Although virtual contact centres can provide better business continuity and enable organisations to deal with unexpected spikes in calls more effectively, they also generate additional security risks and can lead to staff morale problems.
Researchers Ovum define virtual contact centres as operations staffed by agents located in different physical locations that function as a single, integrated entity with the help of virtualised hosted technology.
These virtualisation capabilities enable brands to re-engineer the way that they route their networks, organise queuing and manage their workforce in order to generate efficiencies and cut costs.
Moreover, such benefits tend to grow over time because organisations are in a better position to better predict shifting customer patterns and allocate resources more quickly to absorb unexpected spikes in call volumes by routing calls seamlessly to the next available agent. This enables them to manage activities such as campaigns more effectively.
But Daniel Hong, a lead analyst at Ovum, believes it will "take time" before brands become comfortable with this ‘customer service in the cloud’ deployment model, which means it will be a while before adoption ramps up and moves into the mainstream.
Those that have already gone down this route tend to use such facilities in conjunction with existing bricks-and-mortar call centres and branch offices due to concerns over quality assurance, which includes agent monitoring and data protection, business continuity and agent motivation.
As a result, to ensure that virtual contact centres operate effectively, Hong said that organisations needed to introduce well-defined business processes to ensure that agents performed at expected quality levels. Such procedures included enabling agents to pass information to relevant parties elsewhere in the business in order to ensure that relevant information was acted upon.
In addition, Hong warned: "Contact centre agents should be screened carefully before they are hired and, after hiring, should have pre-determined limits on information access. Confidential customer data must be securely protected at all times."
But interactive voice response technology could also be employed to enable callers to provide and receive sensitive personal information, while restricting agents from hearing or accessing such data, he said.
A further challenge, meanwhile, relates to maintaining agent morale and a sense of team spirit. "Since agents in a virtual contact centre do not share the same physical space, virtual contact centres must take extra measures to ensure morale remains high and agents are able to give each other the benefit of their experiences," Hong said.
Technology such as social networks had been used successfully in the past to help remote agents develop a sense of community and ask work-related questions, however. Providing them with structured performance-based incentives, which could include giving high performers more access to coveted time slots, was another possibility as was keeping staff constantly aware of their performance relative to that of their peers via clearly defined metrics.