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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Customer Unified Communications (UC)

Copyright © 2006 Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

August 14, 2006

The New Math of Customer Interactions –

Enterprise UC (and Skills-based Routing) + Consumer/Customer UC + Unified Self-service Applications + Online Business Applications (Agents) = Unified Customer Communications

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

With all the dramatic changes surrounding IP telephony applications within both the enterprise and consumer markets, there has been a lot of confusion in the industry about how to describe business communication products and services. With telephones becoming multimodal devices, the mission critical role of customer contact management is becoming more “virtual” and unified, and expanding beyond the domain of traditional telephone call centers. This article is an introduction to my new column for Call Center Magazine, which will be devoted to the many “why’s” and “how’s” for planning the enterprise migration of customer contact technologies to a unified communication (UC) environment. Such planning will be critical to help the enterprise keep pace with new customer needs and expectations in a world of mobile and multimodal contacts.

The Challenge of Customer Contact Migration – Bridging the Past

The challenge of migrating mission-critical enterprise customer interaction activities to a mobile and unified communications environment will be twofold, because, not only will new customer contact and interaction procedures have to be developed in synch with new technology capabilities, but the legacy forms of contact will have to continue to be supported and integrated with evolving new options. The new breed of “multimodal” communication devices that both customers and enterprise customer-facing staff will be using, will have to continue to support traditional telephone (TUI) interfaces for legacy business process applications, as well as the new user interface options that unify speech and visual/keyboard interfaces.

In planning for the replacement of yesterday’s enterprise call centers, it will be essential to fully understand where the evolving technology is going, not just where it happens to be at the moment. This applies not only to enterprise-oriented technology for internal communications, information infrastructures, and traditional customer telephone call processing, but, also to the coming shifts in consumer communication devices and services that are also in the process of change. The convergence of the two will provide the proper roadmap for future-proofing enterprise migration implementation decisions for today.

Shifting IT Responsibilities

One of the key benefits that IP telephony is bringing to the enterprise is obviating the need for premise-based servers. Not only can communication application software be consolidated and centralized within a distributed enterprise IP network, but the opportunity to offload internal technology maintenance support of these servers and their end-user device clients to a hosted or managed service, is a way to reduce responsibilities and associated costs.

Please note that reducing technology maintenance responsibilities does not necessarily mean eliminating administration and usage management responsibilities for the enterprise organization. Such responsibilities will always be mission critical and essential for effective support of end user operational needs. As part of a practical enterprise migration strategy, where new application components will have to interoperate and integrate with legacy technologies, enterprise IT will have to maintain control over both the old and the new during the period of practical transition, however long it needs to take.

Enterprise UC vs. Consumer UC

Just as traditional enterprise call centers were dependent upon the TDM-based telephony technologies employed by consumers, enterprise unified customer communications capabilities will be dependent upon the next generation of mobile and multimodal telephone devices. Although enterprise business users typically require more features and functions than consumer communications, both markets share basic needs for seamless interoperability between voice conversations and different flavors of messaging. Hence, it is not enough to talk about “unified communications” without defining the context of the converged communication technologies.

Accordingly, it is time to put the label of “Consumer UC” on what customers will eventually be using to interact with enterprise customer-facing staff. Note, that because of wireless mobility and the personalization of email and instant messaging, IP telephony for consumers can no longer be treated as just traditional location-based “residence” phones. This personalization of the telephone and messaging will have a profound effect on the operational strategies for customer contacts with the enterprise, both for inbound and outbound contacts. The phone number will no longer be a “place,” but an individual customer or, as in traditional call centers, an available member of an enterprise customer support group that is “virtual.”

Consumer UC will also exploit the evolving power of federated presence and accessibility management, where “application buddy” lists will enable faster and more intelligent enterprise business process/service contacts and notifications with consumers. This is where authorized business processes will be able to deliver timely information in a variety of modes, based on the dynamic needs or preferences of the consumer/customer.

UC and Self-service Applications

Customer contacts with the enterprise are becoming increasingly dependent on self-service applications, not only to reduce heavy labor costs, but also to increase customer experience satisfaction wherever possible. Traditional telephone self-service applications were always limited by the TUI interface that is now improved with the power of speech recognition. However, as I discussed in a previous article, automated business process applications that provide users with self-service functions (information, transactions) have become the gateways or portals for user access to live assistance. For business customers, it’s not who you know, but what you don’t know that will connect you with appropriate people who can help you.

