Category Archives: unified communications

Disney on the cutting edge again (or is that “still”?)

My last blog discussed how smartphones will soon suprass PCs as the main way we surf the ‘net.   In turn this access gives vendors a whole new way to personalize service to us as consumers.   Using GPS, CRM and unified communications we’ll be able to shop smarter and vendors will be able to pinpoint personalized offers to us based not just on our past buying history or our demographics (where we live, our age, etc.) but actually by knowing where we are and what we are doing.

Big brother is watching!

So how does Disney tie into this?   Disney is working on new technology for its theme parks (Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney Resort and  Disney Hong Kong) .  Disney has not announced this, but a former executive is on record as stating that Disney is working on wireless-communication technology to tailor theme park offerings to the likes of individual visitors.  This same source claims that Disney is spending $1 billion to $1.5 billion on this project, so it is considered a “game changer” by them.

What types of things does Disney plan to do with wireless technology?   CRM of course!  They will offer Disney visitors all kinds of enhanced services that will shorten waits on line, customize the “experience” of a Disney vacation all the while they are compiling information on you and your family. . .what rides you went on, what restaurants you visited, where you stayed. . .  this information is then used to offer you knew vacation offers tailored to your likes.

Nick Franklin Executive Vice President, New Business Development

The person in charge of this herculean effort is Nick Franklin, head of global business and real-estate development for Disney’s theme park division.    Franklin has had an exciting career with Disney Franklin as well as serveing as a member of the Executive Committee for the Parks & Resorts segment overall. “This is not the typical opportunity that gets described in business school,” he said. “My job is to help envision the next generation of Disney experiences around the world, which is pretty cool.”

I’d say so!

I’ll bet back in his days at the investment banking at Goldman, Sachs & Co.  Franklin could never have dreamed he’d be working in the “House of the Mouse” working on new generation entertainment venues!

But I digress.   The rumors (and that is all we have at this time, rumors) say that Disney’s NextGen (code name) CRM technology push will include keyless hotel-room doors to rides and shows in which the experience varies based on an individual guest’s preferences.

The main source of information on this oh so secret development project is Michael Crawford, publisher of Progress City USA. Crawford writes that Imagineers (Disney’s name for engineers)  hope to use RFID technology in concert with their new Fantasyland attractions.  RFID stands for Radio frequency identification.  RFID tags can be incorporated as a chip in a Disney park pass (for example).  RFID can track your ID on your Disney “passport”, it can be your room key to your hotel room and even be used to enter mass transit like the monorail or be used as an in park credit card.    All the while Disney knows where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and where you are now.

Pretty slick!

Disney could even use the personalized card to allow attractions to access personalized information about each guest, thus personalizing your “experience.”  This was somewhat tested out last year with Disney’s  Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure at EPCOT in Walt Disney World Resorts.   This features an interactive experience where guests are given a “Kimmunicator” (Kim Possible is a Disney cartoon about a girl who is a spy) found at kiosks in Epcot. These interactive devices use  technology which gives clues from the Kim Possible characters to find “villains” they cna track as they wander around the theme park.

Each adventure is unique, personalized.  CRM, right?  Right!

RFID should be used to make each vacation to a Disney theme park totally random and new — thus removing the “we’ve already been to Disney and it’s boring, can’t we go somewhere ELSE this year?” argument moot.  At least that is the hope of Disney.

It just struck me as interesting that this news hit the Orlando Sentinel today, the very week I blogged about Smartphones and CRM.   As I mentioned in that blog — the world is moving at a very fast clip these days!

Advertisements

Smartphones and CRM

Have you ever noticed that the world just seems to be changing faster and faster all the time?

I’m a big fan of the British television show, “Doctor Who.” The premise of the show is that a time lord travels throughout time and space — from ancient times to tens of thousands of years into the future.  “The Doctor” is a mysterious time traveler whose life is often lived “backwards” as he appears in places where people may know him, but he hasn’t met them in “his” life yet.  It must be very confusing.

Sometimes I can relate to the Doctor.

The way our world is moving so quickly it is hard to “keep up” with the technology and how it changes us.  Technology changes the way we work, how we interact with our own families and how we shop.

The idea behind CRM (customer relationship management) is that vendors, to be successful, must know who their customers are and why they buy what they buy.  In the “old days” a small town might have had one butcher, one baker and one candlestick maker.  A customer was known by name and the vendor (say the candlestick maker) knew what kind and color of candle Mr. Jones bought or Mrs. Smith acquired.  CRM was just a part of the small customer base and the small proprieter.

Today we live in a world of Wal-Mart and Best Buy, not to mention Amazon.com and Buy.com .   We customers are anonymous, and if we are anonymous we may only shop one time and never return.  To gain our loyalty these large retailers must understand “who we are” by our buying habits, our demographics and our past buying habits.

Have you ever noticed when you visit Amazon’s website that (if you’ve shopped there before) the website recommends new purchases to you based on what you’ve bought before?   Smart marketing, and a good application of CRM.

The days of shopping online via our PC alone has already changed and CRM must change along with it.

Gartner Group, a research company specializing in high technology,  is predicting that mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common way to access the Internet by 2013.  This has both a huge impact on what vendors will require from CRM, as well as a huge opportunity to sell us more, while also making us happier by meeting our needs in “real time.”  Customer loyalty and customer retention benefits from CRM tied to smart phones is an enormous potential — and the holy grail of CRM.

Smart phones use both push and pull technology.  Pull technology is when a phone user goes online via the phone and searches for an address or driving directions.  They have proactively “searched” (or pulled) data from the internet.  Perhaps they are looking for a nearby drug store.  Perhaps they are searching for a certain product (perhaps a Wii game for their child).  As the person runs the search CRM is at work.

