Category Archives: contact center

Making Money with Facebook?

Social media (the latest “techno-buzz term”) simply refers to people having conversations online.  In the far away land known as “Web 1.0” the internet was one-way.   You threw a website online or sent out emails and things were pretty simple.  Customers would check out your website for information, and might call your contact center or send you an email.  Ah, the good old days!

Social media (Facebook, Twitter. . .even YouTube) makes this seem quaint and old fashioned.  In the world of Facebook a short comment is followed by other comments and pretty soon you have a town meeting going on.    The vendor does not control the conversation — in fact no one controls it, not even the person who begins it!     With 500 million users now on Facebook it is larger than the United States of America — and perhaps just as powerful in its own way.

This new phenomena of social media can be a power for good or for evil.    It can help your business, or it can destroy you.   Businesses today must learn to deal with it one way or the other — and to try to find a way to use it as a way to make money.

The first thing to realize is that if you take a used car sales approach to Facebook or its ilk you will fail miserably.  Social media is all about the conversation and nothing turns people off faster than a sales pitch in the middle of a party.     To get fans who “like” you and read what you post you must provide valuable information, hopefully in an interesting way!  Doing this must be consistent — you may well have to hire an employee to manage your social media presence.   My company provides training, consulting and even provides the social media “presence” for companies — but be forewarned that if you outsource to someone like me they still need to learn a lot about your company and stay in close contact with you.    Why?

Because it is all about the conversation — and if there is no meat, no “there” there, you will quickly turn off anyone interested in you — and far from making money, you will soon start losing it to your competitors.

Content is king.  To make money on Facebook, Twitter and the rest you must have content of value and you must provide this in a succinct fashion.  You must post often (2-3 times a day on Twitter, at least daily on Facebook and 3-4 times a week on your corporate blog).   Since this is a conversation, you must encourage “fans” (find them via your email databases and by posting in places your customers visit online).    Respond to comments, good and bad — and do not be defensive.

Remember it is a CONVERSATION.

Some of the keys to success in Social Media are:

  1. Build a large and legitimate following by being informative and interesting;
  2. Respond to comments quickly and with substance
  3. Blog, Tweet and post frequently — but again it must be USEFUL information
  4. Monitor your social media communities — know what is working and what is not working

There are some great tools to help you manage multiple social media efforts, and to analyze how successful they are.  You will most likely not see “over night” results, but over time your base and your sales will increase.

As social media grows (and the largest growth is in women 55-65!), the traditional marketing bases of newspapers, radio and television are losing customers and advertisers.    Social media is a revolution.  There are ways to thrive in the revolution, but it is not by playing the game the way you might have historically with press releases, TV ads and the like.   The new world is all about loss of control and “the conversation.”

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CRM Shortcuts – Faster Ways to Customer Relationship Management

Years ago, I ran product management for several  industry specific CRM data warehouses (in other words, business intelligence) for Teradata .  My team worked with large Teradata customers including Wal-Mart, Bell South (now AT&T), Delta and Continental Airlines and other household names who were using Teradata to locate all their customer data and compile it in a system capable of analyzing customer buying trends.  The goal was to increase cross selling and up-selling to existing customers as well as to retain them (at least the profitable ones!).  Data mining (“what if I did X instead of Y”) type analysis could help target new customers as well.

It was interesting, and profitable.  The customers targeted in different market segments (like Retail, Banking, Telecom, Travel, Hospitality and Healthcare) saved money because they did not have to “tweak” generic systems to their industry variances.  It was profitable for Teradata, because a good chunk of development could be spread over multiple customers instead of starting from “scratch” each time.

No CRM solution can be 100% “off the shelf” — even for small businesses.   There are certain things that are unique to the way a company does business.   Yet, the more that can be “out of the box” and functional, the faster the rewards and the easier to get it up and running.

