Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Supplier Q&A on UC With Cisco

April 06, 2009

Beginning this month TMC is publishing a series of Q&As with leading customer interaction/CRM solutions suppliers in key product/service markets to get their insights on trends within contact centers, their specific industries, and with their firms. They are also being asked for best practices in buying and obtaining maximum value from their solutions.

Being featured this month is Unified Communications (UC). Replying for Cisco is Ross Daniels, Director of UC Solutions Marketing
1. What top trends do you see happening in both contact centers and in your industry and what is driving these trends?
Given the current economic environment, many top trends have been trumped by the need to cut costs and save money in the contact center. That said, we do see many contact centers using savings to invest for the upturn.
Several trends that we see include:
(a)        Focusing on first contact resolution (FCR) by tying the contact center to knowledge workers in the enterprise. Presence, instant messaging, and expertise tagging are the driving technologies behind this trend
(b)        Creating unique, personal, customer-centric experiences. Video is a driving technology here. Note that video in this context is not the ‘agent talking head’ but rather the ability for agents to stream live or packaged video content directly to customers via mobile devices or video kiosks
(c)        Measuring contact center performance via analytics rather than traditional call and agent metrics
(d)        Enabling customer care through non-traditional means, such as forums and social networking sites
 2. What new products, services, and/or enhancements to your existing solutions have you developed, or perhaps are currently working on in response to these issues, and how will they help contact centers improve their performance?
Cisco has a number of solutions that address the issues and trends highlighted. First, it should be noted that Cisco’s core solutions in customer contact produce a compelling ROI for customers looking to save to invest. These include our contact routing/ACD solutions Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise and Cisco Unified Contact Center Express, as well as our self-service/IVR solution Cisco Unified Customer Voice Portal. 
In addition to those core solutions, Cisco has developed Cisco Unified Expert Advisor to address customers’ requirements to achieve FCR by tying in knowledge worker experts to the contact center seamlessly. What makes Unified Expert Advisor different is that it is not simply providing instant messaging buddy lists to agents. Instead, Expert Advisor uses advanced contact routing software to automatically find the expert that can assist an agent with a customer.
In the area of video-enabled contact center, Cisco has developed both Cisco TelePresence Expert on Demand--which combines contact center routing capabilities with the full-size, in-person experience of Cisco TelePresence—and video capabilities with Cisco Unified Customer Voice Portal 7.0. With Cisco Unified CVP 7.0, enterprises can serve up self-service video to customers using 3G mobile devices or video enabled kiosks; when combined with Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise, agents can share live or packaged video with customers, providing a richer, unique customer experience.
Finally, Cisco Unified Intelligence Suite provides a reporting and analytics engine that delivers contact center supervisors and managers insight far beyond typical agent and call statistics. 
3. Where does your firm fit in your marketplace? What are your core differentiators? How would you describe your view of the future evolution of the company? Have you recently or do you plan to enter new markets and if which ones, why, and through what means?
Cisco is one of the leading global providers of agent-assisted and self-service solutions for the contact center. Cisco is also a leader in the broader telephony and UC markets. Our approach is to deliver value of the contact center solutions within a systems approach for UC. In customer contact solutions, our differentiation includes tremendous flexibility in terms of product and deployment options, an architecture that is scalable and supports highly distributed geographic environments, a relentless focus on security and software quality, and a leading channel for sales and deployment.
Our product development centers on what we hear from our customers. So, in the future, we expect to continue to provide thought leadership and deliver innovation in the customer care arena—driven by the requirements that we hear from our customers. 
In terms of new markets, we are always looking at the industry as a whole and listening to our customers for ideas for interesting areas. We may enter new product/technology markets via internal development, through partners, or by acquisition.
4. Discuss the state of technology with UC solutions. Is it arriving, has it arrived, or does it have a ways to go and if so why and what is needed for it to get there?
The good news is that the technology to deliver a well-integrated UC/contact center solution has arrived. From relatively straightforward implementations of instant messaging for agent to expert communications, to advanced routing capabilities that automatically ties the contact center and to enterprise knowledge workers, the technology is robust and ready to deploy today. The challenge is that contact center processes and people need to change in order to realize the full power of these solutions.
5. Concerns have been raised about the reluctance of other employees to become and to provide quality service as experts, tapped by presence/UC solutions; many of these individuals were not hired for their customer service abilities. What you would recommend and how are firms coping with this issue.
This is by far the biggest inhibitor to the widespread rollout of UC/presence to tie the contact center to the enterprise. In our minds, there are three main areas to address:
(a)        Making the tools for experts easy to use and part of the same software systems they are already using today; simply put, experts will not accept an enterprise version of an “agent desktop” solution
(b)        Setting up and tracking skills and ability levels for experts; expertise tagging and other innovative approaches will work better here than having an HR department manage a massive database of employees and skills
(c)        Developing a customer-centric attitude throughout the organization so that knowledge workers do not say ‘that’s not my job’. We believe that in the near-term a top-down approach from strong leaders in the organization (beginning with the executive office) is likely to be required. 
6. What shape do you see contact centers and your industry going forward? Where are the growth markets? What is the ROI for UC and why are and should firms invest in these solutions in today’s challenging economic times? What do you see happening post-downturn?
In Cisco’s view, growth going forward may come from almost anywhere. We see several established and emerging geographies continuing to have significant opportunities for growth. Additionally, growth may come from different deployment models (e.g. Software as a Service) or size segments (small/medium contact centers continue to outpace large enterprise contact centers). We also see growth from new outsourcing locations such as Eastern Europe and Egypt.
ROI in the contact center is well established and well understood; incorporating UC into that ROI model is something that many enterprises (and solution providers) are still working on. That said, the focus on FCR is a good step toward developing the ROI case for tying UC to the contact center. Quantifying the impact of second and third call avoidance, as well as the impact of a better customer service experience, will be key to developing the ROI case.
Firms that invest now will be the enterprises that come out of the downturn stronger, with a greater share of customers, and with the right technology and processes in place to take a more commanding position in their markets.
7. What best practices do you recommend in buying, installing, and getting the most value from your offerings?
On the buying side, we encourage customers to look for flexible solutions that offer multiple deployment options. In smaller contact centers, integration across the telephony/UC system is vital. In larger contact centers, flexibility and integration with third party solutions is the key. For deployment, we recommend that customers utilize well trained and certified deployment channels that provide a clear blueprint for implementation and operation of the system. Enterprises will get the most value from UC and contact center solutions by consistently examining the business objectives that the systems aim to address, and by adjusting the routing/queuing rules and processes that will deliver against those business objectives. 

Brendan B. Read is ContactCenterSolutions’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi