Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Customer UC - Voice Assistance Is Only A Part of the Contextual Contact Center

September 21, 2009

As I mentioned in my last article, new unified communications technologies (UC) have started to impact customer contact operations to the point that the traditional “call center” now has to be called a customer “contact “center. In addition, the holy grail of call center performance efficiency, “First Call Resolution” (FCR), must now be called “First Contact Resolution.”

From a business results perspective, UC ROI performance must include metrics like customer satisfaction (soft) and revenue generation (hard), not just cost savings and Total Cost of Ownership (hard). Customer contact activities are therefore increasingly being evaluated as key to overall UC implementation planning.
I have labeled such customer-facing UC communication activities as “Customer UC.”  This is where the flexibility of UC technologies is applied to traditional customer contacts (inbound and outbound). “Customer UC” must support users both inside and outside of the organization who are not necessarily at a desktop, on premises, or using the same communication technologies, but are involved directly or indirectly with “customers.”
These kinds of challenges were discussed by a panel of innovative contact center technology developers on the subject of ”UC and the Contact Center” at TMC’s ITEXPO West conference in Los Angeles earlier this month.
The Disruptive Impact of UC and Mobility On Traditional Telephone Call Centers
The traditional call center is no longer really a physically located “center,” but has to be “virtual” in terms of where the technology is located and where the “agents” and “experts” are located. (Call center “customers” have always been “virtual!”) Nor is the next generation “contextual contact center” dedicated to handling just conversational voice calls or automated, self-service applications, based on legacy telephones and Interactive Voice Response technologies.
Because of the exploding consumer shift to personalized, multi-modal, mobile “smartphones,” coupled with evolving SIP networking infrastructure that can support all forms of person-to-person, person-to-process, and process-to-person interactions, organizations of all sizes will need the power of UC to support the dynamic demands of their users and customers.  “Customer UC” must be endpoint device and location independent to provide faster, more efficient access to both information and people to end users involved in their business activities, whether they are internal staff “agents,” and “experts” or external customers and business partners. 
What’s Happening With “Customer UC” Today?
Feedback from the contact center market today confirms some of the points made above. In various panel discussions at ITEXPO, the following interesting observations were noted:
  • Business organizations are buying more “UC technology” for contact center applications, although not actually using the technology yet. Desktop video (for conferencing) is in second place as a UC application purchases. This indicates the direction and priorities that UC implementation planning is taking.  
  • The biggest UC implementation mistakes that enterprise IT staffs seem to be making are:
  • Making a vendor selection first
  • No preparations, lack of due diligence or “homework”
  • Trying to implement UC like existing communications (e.g., treating Microsoft OCS like Exchange)
  • The cost of planning for UC is about the same for a large and a smaller business organization, while the cost of implementation will obviously be higher for the larger group. Any size organization will have the similar customer care problems and, therefore, “Customer UC” will pay off for them all.
  • “Hosted” and “cloud computing” solutions are increasingly attractive to any size organization, as IP telephony and wireless mobility become software rather than hardware based.    
  • UC operational needs are based on individual job responsibilities (“roles”). For the SMB organization, the needs analysis and requirements effort can typically be 50 percent of the total UC implementation cost. For the large organization, UC implementation can be phased in by individual groups, application by application. However, the SMB market doesn’t have big legacy technology investments to protect nor IT staffs to train and manage, will “low-hanging fruit” for service providers.
  • “Communication Enabled Business Processing” (CEBP) is a big target for UC integration with business applications and mobile customer contact exploitation, but is still evolving. It needs standards for open interoperability to make its role in the “Contextual Contact Center” really take off.

New IP telephony technology can’t be sold separately without UC integration considerations, making UC marketing a partnering team effort. UC also can’t be sold just on a telephony cost savings basis to IT management alone, thus requiring business management and business process analyses first.
My Panel’s First Two Questions
My panelists were representatives from contact center technology developers Altitude Software, CosmoCom, and Fonality.
What Are The Key Drivers For UC In The Contact Center Market?
  • Increase flexibility for customer access to mobile and remote personnel who are best qualified and “available” to satisfy specific customer needs;
  • Increase flexibility of choice for mobile and desktop customers to get information and contextual access to live assistance in real time (“click-to-call/chat”) or via timely messaging; 
  • Improve operational business process performance by increasing use of self-service applications (online, voice, mobile, proactive services), which minimize both labor needs and human delays;
  • Increase customer satisfaction and retention through improved customer experiences, which helps generate revenues and profits. This includes proactive “notifications” to mobile users about time-sensitive, requested information;
  • Increase business application flexibility by shifting to communications-enabled software, rather than hardware, that can be customized for any-size business and for individual end users.
  • Reduce operational costs and TCO by centralizing and virtualizing operational management and technology support for competitive business operational needs.


Note: Although there are UC benefits for everyone involved in customer interactions, there will be different organizational and business priorities for each of the above considerations that must be analyzed and evaluated prior to planning UC implementations.
What traditional call center processes will be probably be changed first by UC?
  • Importance of contact handling time vs. effectiveness of modality of contact vs. increasing shift to self-service and pro-active notifications;
  • Consolidating “Agent” desktops to facilitate multi-modal customer interactions for various business applications;
  • Supporting new multi-modal communication needs for remote, online  “agents” and “experts”;
  • Supporting mobile and online multi-modal customers;
  • Customizing “unified desktops” to make both “agent” and “expert” interactions more efficient across different business application processes;
  • Developing new metrics and reports to track all new forms of customer contacts and interactions.

Which won’t?
  • Consolidated reporting of all customer interaction metrics from both the customer perspective and live assistance support involved will be evolving after all specific Customer UC capabilities have been successfully tested and implemented;
  • Automated proactive notifications by business applications will also come later as more customers become mobile and more practical experience is gained with new mobile devices and specific types of applications. At that point, individual applications will have to be integrated to enable “CEBP” functionality and operational management
  • Agent empowerment to dynamically switch interaction modalities (e.g., text messaging, voice calls, online collaboration, video conferencing, etc.);
  • Changing “First Call resolution” to “First Contact Resolution” in terms of responding to a mobile caller by acknowledging the call notification, but deferring it in various ways from an immediate real-time voice response;
  • Won’t change management responsibilities for line of business and customer contact activities.
Comments to other UC-Contact Center issues will be posted later.
What do you think? You can contact me at: [email protected] or (310) 395-2360.

Art Rosenberg, a veteran of the computer and communications industry, contributes his column, The Unified-View to ContactCenterSolutions. To read more of Art’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erik Linask