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Embrace the New Normal with Work-at-Home Agent Solutions

As the world of work settles into the “new normal”, contact centers have been doubling down on technologies that enable agents to work from home. What was once an alternative business practice has become a critical capability that enables business continuity. In most cases the transition has been immediate and mandated by governments. No time for RFPs, multiple PoCs, or months of research, planning and gradual rollouts. Most Contact Centers have been slow to phase out existing on-premise solutions, and as a result lack the critical resources required to support alternative remote agents.  In the rush to upgrade legacy systems, some IT teams have turned to nailed up connections to agents’ landlines, cellphones and Unified Communication clients.  Others may consider migrating to a new ACD platform that has an easy-to-deploy WebRTC agent capability.  Either path is costly, cumbersome, and disruptive to existing workflows and practices.

This shift of Agents from office to home is playing out in enterprises across the globe, and the resulting impact on traffic and platform performance is unpredictable. Residential networks aren’t designed to support the same traffic capacity typical of commercial networks. 

This unpredictability extends into the agents’ home networks.  Two income homes could mean two work-from-home loads.  Add a couple of kids busy taking video classes (or even harmlessly playing video games) all over a choppy WiFi home connection, and the challenge to contact centers  becomes mission critical.

Most agree the new world of work will embrace remote work environments as the status quo. Therefore, it’s important to think strategically about long term solutions well beyond any immediate chrisis. Just don’t take too much time figuring it out!  Oh, and make sure there are no compromises to security, unbudgeted costs, or impacts to voice quality and agent operations.

The AudioCodes One Voice Solutions for Genesys offer a superior option to both nailed up connections or drastic shifts to new platforms.  The approach is based on Opus Transcoding and WebRTC Gateway capabilities of the Mediant Session Border Controllers paired with network monitoring from the One Voice Operations Center (OVOC) management system.  The royalty free Opus voice coder from Google has impressive credentials and is used in many high-profile internet applications like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Facebook Messenger. It can withstand high levels of packet loss and provides better quality on a bad day than G.729 does on a good day. 

This core platform supports three agent endpoint solutions – Traditional Hard Phones, Softphones, or WebRTC endpoints.  All three can provide carrier-grade voice quality (courtesy of Opus) and no impact to agent practices and workflows since the agents register to the existing solution in the same way they would locally. All three support the 3rd Party Call Control, which allows Agents to maintain current workflows as telephony is processed on the desktop machine rather than the phone or voice client.



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Hardphones

As dedicated devices, hard phones provide the same unmatched voice quality in the home that they do on premise. The One Voice Operations Center provides management and status for both local and remote devices with maintenance connectivity provided by the integrated reverse proxy on the SBC.  

As a bonus in these days of shortages of every kind of work at home technology, the phone can work with any headset the agent can access, including RJ-11 and not just USB.

However, hard phones carry higher costs than the other two soft options, and require deployment, configuration, monitoring (even if facilitated by OVOC) and management.

Softphones

Softphones eliminate shipping logistics and can provide good voice quality as long as the design supports Opus. 

However, shipping logistics is the only operational relief a softphone provides. Much like a hard phone, the need for certification remains, as well as deployment (albeit software vs hardware), monitoring, management and updates. A dependency on PC performance drives more expensive PCs. While Virtual Desktop Integration (VDI) can help, it is at the expense of degraded voice quality. 

Finally, agent media is delivered in small packets at a high rate, typically 100 pps. Hundreds or even thousands of agents working from home could easily generate a cumulative packet rate that would overwhelm the VPN head end, a device designed for high bitrate data rather than high packet rate voice and video.

WebRTC softphone

The WebRTC endpoint runs in a browser and is downloaded at session state like a web page completing the operations offload promised by softphones, eliminating PC certification, deployment, versions, and management. It leverages the browsers native Opus capability (courtesy of the WebRTC) as well as the same security mechanisms the browser uses to connect with banks. 

The WebRTC signaling and media run outside of both VDI and VPN tunnels, eliminating voice quality pitfalls and potential VPN issues.

No solution is perfect. Running in the browser means the endpoint is not immune to similar PC contention issues that the softphone faces. In addition, with no provision for RJ-11, the only remaining option becomes the USB headset.

A strategic shift to WebRTC as an agent endpoint has been taking place for some time, and the crash requirement for massive agent migration is serving to hasten this transition, which is not surprising given its advantages in solution robustness and simplicity:

  • 3rd Party Call Control ensuring no change to agent practices.
  • Premise quality voice courtesy of Opus
  • Zero agent desktop footprint
  • No PC certification, deployment or management needs
  • Network monitoring support from One Voice Operations Center

An evolutionary approach to disruption has merit. To adapt to and indeed thrive in the new world of work, contact centers worldwide are adding work at home agent solutions to the digital transformation toolkit. Given the current state of the industry, large enterprises and contact centers are looking for a long-term solution that could also offer a long term disaster recovery and business continuity solution. AudioCodes WebRTC softphone system for Genesys Engage or PureConnect allows seamless and secure migration of agents from the traditional office environment to home configurations and fallback with easy manageability, VPN-less support and high voice quality over open internet.


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