Remote agents were never so possible than they are with IP.
Computer-telephony integration (CTI) applications form the basis for today’s modern call center, providing “screen pops” and other features that customer service reps (CSRs) now depend on to join the link between the information in the company applications and the customer. As powerful as CTI is, as a way to explain to the CSR who's calling and the reason why they might be calling, it never got deployed outside the giant call centers of the airline, financial services, high technology support and health care organizations. Here there really is an economy of scale that can justify the investment.
And investment it is. Classic Customer Relationship Management products are large and complex implementations and workflow customizations. Even in a small software company with ten sales reps that I had worked as VP of marketing in 2002 and 2003, the level of customization required to make the product fit our business (and of course, to train us in its use) was huge. Furthermore, to integrate the application with the PBX is non-trivial for most enterprises.
Usually, when I worked at Nortel Clarify (a Siebel competitor), the integration and workflow customization service by systems integrators cost 3X more than the software license.
That’s now changing. Many smaller companies that couldn’t afford CRM applications let alone invest in the integration with TDM PBXs are purchasing and deploying IP-based contact center packages with their new IP telephony systems. Small, aggressive software companies like RTI have developed quality, small business CRM and sales force automation packages. Salesforce.com is another example of outstanding value in a small implementation. Clearly, small, 8-20 user call centers are a large and growing market. And for larger operations, the potential benefits are even greater in an IP call center.
The application impact comes from what happens to employee retention, pay and agent satisfaction (and therefore user satisfaction) when all the tools required for the agent are available over IP. The application. The call control. The knowledge about on-hook/off-hook (telephony presence).
The widespread availability of the Internet, especially the broadband Internet changes these dynamics and drives the fundamentals for remote agents in healthcare, financial services and even phone company operator services. In these markets, the contact center agent is a highly skilled resource, as represented by the hours spent in training. However, if they can ply their trade from the comfort of their home, it is possible and likely that the agent will be willing to work longer shifts (no commute time), at night (no security issues) and work on instant requests to fill-in for peak loads such as seasonal or special event or even disaster recovery.
I think IP call centers will make call centers, call de-centers.