as ADP. The truth is, a hosted ASP can offer better security mechanisms than many small and medium-sized businesses can afford or want to afford--only if the network planning and set-up is done correctly.

For premise-based systems, many vendors now offer a migration path to a VoIP platform on their current PSTN-based systems. Other vendors have built VoIP systems from the ground up, and these systems can, like hosted products, offer excellent support for virtual agents and distributed centers. Although the...

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