Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Aspect Software Vice Pres Chats About Contact Centers

August 27, 2008

Drawing on years of insight gleaned from working with leading companies to redefine the contact center, Aspect Software is bringing unified communications (UC) to it. Combining contact center applications with UC, the company’s unified vision can transform customer-company interactions by streamlining customer-facing business processes and extending those processes beyond the contact center. I recently had the chance to interview Henry Danser, vice president of the company’s Western Area.

RT: What is the biggest trend you are seeing in the contact center space?
HD: Consumers have more power than ever before. Whether they make contact via telephone, email, or online chat, today’s consumers expect immediate and courteous service coupled with quick problem resolution.  For contact centers to best meet the needs of consumers, there are three major trends emerging:
Unified Communications: In spite of all the attention given to enterprise unified communications (UC) in the last few years, an important component is often overlooked: the contact center and the customer. This could be a significant oversight, as a UC strategy is just as critical to customer-facing activities as it is to internal communications. For example, a recent poll of contact center managers and agents found that 10 percent of all customer interactions (i.e., literally millions a day) require the attention of enterprise knowledge workers – a compelling argument for linking contact center applications with UC tools like presence and IM. We will find more companies looking at how the contact center fits into a UC strategy in the next year.
Unified Solutions: To meet the escalating demand of today’s empowered consumers, another trend we’re seeing is that businesses today are increasingly implementing unified contact center solutions.  A unified solution provides all elements required to run a comprehensive multimedia contact center – automatic call distribution (ACD), predictive dialing, speech self service, Internet contact via email or chat, recording, and logging and quality management, all with unified reporting, routing and administration – within a single platform. This helps increase flexibility, reduce complexity, lower costs, inspire customer loyalty, and enhance productivity.
Performance Optimization:We also see contact centers giving high importance to Performance Optimization Solutions, such as workforce management, quality management, performance management, and campaign management. These solutions help synchronize people, processes and technology to help solve the problems associated with the management and allocation of staff resources, ultimately giving management the ability to consider everything and take immediate action.
RT: What should contact center decision makers know before upgrading their systems?
HD: Companies should invest in (and demand) solutions and vendors that incorporate open standards such as SIP, MRCP, etc. into every application. Open standards are particularly valuable to companies because they deliver increased compatibility between components, enabling true interoperability. In doing so, they make it easier, faster and less expensive for companies to implement new and emerging technologies that have the power to greatly enhance customer experiences and improve customer loyalty. As open standards continue to mature, we will see the development of a number of new and innovative products and services using new standards, such as VoiceXML, SCXML, CCXML, which have been built on early protocol standards such as HTTP and SIP. Standards open doors for interoperability, greater flexibility and reduced costs, and we fully stand behind the use of open standards in the contact center for a number of reasons:
• Standards are vendor neutral and therefore provide our customers with more choice; customers are given the opportunity to mix and match products
• Standards create a positive and beneficial vendor-customer relationship
• Standards help make contact centers more flexible and productive
• Standards give vendors a solid platform upon which we can develop new technologies that easily interoperate with other contact center solutions.
Open standards are particularly valuable to contact centers because they provide a common platform upon which computer hardware and software can “speak” to one another. They deliver increased compatibility between components and enable true interoperability, which will be even more important as companies implement their UC strategies. Since a successful UC strategy encompasses a portfolio of solutions, open standards are critical to easily enable interoperability between enterprise business applications with contact center solutions.
RT: Where is the most call center growth taking place – US or abroad?
HD: We are expecting modest to almost flat growth for the contact center industry in the United States and increasing growth abroad. Most of the growth we expect to see in the U.S. will be around VoIP deployments and the implementation of unified and performance optimization solutions. VoIP is a viable option for contact centers now with the growing adoption of session initiation protocol (SIP) and standards-based technology. This reflects a huge shift in the industry from proprietary, closed standards to open standards and this will impact the growth of the contact center industry. Contact centers are looking for solutions that will provide them with more flexibility and control over their contact centers and the ability to deliver a better customer experience. This is a key reason why unified solutions – that include all major contact center applications, like an ACD, dialer, voice portal, Internet contact, reporting, routing and administration in a single platform – are increasingly gaining traction in North American contact centers. In addition, performance optimization solutions are giving contact centers a better view into how they can improve and streamline contact center operations and get an edge over the competition.
RT: How is UC changing the contact center space?
HD: UC is a viable way for every customer-facing process to be drastically improved. Instead of frantically running down a call list to reach someone with the technical expertise to answer a specific customer question, UC empowers agents to instantly check the availability of experts and quickly get their input with a few keystrokes and the click of a mouse.
