Video revolutionizing call centre customer service, says Avaya exec

Everyone’s had a bad experience with looking for help on the phone – navigating through confusing automated systems, being asked detailed questions about the product you’re having trouble with, being put on hold for what seems like an eternity.

Markham, Ont.-based Avaya Canada Inc. says it strives to make that experience somewhat less frustrating for their customers.

Its IP communications infrastructure – the company says – is also designed to support a more-connected call centre model.

Avaya’s technology enables distributed call centres and multiple communications’ methods with customers and within the company.

It’s been adopted by Bell Canada Enterprises as Avaya’s largest partner, allowing Bell to design, sell, and service IP products based on Avaya technology.

Avaya has been awarded for its services and is used by nine out of 10 Fortune 500 companies.

Recently, at the IT 360 expo in Toronto, Avaya’s applications sales director Amir Hameed sat down for some Q&A with reporter Brian Jackson.

Here’s what he had to say:

What role do you see Unified Communications (UC) playing in call centres?

UC is the hottest thing right now in the communications space and the call centre. Really what it affords in the call centre is a much better experience for the customer’s clients. So they have the opportunity for first call resolution.

It’s not a new area – there have been various forms of unified communications used in the call centre for a number of years.

At Avaya we have a [product] called an IP agent…that allows you to virtualize the call centre. By virtualizing it, you don’t have to be working in the call centre bricks and mortar location itself, but in fact you could be working from home.

You could be at a remote location. UC [offers you] the tools and ability to take calls at home. But you might say: ‘If I’m using voice-over-IP (VoIP) in a peer sense, that’s risky in a call centre environment.’

Because what happens at certain times of day?

Let’s say I’m on a cable shared modem in my neighbourhood, during the day it sounds fine because everyone’s at work and the kids are in school. But around 3:30 in the afternoon, a phenomenon occurs and all the kids come home and are playing network games, they’re downloading video, they’re on YouTube.

All of a sudden the bandwidth utilization spikes, you’re sitting there trying to take a call from a customer and they can barely hear you. That is something we recognized at Avaya from the onset as not being acceptable from a customer experience perspective.

So one of the earliest forms of UC we introduced into the call centre was something called the telecommuter mode or the dual mode for call centre.

What that entails is the call centre agent is looking at their screen, they call up a soft phone, but rather than plugging their headset in to their PC for the actual talk path, they actually associate it with any phone – usually their house phone.

We have many customers using this successfully. The call comes in and you get all the CTI, the screen-pops, the customer context information is all directed to you, but the customer call is actually directed to your home phone.

The advantage there is we’re leveraging the PSTN (public switched telephone network) and it’s crystal clear audio 100 per cent of the time.
It’s also mission critical, so if you are on a very important call with a client, you don’t have to worry ‘oh my goodness is my VPN going to crash’ because residential internet is not mission critical as is the phone.

There’s also this idea of using video in call centres. How does that play into UC?

That’s probably the next exciting thing that’s happening now. I talked about how UC is not new concerning voice, but certainly video is the next big thing.

We’re seeing a great adoption of video in the call centre and [in] various areas.

Initially it was thought that if we enable video, the primary use might be for the call centre agent to talk to the end customer using video.

Sometimes that does happen, but there’s not a lot of value in that use. So where’s the real value in the technology?

What we’re finding is it’s opening up different revenue streams and different business options for our customers.

I’ll give you one example: Let’s say I’m at home and I’ve purchased a printer a couple years ago and I’ve got a problem with it now.

So I’m actually calling in to a call centre for some help and they’re asking me some questions. They’re asking me what kind of printer I have, and they have some pretty lengthy call numbers and I’m not familiar with it.

You know, using video as an example I could take my Web cam and just point it at the product. The person at the other end who works for the company immediately identifies it, and says ‘I know exactly what part you need, away you go.”

But do you think a lot of customers are ready to engage call centres through the computer? Everyone is so used to doing it over the phone line.

You’re absolutely right. That’s why we offer multi-modal streams of communication whether its voice, e-mail or Web. You bring up an interesting point. Absolutely, voice has historically been the predominant mode of customer service.

But we’ve got an interesting scenario where consumers are growing up with YouTube, are growing up with Skype, [and] with other types of communication with video telephony on there instant messaging (IM), using presence.

So you’ve got these consumers who are kids growing up, they look for these things in the services they need to get.

They say ‘how with it are these companies? Are they adaptable?’ In many cases with our parents it was only phone, but now Web tone has become the new dial tone and certainly presence is very key. If I want to reach out to someone, can I get in touch with them?

Let’s say I call in to a call centre, a big-driver is first-call resolution. But the agent I’m talking to might not have the answer I’m looking for. You’re put on hold, you’re bumped around various places.

Now with UC, the person who takes the call can actually end the call, but they don’t necessarily have the information. Because using presence, they can effectively – talking to someone internally – get the information they need.

That expert might be reachable via IM, via voice, or via video. All of these options are available and depending on the receptiveness of the consumer to some of these other means of communication, it determines how you get back to them.

For those folks most comfortable with phone and voice, they’re using voice, but behind the scenes they’re absolutely using unified communications within the call centre to help enhance the customer experience.

Something I want to pick up on here is the references you’ve made to Avaya using this technology yourselves. This is an interesting aspect to your business: as you’re developing this infrastructure for call centres, you are also operating it within your own centres, which are the world’s largest.

Absolutely, we’ve got the world’s largest call centres, we’ve got the enterprise market share for call centres, we continue to be a leader there, and we use this technology ourselves.

We have something called Avaya Technology and Consulting. We’ve got business partners in Canada – Bell, Telus, and other smaller partners who we sell the Avaya technology.

Let’s say they’ve sold an Avaya [product] to a customer and they’re configuring it and something comes up where they need to know something pretty deep and technical. So they’ll call in to our call centre, the Avaya Technology and Consulting, and they’ll talk to whoever picks up the call.

In the past, depending on the nature of the call, we may or may not have been able to provide the answer in the first-call resolution. But today, we’re using presence, we’re [using] video where appropriate and the person who takes the call has access to the whole organization in order to resolve the issue and make a response.

So using intelligent presence they can go in and say ‘OK this question they’re asking is about [has] something to do with bandwidth requirements, and I don’t have the answer but I know this team has the answer.’

That team can be anywhere in the world. So they’ve got a group set up in their IM client and they see that of the four people who have that answer, two or three of them are on the phone, one is available and one is on vacation.

Again, utilize the presence, get into touch with that individual and get that answer back to our end customer in a timely fashion. So we’re absolutely using that technology ourselves.

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