The reason I’m traveling down memory lane is because last week I received an email from Lauren Carlson, a CRM Market Analyst.  She wondered if I’d be interested in blogging on the topic of industry specific CRM applications built around Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

If you’ve read my blog for awhile you may know I am a big fan of Dynamics CRM.   My curiosity was raised so I check out her blog, “Microsoft Dynamics CRM Industry Solutions:  Our 15 Favorites.”  Since there are over 750 industry solutions built around Dynamics CRM this was quite an undertaking!

For easy navigation, the article links each industry to its corresponding solution:

Advertising
Financial Services Non-Profit
Agriculture Healthcare Pharmaceuticals
Automotive Hospitality/Travel Public Sector
Construction Insurance Real Estate
Distribution Legal Retail

If you take a look at any of these solutions for your industry segment heed these warnings:  check out the vendor’s track record for keeping up to date with Dynamics CRM.   Any time you have a third party “adding value” to another vendor’s product they can begin to slip behind in updates.  Suddenly your third party application may not work with newer releases.   Also, in your contract with the third party ask what happens if they go out of business.   Any customer / vendor relationship is a bit like a marriage — so go into your relationship with your eyes wide open, and a pre-nup in hand!

It also behooves you to check some happy users who have been with the third party independent software vendor (ISV) for a few years, to make sure the customer support and “bug fixes” are fast and relatively painless.   Keep in mind that you are paying a premium for the value add of the industry specific application (although you may get a discount on the CRM software) — do your due diligence to determine if the value you will get makes the additional cost of the third party application cost effective for your business.

CRM or BPM?

Last week I had the chance to travel to beautiful Cambridge, MA.  Years ago AT&T sent me to MIT for various business courses, but I hadn’t been there in years.  Coming from Orlando with its 100 plus degree days it was a pleasure to walk by the Charles River along with many others.  The weather was perfect and I wasn’t the only one enjoying the gorgeous day.

I was in Cambridge to visit with Pegasystems, the leading BPM (business process management) software leader.  Pega (as they are known) boasts major customers including Bank of America, three or four of the “Blues” (Blue Crosses) and many others.

BPM automates common work practices — and since many companies are like silos — marketing is independent of sales is independent of engineering is independent of shipping, most processes that cross departments (and don’t they all?) get there via email, voice mail, forms, excel spreadsheets. . .  Even when the systems are the same the receiving department has to proactively pull the work into their world.

BPM not only automates processes across organizations, but using quality improvement methods and workflow automation work gets done faster and more efficiently — thus saving time and money.  In the world of government regulation (such as Sarbanes-Oxley aka SOX) where companies had to keep a tighter track of financial information for auditing purpose) being able to not only automate processes, but to track them becomes a necessity.

Pega is #1 in the BPM software world with their  SmartBPM® product.  Their president, Alan Trefler was named “Computer Software Executive  of the Year” at the 2009 American Business Awards.  So in the world of BPM they are not only the market leader, but the thought leader.  Pega is the leader in the Gartner Group “Magic Quadrant” for BPM.

Recently Pega has dipped its toe into the CRM (customer relationship management) world with their solution CPM (Customer Process Manager).  They have build a contact center customer service support module on top of this BPM engine.   While certainly not a “threat” to the more complete CRM vendors who go beyond the customer service space, the Pega solution is the next logical step for CRM.

Today’s CRM solutions are, for the most part, records based.  Whether we’re talking of Siebel (Oracle), Salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics CRM they all start by creating a record.

Remember those corporate silos I mentioned a few paragraphs ago?  All that great customer information winds up “usable” beyond the CRM application only if it is in a field in said record.  Otherwise that valuable customer “gold” becomes embedded in notes that a CSR or sales rep makes of the contact, and are only available to those who sit and read those notes.

What Pega’s CRM does well is to integrate end-to-end customer-facing processes across not only departments but existing applications.  If you already have Siebel and an (enterprise resource planning) ERP solution and a (supply chain management) SCM solution you can bring in Pega underneath them to streamline the hand off of a sale or problem resolution across organizations.  Over time you can begin to implement some of their desktop apps that can be very easily modified on the fly.  The power of Pega’s ability to pull this off is shown in their 50% plus growth in the last year.

