Q3 2010 Issue, Volume 1, Part 1
Enterprise VOIP: Remote Workers, "Road Warriors" and Call Centers with no chairs
In the Q2V1 issue of “Five Points”, we discussed the benefits of enterprise dialling using Asterisk, DUNDi and VOIP over the Public Internet. Those same three technologies (which I’ll call “ADV” in this article) can be used to deliver even more communications capability to your company.
Remote workers are individuals assigned to a given geographic office, but are usually working from another fixed location, such as a home-office. There are many reasons why remote workers are a popular choice today; parental leave, corporate growth without the office space to spare, back-office back-shift that doesn’t have to physically come in yet can still provide services to customers and many others.
The usual cost of a remote worker is the cell phone. Since they aren’t really “at the office”, traditional phone systems leave little option but to purchase a cell phone on the company account and soak up the monthly bills. Depending on the rate plan, cell phone bills can total hundreds to thousands of dollars a month for remote workers.
Using ADV, you can entirely eschew the need for a cell phone for the remote worker. With a home DSL Internet connection, the remote worker can “take a phone home” and start taking calls. You create a VOIP extension for the remote worker on your Asterisk server, as though they were at your office. You either issue the individual a VOIP desk phone like any other at the office, or purchase a copy of a high-quality soft phone, such as Bria by Counterpath. The only difference is that you configure the phone to use the public IP address of your Asterisk PBX, not the private internal address.
A word of caution; if your PBX is behind a “NAT” technology firewall, you may have issues. In that case, you may need to consider either changing your network set up, or building a small “outside only” PBX in your company’s network DMZ that is not behind a NAT firewall. Naturally, you’d use ADV to connect the “inside” and “outside” PBXs seamlessly.
“Road Warriors” are your remote workers who are constantly on the move, geographically. Your outside sales force is a classic example, as are remote technical staff, on-site customer service people and many others. Again, the common solution to their telephony needs is a pricy cell phone bill. However, using ADV technologies, this too, can be at least mitigated, if not eliminated.
Most Road Warriors have a laptop or mobile computing device, and are aggressive about finding Wi-Fi “hot spots” to work from. Most also have VPN connections or other secured access to the Corporate LAN. Like the remote worker, the solution is to give the Road Warrior a VOIP phone extension at the office they are most likely to “check in” at. A high-quality USB headset from a firm like Sienhauser and a high-quality soft phone application running on the laptop gives them the ability to make and take calls, check voicemail and interact as though they were “right there”, regardless of where they are. You can take it a step further with “follow me” or “ring everywhere” technologies.
“Follow me” allows the individual user to indicate where an incoming call should be directed for a period of time. For example, via a web interface, they might create a rule like “from 1pm to 3pm, call my VOIP phone. If that doesn’t work, call my Cell. If that doesn’t work, send it to Jerry’s extension.” Or, they could call into the PBX, identify themselves with their Voice Mail credentials, and enter one or more phone numbers or extension numbers to be called in sequence. The biggest disadvantage to “Follow me” is that a long list of destination numbers can result in the caller listening to music on hold for many long seconds before they get sent to voice mail.
“Ring everywhere” works similar to “Follow me”, but instead of ringing in sequence, all the extensions ring at the same time. Thus, the call is delivered more quickly to either the called party, or to the “last choice” destination, be that either voice mail or another individual entirely.
The logical progression of “follow me” is the chair-less call-center. Agents dial a controlled-access phone number where they identify themselves via set credentials, such as their Voice Mail extension and PIN. From there, they enter a phone number at which they will take calls; a cell phone, a corporate VOIP phone, a private home-office land line, whatever. They hang up, the system gives them a 1 minute grace period and then starts passing calls to them from the queues they are responsible for. With “whisper announce” turned on, they hear a brief message indicating which queue the call is from and how long the caller has been on hold. Then they hear a beep and they are live with the queued caller. To all customer-facing appearances, this is just any other great call center experience. From your side, your infrastructure costs are dramatically reduced; thousands of square feet of call center floor, dozens to hundreds of desks, chairs, cables, lights, etc, etc you don’t have to pay for.
Chair-less call center concepts allow broader ranges of operating hours without worrying about tired agents on the backshift. Instead, hire agents from the time-zone that is “mid day” for their shift period. Perhaps sort queued calls by geographic lookup of the country and area code of the call, so that the caller is always speaking to someone “local”. Use a secured corporate website to allow your remote agents to access corporate knowledge base or CRM data. The possibilities are endless as to how to enrich and deliver the best call center experience to your customers using a global workforce.
If you'd like to find out more about how "Enterprise VOIP" for your remote workers, road warriors and remote agents can be implemented at your company, please call us! We even have ideas about how you can get started without having your own Asterisk PBX onsite.