Businesses and consumers both gain when knowledge workers can be part of the enterprise pool of customer-facing employees to best address consumer demands. High-value sales or service interactions can be addressed directly by the appropriate employee – no matter their location or title – based on availability.  Extending contact center disciplines and capabilities into the enterprise through UC can deliver an increased return on your technology investment, and can also drastically improve the customer experience, resulting in higher customer satisfaction levels and elevated customer loyalty, which translate into increased revenue.
By streamlining customer-facing processes, companies can make experts more easily accessible to agents when appropriate and accelerate responsiveness to customer needs. A successful UC for the contact center strategy translates into a higher proportion of exceptional interactions which means more happy customers.
RT: Is web integration in contact centers finally happening?
HD: We are seeing increased interest in web usage for customer care initiatives, but phone interactions still are leading in customer communication channels. In the 2007 Aspect Contact Center Satisfaction Index, the study found that e-mail usage grew six percent since 2005, but phone interactions still accounted for 73 percent of consumer interactions with companies. More consumers are browsing the web to address their inquiries, and are indicating that they want the ability to contact someone online to easily get through to the contact center queue as seamlessly as possible. Many companies can or are trying to do this now but require separate multichannel solutions to bring together multiple communication channels to give customers a choice in how to communicate with a company.
RT: How is Microsoft’s entrance into the market changing it?
HD: With major software vendors like Microsoft lending credibility and stature and significance to the subject, many companies are now seriously thinking about unified communications and what it means to their businesses. As a result, technology/applications that help support UC strategies will be in high demand in 2008 and beyond. Creating an enterprise-wide strategy for UC is as much art as science, because the endeavor forces every company to ask (and answer) critical questions about internal business processes and workflows.
RT: What about web 2.0 – is it changing the contact center space?
HD: The ways that customers and companies have interacted over the years has evolved and web technologies are playing a huge role in this. I would call the time when customers contacted a company via letters and phone calls “Web B.C.” In contrast, Web 1.0 would be the time of World Wide Web proliferation and when customers were starting to research products and company information via the web. Web 2.0 is the era now, including the interactive use of social media, blogs, wikis, and message boards.
As far as the impact on the contact center space – company message boards and blogs are on the rise and are enabling customers to sound off on product issues, complaints, or praises, all on the company’s website. Some companies are finding Web 2.0 technologies are a forum for customers to resolve each other’s issues, as loyal customers hear about other customer issues or complaints, they will respond either with a solution, or come to the defense of the company. We’re seeing more companies place a priority on monitoring social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, to see what customers are saying about services and attempt to address these comments online. This is requiring companies to really think about the overall customer experience – if they aren’t addressing their customer issues accurately and timely, these companies could run the risk of losing key customers.
RT: What is one surprise we will see in the contact center space in the next year?
HD: We’ll be seeing IT and contact centers working more closely than ever before on UC strategies, resulting in the lines blurring between the contact center and the enterprise and how that impacts the customer experience. It certainly looks like the contact center is converging with the enterprise thanks to UC. For example, the idea of tapping expertise found in knowledge workers throughout the enterprise has been a holy grail for many. The challenge has been identifying when a knowledge worker is available to assist and how best to communicate with them. After all, I know very few people who will agree to tell their employer when they will start work and end the work day, when they are on a phone call, when they are in a meeting, when they want to go to the water cooler, and so on. Of course, by accepting their job, contact center agents agree to do all of the above and more. But, through their sharing of presence, knowledge workers are “telling” everyone else in the business both when and how they can be communicated. The trick then, is to integrate the contact center technologies to enterprise presence engines.
RT: Why should people come to hear you speak at Call Center 2.0 and what will you be discussing?
HD: Attendees that attend the Unified Communications in the Call Center Panel and the IP Contact Center Shootout Panel will be able to hear about the trends that Aspect Software, a contact center industry leader, is seeing with its customers (from Fortune 50 to SMBs) in terms of UC strategies, IP implementations, performance optimization, and unified solutions.
There is clearly a growing interest in solutions that can improve customer interactions and agent productivity. But for the immediate future, there is definitely an education process ahead of us when it comes to UC, and panel discussions like this will help provide some of that knowledge. Creating an enterprise-wide UC strategy forces companies to ask critical questions about business processes and workflows: What technologies are necessary for UC? Are these solutions IT-ready, standards-compliant and can they really interoperate with each other? What are the challenges that companies face in interoperating these all modes of communication channels, including IM, voice mail, presence engines, and unified messaging, and how are these challenges addressed? Attendees at the panel discussions can learn the importance of asking these questions to build the right product portfolio to ensure success in the contact center and in building customer relationships.

Rich Tehrani is President and Group Editor-in-Chief of TMC. In addition, he is the Chairman of the world�s best-attended communications conference, INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO (ITEXPO). He is also the author of his own communications and technology blog.

Edited by Eve Sullivan