The most amazing thing about Pega is that they are aimed at the big companies —  1,000 plus users.  Many CRM applications simply can’t scale to large implementations, but Pega can — and it does so based on an open architecture (java).

Pega does have competitors in this new CRM hybrid space.  Chordiant and Sword Ciboodle (a really excellent offer from a Scottish company who is making inroads into the States) to consider along with Pega if the process oriented CRM approach makes sense in your company.

The traditional CRM vendors have noted the interested a hybrid BPM / CRM approach and all have some iteration of it on their product roadmaps.    If you’re interested in the CRM world, take a look at Pega, Chordiant ans Sword Ciboodle to get a feel for your future.

CRM the Contact Center and Unified Communications Get Real

A few blogs ago I wrote about the natural link between the contact center and unified communications.

Unified Communications (UC) can empower the contact center by directing nontraditional call center calls to the center.  Most people think of UC as a way of combining multiple contact points for one person to a single point of contact (thus John Smith’s office phone, cell phone, email, IM, etc. can all be directed to “ring” on his cell phone).   In the lives of busy executives (or even busy sales people) there are people whose calls don’t merit being directly to you “live.”

Traditionally UC would route such a call to a secondary point such as voice mail or email.  If you put a contact center into the mix the call can be routed to a live person who can try to resolve the need (whether a sale or customer service) thus improving customer service at a lower price point (executives and sales types tending to be expensive).

SearchCRM has an article about Eastman Chemical doing exactly what I suggested.  Eastman Chemical uses the SAP CRM contact center solution and claims to be deploying unified communications in the contact center.  The article doesn’t give details as to HOW they are using UC or even whose UC they might be using.      The SAP Duet product has some presence capability “built in” partnering with Microsoft OCS, so this could be what is in use, but the article doesn’t say. Possibly it is SAP NetWeaver.  Unfortunately the article is short on details and a search of SAP didn’t turn up anything either.

Maybe someone from SAP can enlighten us?

Datamonitor’s Market Share Insight: The Contact Center Universe,” writes that Aspect (a UC vendor) has 29% of the  outbound contact center marketshare.  If you go to Aspect’s home page you’ll see them heralding UC.    Aspect leverages Microsoft’s UC including Microsoft® Office Communications Server 2007 (Microsoft’s UC platform), Microsoft® Active Directory™ for single sign-on and authentication and  Microsoft® Exchange Server 2007 for unified messaging (UM).

What is the difference between UC and UM?  UC = unified communications, the ability to unify live and passive forms of communications (office phone, cell phone, email, voice mail, etc.) to direct important people to the live person wherever he or she may be.  For example, an executive needs to speak to a key employee, but that employ is away from his (her) desk.  In earlier times the executive would either leave a voice mail or try to “zero out” to an admin who could search various cell phones, home phones, etc. trying to find the employee.

Unified communications allows its users to direct their various points of contact (office phone, email, etc.) to where they currently are (home, cell phone, client office. . .).  The end user can selectively allow only key people to access them “live” re-directing others to a secondary resource such as voice mail or a contact center.

Unified messaging (UM)  is an older technology that may be a subset of UC.   UM brings together  different electronic messaging technologies such as email, SMS, voice mail, video messaging and even faxes.  Using UM a “road warrior” can dial into voice mail and have email read to them electronically.  Likewise, voice mail can be left as an MP3 file on email or in some cases converted to text.    It is not as “live” and immediate as UC and is more advantagious to the receiver of the message than the sender.

UC brings sender and receiver together without “phone tag” or enless messages — giving it the power of much faster response to sales opportunities and problem resolution.

At any rate, it is interesting that the value of combining the contact center with UC is getting more and more attention.  Thought you might want to know.

Unified Communications: Part 2

And the shake out in Unified Communications (UC) continues!

In the early days of UC Siemens worked closely with Microsoft. This was in the days of LCS (live communications server), not the current Microsoft OCS.   As time went by Microsoft cozied up to Nortel (for those who don’t know, Nortel used to be Northern Telecom which was the Canadian AT&T in ancient times).  In the days before Cisco began to eat traditional telephony vendors’ lunch (Avaya, Nortel, Siemens aka Rolm) Nortel was one of the big two competitors to the AT&T equipment spin-off, Avaya.