Now that the Web is becoming the primary source of real-time access to all forms of self-service information and transactions, it is also becoming the source of demand for immediate live assistance. As enterprise organizations make more and more information directly available online, ranging from shopping inquiries to customer account status to customer care issues for products and services, the need for live assistance is constantly increasing. However, the question now becomes one of selecting the contact modality of customer communication.

Traditionally, the telephone voice conversation has been the mainstay for a real-time connection with a customer support agent and the customer phone call was a separate process from the one that triggered the need for assistance. With the convergence of IP telephony and online automated information and transaction applications, contacting assistance cannot only be integrated directly with the user application process, but the choice of contact modality can be more flexible, depending on dynamic customer needs and preferences, available staff resources, and enterprise policies and priorities.

Now an IP communication connection can range from an asynchronous text or voice message if immediate assistance is not required, to instant text messaging (“click-to-chat”), that supports the real-time exchange of relevant information as well as the “transmodal” escalation to a voice or video conversation, to “click-to-talk,” that can initiate an immediate VoIP connection to the customer’s PC softphone, or a “callback” to the customer-specified phone number (e.g., a cell phone). As “smartphones” displace the need for desktop PCs to provide web application access, the mobile customer will be accommodated with more personalized, automated information access and delivery, as well as flexible, multimodal live assistance wherever and whenever needed.

Mobility, Messaging, and Customer Contact Management

Traditional call center management assumed that consumer customers were initiating their calls from a static location, a shared residence phone or a public payphone, and could afford to wait in queue if they had the time. As the consumer population has become more mobile with personalized cell phones, waiting in queue is not so acceptable because of the added airtime charges. On the other hand, callback messaging is becoming a practical alternative waiting in queue for mobile callers with non-urgent needs because the mobile phone number is personalized, not shared, and is not a fixed location where the caller may not physically be.

The mobile, multimodal smartphone will also enable customer interactions to be voice based, screen and text based, or a combination of both. Such flexibility is critical for the mobile user who may be in an environment where the choice of user interface is restricted, e.g., hands-free, eyes-free while driving a car, a noisy environment not conducive to listening or error-free speech recognition, or a “silence-required” environment.

Mobile smartphones will also provide enterprise services with the power of personalized, proactive information delivery through messaging and consumer UM/UC notification capabilities. Time-sensitive, personalized information and alerts, generated by automated business process applications, can be delivered immediately to an individual recipient, not just to a specific location, device, or a passive mailbox, in text or voice. Such delivered messages can then be immediately responded to by escalating the communication contact “transmodally” to real-time contacts (IM, voice calls) with appropriate enterprise support personnel.

Since email messaging has become a source of recipient overload, consumer UM will require personalized message filtering, which in turn must become part of more generalized IP-based presence and availability management screening. Federated “buddy lists” will have to include “application buddies” to allow message notification and delivery from pre-authorized automated business process services. In addition to urgent customer alerts, other more routine outbound customer contact applications, e.g., collections applications, appointment reminders, etc., will be candidates for consumer UM/UC capabilities.

The Future for Enterprise Unified Customer Communications - On-demand Service Implementation Options

Traditional call center operations, which include telephone self-service applications, were confined to premised-based solutions because of proprietary TDM telephony. The basic challenge for enterprise operations has been to dynamically match customer contact resources with dynamically changing customer demand. With IP telephony, all such functions can be “virtually” located away from both customer assistance staff and the automated business process applications. Such flexibility will now enable enterprise operations to be more responsive to constantly changing customer information needs, increasing automation of business process applications, and last, but not least, more selective and efficient customer access to live assistance.

Not only will an enterprise organization be able to centralize its business process applications, customer contact technology, and operations management, while “virtualizing” customer-facing staff, but it will also have a practical option to outsource its responsibilities for purchasing and maintaining complex and constantly changing application software. The flexibility of software will now become a driver for enterprise customization of customer interactions with both self-service applications, as well as policy and procedures for customer contacts with appropriate enterprise staff. Managing such change will become a responsibility for business process management to decide the “why’s” and the “what’s” and for IT to decide the “how to” of technology applications.


The world of business communications with people is changing dramatically because telephone activity can be treated flexibly like all other forms of data. This convergence is taking place at all levels, from the network transport level to the application server level to flexible user interfaces at the user endpoint device/software client levels. Nowhere will the impact of such flexibility be so important as with mission-critical customer contacts. No one has the experience of the future, so “best practices” of the telephony past will have to be realigned for the coming changes that UC will bring to business processes and operational management. Stay tuned to this column to keep up with where customer contact technology is going!

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