Monique Bulthuis and Stefan Schaap

What are the most important points of interest regarding the IT-infrastructure when equipping a call centre? A lot of companies immediately start with setting up the hardware and software components. A more logical approach is initiating the equipping of a call centre from a business point of view. By doing so, one does not pass over some crucial questions and choices that form the basis of a call centre.

Atos Origin works in conformity with the ‘Consult – Build – Operate’ principle. This approach stresses the correlation between business and IT. This also includes the famous make-or-buy decision: do we want to keep our call centre activities ‘in-house’ or are we going to outsource? The market for outsourcing call centre activities is pretty mature. It can thus be a good choice to have an external party take care of the call centre activities. The business analyses gets closed with a set of requirements. This forms the starting point of equipping the call centre.

PABX versus VoIP
A specific choice, concerning technique, that needs to be made when equipping a call centre is the use of PABX (Private Automatic Branch eXchange) combined with ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) versus the use of VoIP.
A PABX is actually a switch that makes a connection between the public telephony system and the internal telephony system. VoIP uses the internet or another IP network to transport telephony. The choice for one of these two is connected with some other things. First of all the geographical spreading plays an important role. When using VoIP there is no quality loss due to big distances, something that can be the case when using PABX/ACD. Using PABX means having a (big) number of translation waves; every translation wave means loss of quality. When the call centre is only used within the boundaries of one country, this issue expires. The benefit of VoIP is that you can transfer it native.
Secondly the costs of VoIP can be much lower than those of PABX and ACD. If the call centre mainly has a regional function then PABX combined with ACD (about 20 agents) can suffice. For bigger call centres and an international scope the choice for VoIP is obvious. The call centre can be run more structured and speech can use the data network.

Hard versus Soft phones
A next hardware choice is the use of telephone or PC (respectively ‘hard phone’ and ‘soft phone’). Both alternatives require a headset. It is obvious that buying hard phones results in extra ‘out of pocket’ costs. Using PC’s (so soft phones) can cut costs since every PC has a sound card at its disposal.

Data management and back-up facilities
A call centre needs to store a significant amount of data that concern call processing. It goes without saying that it’s important to transfer these data to disc/tape regularly. Important questions are: for how long do the data need to be stored? What are the legal consequences of data storage? Redundancy is an important requirement for back-up facilities. You also create a so-called ‘Disaster Recovery Plan’ for the call centre. This plan describes the process and procedures that are necessary to guarantee the continuity of the critical IT-infrastructure in the case of incidents. The back-up facilities need to be physically separated so that divergence is possible in case of an incident.

The ‘buy’ decision plays an important role here. Apart from the possibility to buy all the software needed, it’s also possible to buy the software as a service. This process is known as SaaS (Software as a Service). The benefits of SaaS are that it asks for a low initial investment and that an organization needs a only a limited knowledge of software. But it is so that this creates a strong dependency on an external party (for instance for updates and new features). Because of the standard SaaS supply, organisations may have a hard time distinguishing themselves from the competition (this wish can stem from the business analysis with regard to the positioning of the organisation and the call centre).

CRM link
Integration of the call centre software with other corporate information systems is recommended. Especially integration of, if present, a CRM-system is very important. A link can lead to an agent being able to identify the caller, automatically select an agent with algorithms (on the basis of client data) and start, for instance, an automated voice service.

Reports provide insight in the performance (quantitative as well as qualitative) of call centre agents and make adjustment and a learning organization possible. These measurements can also be used to make a planning for the future. In order to receive good reports it’s necessary to have a tool that can perform measurements and analyses. Such ‘metrics & analysis’ tools are often part of the standard call centre software. But it’s important to check whether the tool can handle standard reports as well as client specific reports. Quantitative data that are necessary are, for instance, service level, acceptance percentage, handling time, first time fix and the number of sales. For qualitative data these are, amongst others, the quality of the agent’s conversations and the way the supporting systems are used.
Monique Bulthuis and Stefan Schaap − Atos Consulting (