So when the honeymoon between Siemens and Microsoft ended with the release of Microsoft OCS which was targeted as a competitor to Siemens’ highly acclaimed UC product, OpenScape, Microsoft tapped Nortel as its technology and channel partner in UC.

Musical chairs!  Fun to watch from the outside, but not only confusing to outsiders but job threatening to IT folks who hitched their career star to the wrong vendor!  There is a reason IBM has ruled in the IT space for about fifty years and it is FUD.

FUD = Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

FUD means no one got fired for buying IBM even if they didn’t have the best solution out there.  Sometimes if one is on the IT hot spot it makes more sense to buy the safe choice rather than the best and right choice for your company.

Well, the Nortel / Microsoft alliance didn’t turn out to be a life saver for Nortel.  Read the news lately?  Nortel is on the block — the sales block!  Just as Avaya went private and Siemens was (mostly) bought out now it is Nortel’s turn.  Nortel went into bankruptcy in January, 2009 and now Nortel Networks Limited is looking for a buyer.   Nortel’s Enterprise Solutions is its second largest revenue source  — and has a whopping 59% of the American market share (per Dell’Oro Group).

With Nortel on the block many of its partners are moving to Avaya.  Carol Giles Neslund, Avaya’s North American channels VP, claims that 19 of  Nortel partners (including 10 of their biggest partners)  have signed up to Avaya (17 in the U.S and 2 in Canada).

Also on the chopping block is Nortel’s wireless assets for $650 million to Nokia Siemens.

To add to Nortel’s woes (as if they needed more headaches) Microsoft just inked a four-year agreement with Hewlett-Packard (HP) worth $180 million in enhancements to their joint unified communications solutions. What does that mean for that much ballyhooed Nortel/Microsoft UC partnership?  You might ask Siemens who was Microsoft’s ballyhooed UC partner prior to Nortel.

Nortel isn’t going down without a fight.  No sooner did Nortel sell its wireless group to Siemens it turns around and announces Release 3.0 of its SCS unified communications solution!   Right on the heels of this Nortel announced that Telecom Liechtenstein (obviously in Liechtenstein!) had invested in Nortel’s UC offer – in its partnership with Microsoft — integrating Microsoft’s OCS with Nortel’s voice communication ifrastructure.

So what is my advice to potential unified communications buyers?   First, look at the ROI and value to your company.  Even if you choose a UC product whose vendor goes bankrupt or is acquired if the product meets your needs and has a fast enough “payback” I’d still consider it.  Technology is always changing and the good news is that these days most if not all are standards based.

Unlike the good folk in Liechtenstein I don’t know if I’d short list Nortel until it gets acquired or things get clearer, but Microsoft is in UC for the long haul.  OpenScape by Siemens has a user face interface which integrates with third-party unified messaging as well as instant messaging applications, such as Jabber.  OpenScape works with Microsoft’s OCS and IBM Lotus Sametime. Openscape partnered with IBM when Microsoft chose to embed part of Nortel’s UC offering into OCS.  Siemens OpenScape is embedded as part of IBM’s Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony UC solution.

If you have a Genesys(of Alcatel-Lucent) contact center, the good news is that Genesys has UCConnect connects their contact center software with UC offerings from their parent (Alcatel-Lucent) company’s MyInstant Communicator, IBM Lotus Sametime, Microsoft OCS and Siemens OpenScape.   So even if you choose a UC that goes away due to a merger or bankruptcy if you have a UC connect ability you can disconnect from one UC offer to another without disaster to the contact center.

Odds are that Nortel and its UC offer won’t disappear any time soon.  Most likely this part of Nortel will be bought by someone — maybe Avaya.  The latest rumor is that MatlinPatterson Global Advisors may buy them out compleely.

For now, if I were looking at UC offers, I would look at Nortel, but I’d do so with knowledge aforethought.

