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As more companies route calls to people working at home or in different locations, security and the quality of service need attention, experts say.“The reality of call centres today is you need a lot of remote capability for people who are going to work off-site,” says telecommunications analyst Jon Arnold, principal of J. Arnold & Associates of Toronto. “The cost of building centres is pretty expensive.”
But some companies are reluctant to allow contact centre agents to work from home because they are concerned customer data could end up in the wrong hands, says Tracy Fleming, national IP telephony practice leader for Avaya Canada Inc. “We’ve seen customers go to the point where they don’t want a home agent simply because of the possibility of customer data being displayed on a home PC and the possibility of that person walking away and another family member walking in and inadvertently seeing sensitive customer data.”
Those who decide to employ home workers should give the agents as little hardware as possible, and try to route calls and customer information through software, she adds.
“If you have a 500-seat call centre with 500 bodies in it, that’s one thing, but if you have 500 homes and each home has two or three pieces of corporate equipment, you’ve just made asset management a nightmare.”
Regardless of how a home worker is set up, network administrators need to think about how the remote agent’s phone is connected with his or her computer, Arnold says. “The telephony environment and how that ties into the computer is really critical. You don’t want them sharing a home line with this, and having to interrupt calls to take personal calls.”
Arnold added Internet Protocol (IP) has several advantages over time division multiplexing (TDM) systems, including the ability to combine voice and data services.
“You can pull up customer records instantly” and access information on a customer’s previous inquiries, Arnold says. “You can call up information on a local database about that customer and, during that call, run other resident applications that you may have to sources apart from a remote application. You can do all these things in real time when you’re on the phone.”
IP also makes it easier to connect remote workers to call centres, says Betsy Wood, evangelist for multimedia applications at Nortel Networks Corp.
“With an IP phone or a soft phone on a PC, I can plug in anywhere I have secure Internet access,” she says. “If I have my PC with me, or if I have my communication device, anywhere I have broadband Internet access that’s secure, I can be working.”
To make the access secure, companies need to install virtual private networks (VPNs), Fleming says, adding IP communications over a VPN will not necessarily have consistent quality.
“If the person’s sitting in Owen Sound on a VPN connection, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get eight hours of solid, toll-quality voice,” he says.
“If somebody’s called in to buy the next widget, and (the agent) is currently having a brownout on their Internet service, is that acceptable?”
As a result, he said, some companies give remote workers the ability to move calls over to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) if something goes wrong with their voice over IP service.

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