Heading into the home stretch of Interactions 2012, Interactive Intelligence’s (News - Alert) annual meeting with customers, prospects, partners, consultants, analysts and the media, and a panel of industry experts engaged in a lively discussion regarding where we are and are headed.
Participants included: Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst, COMMfusion; E. Brent Kelly (News - Alert), PH.D, vice president and principal analyst constellation research; Jim Burton, founder and CEO, CT Link, LLC; Diane Holliwell, SperCo, contact center specialist,; J.R. Simmons, COMGroup, president; and, Steve Leaden (News - Alert), Leaden and Associates, president.
Interesting questions and great insights
Interactive Intelligence CMO Joe Staples (News - Alert) put the panel through its paces. With going through eveyone’s specific responses, it seemed useful to go through the questions asked and pull out some of the important points made by the panel either collectively or individually.
Q: What is the importance and role of social media?
His consensus was that in the context of the contact center we are still very much in the early days of figuring out the proper use of social media. Dr. Kelly actually had a great phrase for this calling it “best-of-breed Hades.” In other words, a herd mentality has set in where companies know that social is important in people’s lives and they want to monetize it, and rather than look old fashion they have thrown everything against the wall to see if it would stick. It was a great point. Others said you need to have a plan and integrate the use of social media into things like telephony and unified communications (UC) and make sure it does not get siloed (hijacked by marketing for instance), and should ultimately come under the person who has ultimate authority over the customer experience.
Q: Contact centers and UC, what’s going on?
A great panel question that could have occupied the entire time, but it all boiled down to agreement that the lines between the two are blurring, people need to stop writing about the problems with UC and focus on the fact that the business has to be about solving communications problems and overcoming business optimization challenges. The reality, according to Pleasant, is to understand that there is UC aimed at improving the interactions between people (things like presence, click-to-talk, etc.) and UC for business optimization by improving process.
Panelists agreed that much of the buzz has been about UC for users, but the business case that proves the big value of UC, whatever the definition of it is which is fuzzy, goes to the UC business side. And, everyone agreed that the coming real big bang is going to come from integration of the information generated from contact centers with other enterprise databases, and using analytics and new metrics to get a better understanding of both customers and how to improve the delivery of services that can be executed and measured. Jargon does not matter; it has to be all about having the right tools to continuously improve customer intimacy and all of the processes that can improve that while being more efficient, effective and profitable.
Q: Looking ahead three years, what is important?
Everyone had their own view so this is a place for a scorecard.
- Pleasant — analytics and Web RTC
- E. Brent Kelly — reducing complexity and moving to the cloud
- Burton — Dolby audio quality for conferencing and Web RTC
- Holliwell —analytics that are used cross-channel
- Simmons — concentration on process improvement and not necessarily replacing technology
- Leaden — SIP trunking, Session Border Controller leveraging and getting a handle on BYOD user and IT management perspectives
Q: What about the cloud?
First point was that until 18 months ago, the cloud was about vendor hype and it is now about customer inquiries about when, what, why, how and with whom. Everyone also agreed that while cloud solutions might not be for everyone and that it is a maturing market where there will be an ebb and flow as control and security issues get ironed out, reality is that while the cloud may cost more on a TCO basis, the intrinsic value of its ability to drive down CapEx costs and provide flexibility in terms of accommodating technology change and eliminating in-house support for managing an increasingly complex IT environment, along with the speed of deployment benefits, are compelling. In fact, Kelly said that Interactive Intelligence CEO Dr. Don Brown’s remarks about the cloud breaking down IT inertia (long-execution cycles) was proving to be a real value in evaluations of the cloud that can trump TCO considerations.
Q: What is the future of the PBX (News - Alert)?
Holliwell said it best by noting that there are still a lot of tethered workers who need phones and will for the foreseeable future. The panelists agreed saying that while voice is losing its criticality and ultimately is just another app on a data network, people still want to talk to contact center agents, and while call control may be distributed there is a lot of life left in those PBXs although the BYOD and UC world is likely to cull out those features that are really valuable in the enterprise space wh60 degree touch with the contact center. This again was noted as a good reason to consider moving to the cloud.
Q: What will be the impact of mobility?
In a word, it will be huge according to the panel. Things like completing transactions without needing agent intervention, the value of video not for conferencing but for streaming information and showing product functionality, and the ability to enable customers to react to real-time changes in status were all pointed to as benefits to be harnessed and realized. It was also noted that mobility solutions can increase the customer experience by keeping them alerted as to things like their status in line to talk to an agent, shipping updates, changes in travel, etc.
Q: Free advice
The last question had to do with what the panelist could provide in terms of free advice to the audience. Again, a scorecard is useful:
- Pleasant — get as much information to understand the customer as possible
- E. Brent Kelly — the customer experience involves people, processes and technology and there needs to be a plan and balanced approach in managing them all
- Burton — Plan! Plan! Plan!
- Holliwell —planning with a unified view and getting a readiness perspective both internally and whether the customers are ready, and break down internal silos
- Leaden — this is a great time to look at everything from a customer experience perspective, and do what everyone is recommending, i.e., plan, pilot, measure, learn, execute and make this a continuous process.
Leaden had the last word, and that was actually a great way to end. Ironically the panel ended where first day Clayton Christensen had started. If you know what the job is your customer wants you to do, and figure out how to do it better than competitors (not just in your space but understanding all of the alternatives for getting the job done), you can then apply that knowledge to improve the customer experience and the delivery mechanisms for making that happen. The result is being the disruptive leaders in today’s verticals while opening up opportunities in markets yet in some case to be imagined.
All of this was certainly expert advice worth careful consideration.
Edited by Carrie Schmelkin