By: Ludovic Rateau, Chief Technical Officer of business communications firm Ringover
When Alexander Graham Bell made his first call in 1876 he could not have anticipated the incredible impact of telephony 145 years later.
His technology has come a long way from the click of the original rotary dials, evolving into the first brick-like mobile phones of the 1980s, and onto the contemporary video calls that for many have come to define our lives during lockdown.
The pandemic has forced businesses and workers to adapt quickly in order to survive. Effective customer communication – important at the best of times – has shown itself to be fundamental during some of the worst of times, providing reassurance and clarity amid the uncertainties and, in some cases, helping to soothe frayed nerves.
In our post-COVID world, call centres are often the only human contact customers have with a business and it’s essential high standards are maintained.
Yet as social distancing requirements have brought remote working to the fore, how is it possible to run a close-knit call centre operation when team members cannot sit together in the same location or pop down the corridor to get advice or feedback from managers?
The answer, as so often, comes from technology. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling has untethered telephony from the analogue age, and means that, despite being in different parts of the country, call centre operators and their wider teams can stay connected easily, both with their customers and with each other.
And when it comes to that all-important quality control, monitoring tools can be deployed from any distance – allowing a supervisor to listen in on any call, either randomly or on request. They can even whisper support to an agent, or intervene directly if required.
Receiving enquiries, call handlers working from home can use the same dialling code for their VoIP number as the landline used in their office to stay local to their customers. Furthermore, the sense of connection engendered by a familiar area code can be significant for cold-calling operations when trying to get a foot in the door with prospective sales leads.
While the country has become used to video calls as a way to keep up with friends and family, VoIP packages for businesses are following this trend and including video conferencing options as standard, recognising that today’s customer might have their expectations driven by their latest social media experience.
VoIP has truly changed the landscape of working – and communicating – from home. The functionality of VoIP apps means that your work phone can effectively be stored on your computer and other devices, like your mobile. The digital technology means connections are crisp and the possibility of dropped calls, a huge customer bugbear, is greatly reduced.
Yet it would be remiss to gloss over the concerns posed by the shift to remote working too. Severed from the office, a team of operators, all using different wi-fi connections (often shared by other family members) means there are key cyber-security concerns to be considered. It’s not only people who must be kept safe: personal data, intellectual property, and technology assets and devices all face different (and in some cases new) threats.
While the most obvious change prompted by the lockdown was where people sat to do their work, behind the scenes what mattered was the location of the data and services they used to get it done. Those organisations most resilient and ready weren’t necessarily those with detailed disaster recovery policies in place, but those who already had decentralised cloud communications and storage.
Many enterprises had already begun the process of migrating to the cloud when the coronavirus struck, and adding voice-calling to the mix was a natural next step. For those that didn’t make the leap, you can imagine the expense forms mounting from workers suddenly having to incur heavy mobile call and data charges as a result of increased use of their personal mobiles.
For the fully VoIP-enabled businesses it has been far easier to integrate the final stage of true location-independent working, and get their teams up and running fast – without having to ship out devices or install new lines, because of native apps which would run on anything they already had at home.
As employees and companies prepare tentative steps back to something resembling normality, many favour a hybrid return-to-work model going forward that splits time between the home and office. The last 18 months have shown that flexibility will be an essential requirement of our workforce and systems.
Just like Bell, VoIP systems will rise to meet this demand.