The Lazy Hazy CRM Days of Summer and the Holy Grail of Unified Communications

This is the first entry in awhile.  After my last blog the folks at IT Toolbox asked me to begin a blog for them on the topic of CRM.  “Making Cents and Sense of CRM” is focused on how CRM has gone from being the next great invention to improve corporate ROI since the invention of ERP (enterprise resource planning) into a mess of all kinds of applications that have nothing to do with one another (from sales force automation (SFA), to customer service, to business intelligence, to contact center. . .).  You name a solution and no doubt someone has called it “CRM.”

This mis-use of the term has caused the market to falter.   Why would people buy something when they either don’t know what it is supposed to do, or when it over promises and under delivers?

I think this is where the expression “duh” aptly fits.

So as I sit in Central Florida in 100 plus degree heat (farenheit) pondering how soon I can get back to the beach or at least the pool I’ve been focusing on the question of whether we need to “re-label” real CRM or whether we can save it with a hail Mary pass?

That “hail Mary” may be tying CRM with Unified Communications.  We’ve discussed this a little bit before — how the ability to provide accessibility to people where ever they are from a  “virtual” office phone or email address makes the ability to improve customer service. . .but let’s take a look at some “real world” examples.

Toshiba just announced their  Unified Communications Suite, Strata® CIX™.   ShorTel (a VoiP vendor) recently linked their UC to their call center quality assurance processes.   Why are vendors big and small suddenly jumping on the “CRM / UC” bandwagon?

Well, a survey by Computerworld Hong Kong showed that users are worn out from accessing multiple communications points (email, voicemail, cell phone, office phone, etc.) only to be bombarded by people that keep them from getting their work done, while getting to important things and people “too late.”   The survey found that 55% were using IM (instant messaging), 42% were using video conferencing, and 29% were using person to person tools that were created original for home use (like Yahoo! and Microsoft Messenger).

While hte survey shows that people need UC (and may even WANT UC) they still don’t understand what it is!

Forrester Research also conducted a survey and their’s showed that most small and large companies still are uncertain about the benefits of UC!  Forrester surveyed 2,187 North American companies and 55% (55%!) were confused about what it was, let alone its value to them!

Wow, here we are contemplating how to get CRM out of the mess of “what is it and why do I care?” when it has enormous potential to improve the bottom line, when unified communications perhaps has a faster ROI (probably less overall over time, but a huge, quick payback for UC) but no one knows exactly why!

Amazing!

Granted the economy is confused right now and some companies are in panic mode — but this makes both UC and CRM even more compelling given the ROI — especially with a shrinking workforce.  Yet 55% are confused about the VALUE of Unified Communications?

Wow, we are sure lousy communicators!

Ellen Daley, (the Forrester Research analyst who authored the report) said: “There’s been a 21% increase in UC pilots since 2007 but no increase in firms buying UC. A lot of people are talking about UC, a lot more are tipping their toe in; but at the same time they’re all saying they’re not sure about the value.”

Folks, we can’t throw technology at a problem and hope that fixes things!  UC and CRM both hold enormous potential for companies but ONLY if correctly applied to a specific business NEED.  Pilots alone are worthless if the pilot isn’t part of a business problem and specific success criteria applied to the pilot.

Far too many IT vendors sell to the TCM (telecommunications manager), or the CIO (Chief Information Officer) or some other technical manager.  Definitely we need to be talking to these folks, but the REAL buyers of UC and CRM are in Marketing and Sales.  These areas are outside of the comfort zone of man typical IT sales person.

UC and CRM vendors need to move up the totem pole and start cross selling into sales and marketing (and perhaps even the CFO and CEO).  If you don’t know how to get there and have a compelling story when you do — prepare to fail.  Sit by the beach or pool in these lazy, hazy days of summer and prepare to sit there during the blizzards of February (or in my case, Disney’s Blizzard Beach).

If you lack the ability to get outside of IT you’d better partner with someone who can.

Or we’ll attend the funeral of your awesome CRM or UC product — along (perhaps) with the whole field. See you at the beach!

