Peter Nees, product manager for Interactive Intelligence, gave an in-depth session on the features and capabilities of the company's Interaction SIP Station - a relatively new SIP end point device that replaces the desk phone in the contact center - during the company's annual user's conference, Interactions '10, now underway at the Marrriott Downtown Indianapolis right in the company's corporate hometown of Indianapolis Ind.
Interactive intelligence first introduced the device last fall and so far it's sold more than 6,000 units, Nees said. The device represents Interactive Intelligence's first foray into its own branded hardware. It already has strong hardware OEM relationships with HP (servers), AudioCodes(gateways) and Polycom (IP phones/multimedia phones), so when asked why the company didn't take the OEM route for this particular product (for example, some contact center headsets manufacturers are now offering their own SIP end points), Nees explained that Interactive Intelligence wants to get its branding into more hardware and this inexpensive yet very practical device seemed like an ideal place to start.
'It's good for us to have that device sitting out there on all those agent desks with our name and logo on it,' he said, adding that this serves is a powerful reinforcement of the company's brand.
What's more, the device is optimized to work with Interactive Intelligence's flagship contact center platform, Customer Interaction Center, so it gives the company better control over the quality and performance of its system.
The Interaction SIP Station is a very compact (4.5x4.5x1.5 inches) audio processing device which agents connect their headsets to. Since all of the dialing functionality delivered via the Interaction Client of the CIC platform, the device sports very few buttons (about six total) so ease of use and simplicity are a key factor in its design. Interactive Intelligence customers still have the option of using a softphone, IP phones or IP multimedia phones with CIC, but, depending on the contact center, there can be certain drawbacks to each of those options: For example, many softphones have 'reliability issues,' depending on the PCs they're being run on, such as calls dropping or functionality issues, due mainly to the fact that these software clients can sometimes be too 'resource intensive' - that is to say they draw too much processing power from the host machine. This is more often the case in contact centers where the agents have to use multiple applications during each interaction.
In addition there are cases where, for some companies, installing IP phones or multimedia phones (which sport LCD displays and can support video) at every agent station simply doesn't make sense because the phones are delivering functionality that is not needed by the agents, or which is duplicated by the Interaction Client or softphone. What's more, these IP/multimedia phones can very expensive - running in the hundreds of dollars per handset - forcing companies to often buy features and capabilities that they don't really need, whereas the Interaction SIP Station only costs about $75 per unit and delivers all the functionality an agent will ever need. Nees also pointed out that today's multimedia phones are so rich with features and capabilities that it can sometimes be very confusing for the agents to learn how to use them. He cited an example of a contact center that was using softphones, where the agents kept attempting to transfer calls using the 'transfer' button on the desk phone, when they were supposed to do that using the softphone. As a result, the contact center managers had to place tape over the 'transfer' button on each and every desk phone throughout the center, to get the agents to stop using it.
Interaction SIP Station has two Ethernet ports and supports power over Ethernet (PoE) which means even if the host PC goes down, the phone system can continue to operate and deliver calls to the agent. In addition it sports a digital signal processor (DSP) which Nees said supports wideband audio - and which will soon support HD voice via the G.722 codec. Although he said not many companies have yet implemented HD voice in their contact centers, he said he does think it's coming within a few years, and Interactive Intelligence wants to be prepared for the trend so it has purposely built support for HD voice into this product.
One of the nice things about this device is its compact size. In many contact centers, desk space is a precious commodity, so by eliminating the bulky desk phone, agents can have more room for spreading documents or setting down their drinks, etc.
A few cool features that come with this device: It sports a simple red programmable 'speed dial' button that can be used for emergencies (not the 911 kind, but when an agent is in trouble and needs supervisor help). The cool thing is the button can be programmed so that the user has to hold it down for a few seconds in order for it to dial - this prevents accidental dialing when the button is inadvertently 'bumped.'
Another cool feature is that, in the event an agent's headset becomes disconnected, the device will automatically put the customer on hold until the headset is reconnected via the RJ-9 jack (the device does not yet support USB headsets).
After Nees' presentation, I spoke briefly with an Interactive Intelligence customer who said she has been using the SIP Station in her contact center for about a month and had nothing but great things to say about it. She said they had been using softphones but were experiencing frequent reliability issues - which all went away once the SIP Station was installed and the audio processing was moved off the PC. She said her center purchased about 50 of the devices at a cost of about $75 each. She even got a discount for using other Interactive Intelligence products. She said her contact center will soon be expanding its use of the device to about 200 more seats and that the decision was a 'no-brainer' because the device delivers a highly reliable audio path as well as an impressive feature set.
Patrick Barnard is a senior Web editor for ContactCenterSolutions, covering call and contact center technologies. He also compiles and regularly contributes to ContactCenterSolutions e-Newsletters in the areas of robotics, IT, M2M, OCS and customer interaction solutions. To read more of Patrick's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi