Contact centers in Asia ponder move to IP

Nearly four in 10 are looking to become IP-based, and over 80 percent see growing demand for multi-channel support, a new survey finds.

SINGAPORE--Nearly 40 percent of contact center managers in the Asia-Pacific region are looking to invest in advanced Internet Protocol (IP) technology, according to findings in a new survey conducted by Frost & Sullivan.

The research firm also found that over 80 percent of respondents noted an increase in demand for contact centers that can handle multiple channels such as voice, e-mail, instant messaging, SMS (short messaging service) and the Web. Commissioned by communications applications and services provider Avaya, the study polled decision makers from over 1,000 contact centers in Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Singapore.

Identifying the technologies that contact centers are looking at will give "an idea" of what customers are now demanding, Roy Wakim, Avaya's director of converged solutions and analyst solutions, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia.

The Frost & Sullivan report found that IP-based technology has become more stable in recent years, and issues surrounding reliability were no longer listed as the main barrier for IP adoption across the region's contact centers.

Respondents cited cost reduction and ease of network management as the top two reasons for the deployment of IP-based contact centers. The study did not state how many of the contact centers surveyed were already IP-enabled.

However, some industry observers highlighted that while the trend is moving toward IP convergence, traditional telephony still has a place in the market.

"It's [going to be] a hybrid environment--it's not that all the landlines will disappear and there will be [only] IP telephony," said Ad Nederlof, chairman of Genesys, which provides contact center software. "That [scenario] will take at least three to five years."

Denis Garner, Asia-Pacific director of customer services with call center operator MCI, told ZDNet Asia that moving to an IP-based contact center would only make sense for new facilities.

"It is not likely that somebody with an existing infrastructure would want to throw that out…they are [instead] likely to use VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) gateways," Garner explained. "Not all contact centers have gone the IP way, but that's not an issue (because convergence allows them to integrate both traditional and IP technologies)."

He added that MCI might consider using IP technologies for the deployment of a new contact center, but noted that the company currently have no plans to set up a new facility.

Asian customers prefer e-mail
According to the Frost & Sullivan study, more customers prefer to communicate with their contact centers via e-mail. Avaya's Wakim noted that this was the case particularly in India, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, where more than 60 percent of respondents picked e-mail as their preferred channel of communication. The Web platform ranked second, followed by SMS.

Contact centers, especially those in Singapore, believe that expanding their support to include new contact avenues will not only improve services, but also facilitate product cross-selling and generate revenue, he added.

Nederlof also noted that it was "logical" for contact centers in this region to be more focused on voice and SMS-based communication.

Asia, led by Japan and Korea, is ahead of Europe and the United States in its adoption of mobile telephony, he said. "In China, for example, there are some 125,000 new mobile subscribers everyday...they are really SMS tigers, especially the young generation--[also known as] the 'big thumb' generation."

Wakim noted that the survey has provided some insight to the kind of technologies Avaya should invest in. "Maybe we need to consider some localization in specific countries," he explained. For instance, if demand for Web-based communication is high in Korea, the company may need to integrate instant messaging features in its contact center, he said. "Or provide video communication, given Korea's high broadband [penetration]," he added.

According to Wakim, Avaya has also enabled the use of interactive tools including Web chat. Web pages can also be "pushed" to a call agent's desktop, enabling him to guide customers through processes such as form-filling, and enhance the contact experience using the Internet. MCI also has plans to introduce similar service features by February 2006, Garner said.

In the report, Frost & Sullivan noted that "enabling different channels of communication is very crucial even if demand is low".

Nederlof cited a survey, conducted in Australia earlier this year, which found that 85 percent of people aged under 35 preferred to communicate via SMS. In contrast, only 5 percent of companies had the ability to support that demand. Nederlof said: "It shows how wide the mismatch is sometimes, between what consumers want and what enterprises provide."

MCI's Garner concurred, noting that the challenge now for contact centers is to prepare to move away from traditional telephony and toward an IP infrastructure.

"In the future, everybody's going to have an IP phone so whatever technology you deploy, you have to be ready and able to handle that," he said. "The Asia-Pacific region is well-positioned for IP technology, compared to the United States or Europe."

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