CRM and Unified Communications

My last blog focused on how Unified Communications (UC) can empower the contact center by directing nontraditional call center calls to the center.  Most people think of UC as a way of combining multiple contact points for one person to a single point of contact (thus John Smith’s office phone, cell phone, email, IM, etc. can all be directed to “ring” on his cell phone).  This is the common way UC is explained, and it can be very valuable — but it can also result in TMI (too much information).

Everyone may be created equal, but we can’t give all of our customers, peers, bosses, and the world at large equal access to us or we’d never get any work done.  We need to prioritize who can contact us and how.  Thus with UC we can identify specific people (our boss, our spouse, our key customer) to reach us at our #1 end point (maybe that cell phone) while other important people get directed to voice mail — or as I pointed out in my last blog — this is a perfect opportunity to now direct those folks to a contact center where an inside sales rep or pool admin can hopefully handle their needs in one call (OCR = one call resolution).

So there is a natural marriage between UC and CC (contact center).

Where does CRM come into play?

CRM (customer relationship management) has become such a muddied term.  It has become far too generic.  To some it does mean contact center software (and it can be that), to some it means the software or software as a service (SaaS) that outside sales reps use to keep track of their accounts, where they are in the sales cycle, etc. — and that is a good definition. . .but CRM is much bigger than that.

CRM is really broken into two broad categories:  “front office CRM” and “Back office CRM.”

Front office CRM are the applications that actually touch the customer directly — the voice on the phone in the contact center, an internet interface where they can place an order, customer service (again online or over the phone) or the live customer service rep (CSR).  Any part where the customer is directly interfacing with your company is a form of “front office CRM.”

And a logical touchpoint for UC and CRM to link.

The holy grail of the contact center for years has been OCR – one call resolution.    Any problem that isn’t resolved in one call, or any sale that can’t be closed in one call (“we have an internet special where for the same price you are paying today you can add XYZ. . .”) costs lots of money.  Any customer service call that takes too long or requires “follow up” also begins to alienate your customers making them more inclined to leave you for another firm.

UC can dramatically improve the goal of OCR — whether that “one call” is a phone call, an internet access or even your face to face outside sales rep.

It all has to do with the “hand off.”  Inside a contact center this can be done with intelligent routing (which is really what UC is in a larger scheme of things).  We route the call to the most logical, not the first available, agent.   With UC we are now moving beyond the barrier of the contact center and able to route the call to best person no matter what department they work in, or even WHERE THEY ARE physically.

Setting up skills routing takes time, but the rewards are immense both in customer satisfaction and in cost reduction.

All of this so far focuses on the connectivity between front office CRM and UC, but back office CRM can increase this cost reduction by quantum factors.  Using a data warehouse (or perhaps data mart) to identify your most profitable customers you may choose to always route them to a specific department or person — not blindly treating all customers the same but giving platinum treatment to platinum customers.

By contrast your lower value customers (in margins) can always be routed through an IVR (interactive voice response) unit and routed to newer agents. . .  The dirty little reality in sales is that there are some customers that are not worth having because the amount of work they require (and work = expense to your company) may mean you actually lose money by having them as a customer.  Back end CRM identifies who is profitable and thus worth retaining.

One to one marketing is a myth.  We do not market to all of our prospects and customers in the same way and we shouldn’t.   Back end CRM’s information on customer profitability can help determine who we route to whom in our dynamic, unified communications world.

This blog is speaking in generalities — as if we had all the money and time in the world to link all of these disparate systems together.    The good news is that many of these systems are already begining to be linked — Cisco with Salesforce.com, Aspect with MicrosoftAvaya and SAP, Nortel offers integration to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and implemented Dynamics internally.   The idea is to take advantage of the technologies you may already have in place such as a legacy  Siebel implementation maybe using AT&T’s Siebel Solutions offer) to improve relations with your customers and business partners through a streamlined “one call resolution” that goes far beyond the silos of “outside sales,” “engineering,” “customer service” across your business.

The Contact Center, CRM and Unified Communications

In my last blog we discussed the impact of social networking on unified communications and concluded that while UC and social networking are all forms of communications one is “push” (in social networking you post and someone reads it at their own pace and discretion) whereas most of UC (unified communications) is “pull.”