Now “push” technology comes into play.  An add for a Wii game sale is sent to the phone via GameStop or Wal-Mart.  The user checks local prices and sees how close each vendor is to them (pull technology.  GameStop is say 1/2 a mile away and Wal-Mart is 3 miles away).   A 15% off coupon is sent to the phone by GameStop (push technology).

And so it goes.   The future is the past, and soon the mega-stores may know you as well as the local candlemaker ever did.

The potential value of combining CRM, smartphones, GPS and unified communications to empower the customer while ensuring even higher customer loyalty is staggering.   The opportunity is there, if CRM is properly utilized.  The winners will do it.  The losers will be gone.

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.

How do Twitter, Facebook and other Social Networks impact UC?

Unified Communications — the holy grail of both traditional networking companies (Cisco, Avaya, etc.) and some not so traditional network firms (Microsoft) has the lofty goal of bringing together your office phone, voice mail, home phone, cell phone, email and instant messaging into one point of contact.  You (as the end point) decide who can reach you at whatever access point you are at, through a central phone number or ID.  You can also identify who cannot get to you (for example that pesky sales rep goes automatically to voice mail, SPAM filter or admin).

Unified Communications puts the receiver in control of who can reach them and how they are reached.

Unified Communications, aka UC, has great possibilities to make time more productive — no more phone tag, no more voice mail hell of trying to reach someone for a deadline and failing.  It really is a time saver, can be a deal saver — and has the possibility of being an enormous money saver.  (You can have a central phone number but let many workers telecommute while still having the professional “front end” of your central business phone gateway).

UC is NOT UM (unified messaging) which centralized the voice and electronic mail together.  It is much, much more than that.  Yet not only has UM muddied for most what UC is and is not, now along comes social networking which has muddied it even more!

Twitter is a quick burst “push” technology that lets its users post what they are doing.  Others can follow these “tweets.”  Facebook and other social networks lets you keep up to date with your friends and LinkedIn lets you network with business associates you know, or whom you should know.

Let’s face it — UC and social networking are all forms of communications.

Do they dove tail somewhere in the middle?  Are they diametrically opposite?  Is one the death knell for the other?

They dovetail.

UC allows the recipient (end point) to determine who can reach him/her, how and when.

Social networks allow the sender (send point) to broadcast messages to individuals or groups.  There is no way to immediately reach the sender (even with a tweet or message on Facebook there is no way to determine when the sender will see it let alone respond to it).

So UC is the ying to social networking’s yang.  Opposite, yet complimentary.  One is casual and end points access it when they have the time and the need and the inclination.  It is a “pull” technology.

UC is more professional and allows the end point to be reached as needed (instantly) by those who should have that access as allowed by recipient.

I’m a user and huge fan of both technology camps.  UC keeps a busy person spinning many activities at once more in control — which in this world of constant demands is a refreshing technological advantage.  Unfortunately UC has been slow to catch fire — perhaps due to the economy or the inability of vendors to clear articulate its true value.  Given time UC is a natural winner.  It simply needs to be explained, cost justified and exploited.  As with everything:  what is the value to the customer?

Enormous.

Is Microsoft the next Dinosaur?

Marketing used to be pretty easy to understand — not simple mind you, but easy.  Marketing consisted of branding, public relations, advertising, trade shows and the like.  One could choose print media, radio, TV, billboards and such.

The company was in charge of the message.  Does anyone remember “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit”?

Today the world is on its head.  My last post discussed the great new book, What Would Google Do.  That book focuses on the model of free core offers that are supported by the ancillary things the core touches.  Content is less important than how to tap into content.

And all of this stems from the explosion of information that came about with the Internet.

I started my career in the 1980s when AT&T spun off the “Baby Bells” giving up the gold mine of monopoly POTS (plain old telephone service) customers for the holy grail of “a computer is just a node on a network.”

That idea rang so true to me, who became a true believer in distributed computing and “information anywhere, any time, any place.”

Everyone else laughed.  This was the era of huge mainframe proprietary computers (the BUNCH were still around — Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC and Honeywell, although on the decline.  RCA had already exited computing.  DEC, Wang (no jokes please), Data General. . .these were the ‘mini” computer guys with 64 KB of RAM or LESS (yes, LESS) — names now gone as they either went out of business or were swallowed by others. . .

Microsoft is now on the edge.  It faces the same fate as the BUNCH and the minicomputer vendors if it doesn’t soon wake up and realize that they’ve been commoditized.   Software is almost a “thing of the past” just as minicomputers went the way of the buggy whip and the VCR.  Will anyone buy software on a CD or DVD much longer?  Why, when you can access SaaS (software as a service) online?

Why bog down your internet access device (computer seems so passe, doesn’t it?) with gigabytes of software when it changes daily?  Why not just tap into a secure app that is FREE or nearly free?

Years ago I interviewed for a job at Microsoft and they asked me who their competitor was.  Fresh from Teradata and in a DBMS (data base) state of mind I said “Oracle?” The reply was:  “Google.”

Google?  Google???

But it only took me a second to realize they were right — he who owns the eye balls, owns the person.  Google may have begun “life” as a search engine, but now it is so much more — it is the gateway to the information highway.

Microsoft, I love you.  You’ve done amazing things —  Microsoft Dynamics, your unified communication platform rocks — but you need to realize that the world has changed.  Aside from being global, it is viral.  If you want to stay relevant start realizing what AT&T knew back in the 1980s — but failed to deliver.

A computer is nothing but a node on a network.

Stop focusing on delivering products for the computer.  Start thinking of the network.  Start thinking of the people as if they were on a vast buffet line (network) where they can pick and choose what they want (iPhone apps ring a bell?).

Because that is today’s reality.  And it isn’t changing any time soon.

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.

%d bloggers like this: