How Your Contact Center Can Survive COVID-19

by Bill Heller

A pandemic like we are experiencing causes so many changes to our everyday personal and work lives. If you are a Cisco customer, there are some things that you could do so you can still service your customers via your Contact Center. There also may be some of you that have much higher call volumes than normal because your customers need help/advice with regards to the coronavirus. In one instance you need to think about placing greater distance between your agents while in the other instance you need more agents. Both scenarios can use advice found here for a possible solution.

This information can be applied to either a Unified Contact Center Express (UCCX) or a Unified Contact Center Enterprise (UCCE) Contact Center solution. The specifics in this article revolve around UCCE because of the author’s experience. As a UCCE instructor I often use examples of what I call the “KISS principle”. When teaching I state the acronym as “keep it simple student”! You already have the software to implement a “remote agent” concept. Over the years I have gained practical experience having been a customer as well as a consultant working for a technology partner, working with their customers and finally as a UCCE instructor. When working with companies that opt for a private class, I get to know their integration in greater detail. I have two primary options that this could be implemented to overcome this dilemma. A third option could be a combination of the two.

Cisco has created a document titled Work-from-Home Solution Deployment Guide White Paper. This “white paper” contains many technical options for consideration. If you are a customer, you may need additional technical advice from either your technology partner or your Cisco representative to help understand what option is best for you. Implementing one of these possible solutions always need to consider your current environment and that extra technical assistance can be very valuable. If you are a technology partner, you may want to review this information and then review each of your customers to see if help can be offered.

Building A Clone

This option involves building a “clone” of what you do currently in an agent cubicle [laptop, phone – hard/soft, etc. and may involve a capital expenditure. You also need to ensure that the agent has enough Internet bandwidth at home to accomplish all the tasks required. If seriously considering this option, purchase a laptop with enough memory, hard disk space and screen size so that it is functional. Build one of the laptops to the agent specifications. If the laptops are from an identical manufacture/model, you can ghost the hard disk from the source laptop … then simply build all subsequent laptops. No additional work should be necessary once this cloning has been completed. When the agent is at home, they would first sign into a VPN tunnel and then login to Finesse just like they do in the Contact Center. This solution can also hold true for supervisors that are connecting from their home.

Deploying Cisco Mobile Agent

This option should not require any or at least minimal capital expenditure. Deploy Cisco Mobile Agent. No special equipment is needed. There is some configuration work to be done but this should not require additional hardware with the exception of your Communications Manager cluster. Two CTI route points are needed for each phone call. Depending upon the number of agents then sizing considerations could come into play for your Communications Manager.

Agent Requirements

Although the mobile agent should not require any or minimal capital expenditure from the company’s perspective the agent has certain requirements that they would need to agree to provide.

  1. A laptop or desktop with enough memory, CPU cycles and hard disk space
  2. An Internet connection with enough bandwidth to accommodate both the finesse desktop, VPN Tunneling Software (Cisco AnyConnect for example) and any backend databases or systems that need to be accessed
  3. A dialable phone – could be a landline or a VoIP line or cell phone

You could survey the agents to see if they meet these minimum requirements. An incentive for them could be (if the business agrees) that this temporary work at home situation could be extended after the crisis if this option has been considered successful. This group of agents could then be considered as a “first choice” group. That could be their motivation.

Check the Bandwidth

Having enough bandwidth in either of the above options is critical. The first step is to calculate the minimum bandwidth that the agent would consume on a daily basis. The second step is to calculate and then decide what additional bandwidth would be recommended. This additional bandwidth could be consumed by others in the home when surfing the Internet or streaming a movie. A third step should be check out the various Internet service providers available to your agents. Their websites should give you direction on bandwidth packages they have available. After you add up the bandwidth from step one and step two, recommend the next highest bandwidth package. If this causes additional monetary expenditure, then the business can decide how or if they will address this.

Agent Monitoring/Reporting

I think remote agents need to know that all their activities can and will be monitored even from their home. This could be reinforced by the supervisor providing in the early stages a daily summary report that can be emailed to their team whether they are in the Contact Center or remote. This could be extended to a weekly report when everything seems to be running relatively smooth.

All agents still need to feel a part of the Contact Center. Team meetings should still be carried out. This could be done by a WebEx session for example. From a Contact Center management perspective both the agents and the supervisors need to know they are being held accountable. Remote silent monitoring can be used to validate if all agents are complying. For the remote agents the sound quality and background sounds can be added to the monitoring checklist. A Cisco blogger wrote an article entitled “Keep Your Stress Low and Your Background Noise Lower” that addresses this issue.

In Conclusion

If either solution is used, your Contact Center could be run the same with agents remotely connected as it is when agents are in their normal cubicle. Reporting both real-time and historical data can take place. Supervisors can monitor via reports as well as silent monitoring of agents. An extra server may be needed for Mobile Agent monitoring. You can potentially grow or shrink your conventional brick and mortar Contact Center relatively swift when compared to modifying your current structure or building new.

I think it would be wise if you go one step further and get input from either your technology partner or your Cisco representative to see if either of these options would be effective for you.

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