In UC it is the recipient, the “end user” who determines who can reach them at what end point through a single point of access.  Boy that sounds verbose.  To put it more simply, in today’s world most people have an office phone, a cell phone, maybe a home land line phone, at least one email (usually two or more:  business and personal), some still carry pagers, and then we have Twitter and the social media platforms.  The promise of UC is that the end user defines where s/he “is” (maybe the cell phone) and all forms of communication are routed to that one source — even if they are sent to another (the office phone, email, etc.).

Perhaps the greatest thing about UC in this overloaded world is that the end user can actually decide WHO accesses their primary end point (in our example the cell phone) and who is “tier II” and goes directly to voice mail to be retrieved when time is available, or even “tier III” (unknown people, for example) who go to an admin or even get funneled to another department — for example, the call center.

You knew I’d eventually wrap back to the contact (call) center — after all the title of this blog is “The Contact Center, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and Unified Communications.

Most people don’t “see” the connection between the contact center and Unified Communications (UC), but is actually pretty obvious.  UC is best suited to people with lots of contacts and who may be away from their physical office a lot (think of lawyers, physicians, business executives who attend meetings off-site, sales types, Realtors, etc.).   Do we really want the “unknown” callers to go to some over loaded voice mail box where it may never receive attention due to work levels?

How about shipping that call to a $9 an hour CSR (customer service representative) who can identify the purpose and see if there is a potential sale there?  If not a sale, how about resolving a problem or at least determing the correct person to handle the purpose of the original call?  The result is a happier initial caller, better customer service, maybe a new sale AND OCR (one call resolution).

The contact center vendors are beginning to understand this obvious advantage.  Genesys (an Alcatael / Lucent company) — one of the two largest contact center vendors (the other being Avaya) — has announced UC Connect.  UC Connect promises integration and interoperability between the Genesys Customer Interaction Management (CIM) software platform and UC solutions from many of the major providers in the industry.  From what I can tell the only integration available currently is to IBM SameTime.

I haven’t seen it so can’t tell you how simple or complex (integration) this solution is — but Genesys claims it will provide connectivity to the Alcatel-Lucent’s MyInstant Communicator, IBM Sametime, Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, and Siemens Openscape.   When?  How?  That remains to be seen.

Formerly with Siemens I’m very familiar with Openscape and love it.   If you are looking into UC be sure you take a look at Openscape — realizing that Siemens market share is far below Cisco and Avaya but knowing that feature / functionality is tops.  IBM integrated some of the Siemens’ Openscape code into Sametime — and initially Microsoft partnered with Siemens in their previous UC generation.  Great product, but again the caveat is Siemens market penetration, service coverage — so be sure you feel comfortable with your support and service  if you consider Openscape.

Avaya?  Cisco?  Genesys has taken the bull by the horn.  Granted you have to be a user of their contact center software, but they are one of the two market leaders in that field. . .

Genesys has raised the bar.  Cisco offers Cisco Unified Communications contact center system, proclaimed as “the Cisco IP solution for distributed contact center applications,” but it is a total Cisco (one vendor) solution not the open true UC offer now available from Genesys.   Stay tuned.

Unified Communications and the Contact Center

First we went from Call Centers which were either inbound or outbound (e.g. you were calling someone or they were calling you). Then we moved to “contact” centers where the thought was that customers could communicate with your company over the phone (call center) or email — or maybe even via “live chat” over the internet.

Contact, whether by keyboard or voice!

The problem is that most contact centers didn’t spring up instantly (like the goddess Athena who was born full grown out of the head of her dad, Zeus). Most start small and grow — or we wind up with multiple call centers in various places (including India or China) that use different technologies. Some happened through mergers, some just over time. We have silos of information. Islands floating off by themselves.

All of these islands of contact points (distributed call centers, email, live chat, etc.) were put in place to reduce costs and yet still give decent customer service. To further complicate our global customer base we also have employees who telecommute or live in various cities.

How can all this complexity be unified? How can we simplify?

For one we make all these multiple points of communications (voice, email, fax, live chat) available from one point. When a customer (or employee) reaches out they make one connection and find the end point they need. No more phone tag. No more voice mails left on office phones and cell phones and punching “0” in the hopes of finding a live person who can help.

No more “let me transfer” you and getting disconnected.

Unified Communications brings the promise of true customer service at both reduced costs and high satisfaction.

Let me give a live example from my own life. A major credit card company (who shall remain nameless) has the world’s worst call center. When calling in one is first faced with IVR hades. Push “1” for this “2” for that, and oh please enter for 17 digit credit card number and expiration date. . .and what was your mother’s maiden name again???

By the time one reaches a human being (IF one reaches a live human being) the frustration level is high. The first agent invariably does NOT have your credit card number or mom’s name so you have to repeat the exercise. Invariably again this agent cannot help you but must transfer you to another department.

Many times in this “transfer” I have been disconnected and have to start the entire misery again. Oh, yes, one can try to do this over the internet but the interface is clumsy and results in much the same result.

Assuming one does get transferred one must again repeat the information. It is the lucky person indeed who does not face a third transfer! This credit card company is so poorly IT challenged that they were unable to give me a record of a charge and suggested I call the retailer for it! This after being transferred numerous times only to be told they didn’t have the very basic tools of their own business!

Now envision this contact center if it had unified communications. If you are a VIP you might have a direct connection in to a specific workgroup, but if not one can bypass the IVR rapidly and get to a live agent who has in front of them your information (on one of many CRM applications). That one person should have access to any and all information, but just in case they do need to transfer you they can see visually who is available and they can stay on the line with you as they hand off the call with the new agent.

COMMUNICATIONS. Not frustration! In this example my credit card record would have been emailed, faxed or snail mailed to be automatically. None of this is future and none of it is unrealistic. It is all available today and I dare say the credit card company in question would have saved considerable money considering the number of agents who handled (or mishandled) my call.

Everything old is new again — VoiceCon

VoiceCon is the big telephony convention. It is underway in Orlando — just next door to DisneyWorld. The location seems somehow ironic. Just as Disney is expert and re-inventing itself one sees “old” players insisting that they are new and improved.

But everything new is old again — and the reverse is also true.

Along with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and going “green” we have the even more secure networking vendors — and the biggest buzz of all? Why, Unified Communications of course!

UC (as it is known to its friends) is focused on making people “reachable” where ever they are — on one device. These days the average person has an office phone, a cell phone, a home phone, corporate email, personal email, an instant messenger (or two) and probably more I’ve forgotten to mention. I seem to recall a statistic that said the average American has seven (yes, 7) ways to be reached.

So we are forever checking multiple places and playing “phone tag” ad naseum. The promise of UC is that we can identify “where” we are and UC will let those we want to find us find us. (Those we try to avoid may still wind up in voice mail heaven). In UC verbage this is called “presence awareness.”

In other words big brother (UC) knows where you are. This is your “presence.”

At VoiceCon Avaya introduced their Intelligent Presence Server which they say takes UC another step forward — not just presence awareness, but presence information across multiple sources.

Nortel’s big pitch at VoiceCon is based on “mobile” UC. Siemens has had this for awhile– your office phone number is the one number given out and it can be routed to any device — including your PC or your cell phone. Nortel is tying the idea of UC with FMC (fixed mobile convergence) so that when you are at your office you don’t pay the cell phone company for minutes — your call is switched to a WiFi connection.

The problem here isn’t the technology but the cell phone companies who (for the most part) won’t allow phones that can be FMC capable on their networks. They aren’t dumb and they don’t want to lose the 30-50% of network revenue that goes away with FMC.

Still, that is Nortel’s pitch.

Cisco announced enhancements to its CCVP® professional-level certification. Why no big announcements like Nortel or Avaya? Hey, they don’t have to. Cisco is the leader in Unified Communications by far – with 50,000 Cisco Unified Communications customers worldwide and more than 70 percent of all Fortune 500 companies using their UC offer.

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