January 8, 2007
CosmoCom Adds “Unified Customer Communications”
Services To Enterprise UC
By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View
We’ve known CosmoCom ever since they were founded in 1996 to develop one of the first IP-based ACD systems in the industry. I was privileged to be invited to give a presentation to their development team to highlight the coming changes that the Web and email were bringing to traditional voice oriented customer interactions. Even then, they had a remarkably complete vision for applying what we now know as unified communication (UC) technology to customer communications.
As UC has shifted the attention of the enterprise market from IP network infrastructure (VoIP) to the converged communication applications that it will support, we talked recently with CosmoCom’s new President of CosmoCom Americas operations, Ben Eisner, about how UC will affect customer contact technologies. CosmoCom has been evolving their contact center software platform, CosmoCall Universe, as both a service provider offering and an enterprise product. They have adopted the term “Unified Customer Communications” or “UCC” to describe their customer contact UC capabilities.
1. The Unified-View: What do you offer today and for the future that leads the industry and is different and/or better than your competitors?
CosmoCom invented the all-IP contact center platform, and one set of advantages we have in the market comes from having the most mature and field-proven, all-IP technology. These include feature advantages such as agents anywhere, unified multi-channel queuing and routing, and ease of integration with the IT environment. IP is the key enabler of our UCC model, and for the rapid, low-risk, high-reward implementations we are developing a reputation for.
We also have a high capacity, high availability, carrier grade platform that provides multi-tenancy with tenant self-administration. This has given us a strong
position with top-tier service providers in the multi-tenant, hosted platform segment of the market, where the SPs can realize the greatest economies of scale. We now see the interest in hosted contact centers growing rapidly, and so our market position is supporting a growing revenue stream.
But what we are also finding is a groundswell of demand from large enterprises for exactly the same capabilities that have made us a leader in the service provider space, especially multi-tenancy. With its strong tenant self-administration capabilities, this feature allows enterprises to deploy our platform as a centralized, flexible, enterprise-wide contact center resource.
The key idea here is consolidation. One pool of licenses and one pool of skilled personnel can respond to a wide variety of distributed internal needs. Agents can be deployed and redeployed “virtually” as needed in any set of locations. Outsourcers can be effectively monitored and easily changed. And new applications can be implemented in a fraction of the time required in the old pre-consolidation model, where each application required its own dedicated local hardware system.
In conjunction with this growing demand from enterprises, our service providers are also becoming sales channels for supplying premise-based systems to their large enterprise customers. This means that in some regions we now have competitive advantages related to our channels as well as to our technology products.
2. The Unified-View: What does CosmoCom’s “Unified Customer Communications” (UCC) bring to the enterprise table?
Sometimes we use the playful tag line: “What’s U in UCC?” In other words, what is it that is really being unified? The answer is a very long list of things, more than we can cover in one interview, and we will be publishing a white paper on this subject. Of course, one of the basic items is the customer communication channel. As customers move away from using just traditional wired phones for information or live assistance to being multimodal users of what you have labeled “Consumer UC,” they can both initiate and receive any kind of business contact with an enterprise, using screen-based desktop or wireless mobile devices.
All such contacts, however, have to be tracked and managed in a “unified” way in order to maintain a responsive and consistent level of support by customer-facing personnel. We have therefore updated traditional call center operational and management applications and reporting to support such converged customer UC activities.
3. The Unified-View: Why is it important to distinguish internal or basic enterprise UC from Unified Customer Communications (UCC)?
Facilitating direct person-to-person communication within the enterprise, or even between enterprises, can increase productivity and reduce costs. We call this “Unified Enterprise Communication” or “UEC.” This is not the same as enabling customers to communicate via any channel with whoever is available and qualified in the enterprise. Customer satisfaction with the contact experience is more critical to the enterprise because it can directly impact customer retention and revenue generation. This is what we call UCC, and this is why we believe UCC is more significant from a business perspective than simply reducing communications costs.
True UC will encompass both UEC and UCC, and in fact will unify them into a greater whole, one in which the entire enterprise organization is finely tuned to respond to the customers that make its very existence possible.
4. The Unified-View: What role does SIP-based presence technology play in customer contact activities?
Unfortunately, some technology providers have simply “bolted” on internal presence-based IM to a traditional TDM contact center technology; that enables a traditional call handling agent to accept a customer call, then use internal IM to find an “expert” outside the call center to collaborate with before returning to the caller. While this is better than putting a caller “on hold,” then trying to locate an available expert by dialing different phone numbers, it is still not the best solution for the customer experience.
For us, SIP is a lot more than presence management. It’s at the core of making the whole enterprise “virtual” for customer contact assistance. Because anyone in the enterprise who has to deal directly with a real-time customer will require a complete customer information context to make the customer “experience” effective and efficient, a “screen pop” will be a critical prerequisite. With “intelligent,” automated routing to anyone in the enterprise, we enable that flexibility to support efficient “first contact resolution,” whether it is a customer phone call or an IM contact. And by including every “expert” in the virtual, SIP-based contact center, we maintain complete tracking and control of all customer contacts.
If you need to shield some experts from getting too many calls directly, you can put them in an agent group assigned to queues that never get calls directly, but only via transfer from a first-line agent. When a caller needs a particular kind of expert, the first-line agent can then find someone in a particular expert queue to consult with, conference-in, or transfer to. If the transfer is completed, it's going to a full-fledged agent capability, with all the associated screen pops etc. Even if it's just conferenced, it will still come with all the information and “screenpops.” This is true UC capability for customer contact.
One of the things we are doing to support this approach is pure economics. We charge for a pool of usage-time shared by a many agents. This is much more cost effective than paying for concurrent agents for the UC environment, because you want these informal agents logged in and available all the time, even though you don't actually use them very much.
5. The Unified-View: How does your UCC relate to customer self-service applications?
In a UCC world, self-service applications will have to be consistent across all channels while selectively exploiting the benefits of the specific interface of the device in use. As multimodal devices proliferate, new usability challenges and opportunities emerge. Last year we introduced what we call “IVVR” – that is, Interactive Voice and Video Response – to answer this challenge. IVVR is a great example of UCC in the self-service realm.
Just as the self-service applications need to be consistent, the transition from self-service to live help should be consistent. In other words, whatever has been learned about the customer during the self-service phase of the interaction needs to be presented to the live agent with the call. This has to be a channel-independent principle. And this is where our technology really shines.
6. The Unified-View: Why is there going to be a greater need for hosted and managed customer contact technology, as opposed to traditional enterprise CPE?
The SMEs want the features offered by the large enterprises, but don’t want to make the same big investments they have made. Hosted contact centers answer this need. At the same time, the large enterprises are just getting sick and tired of what they are spending every year per agent just to maintain their old technology infrastructure, and they are beginning to see that hosting is a viable alternative for them to consider as well.
Still, hosting is not for everyone. That’s why we are seeing that groundswell of interest from enterprises in the same capabilities that make our platform suitable for hosting. Enterprises who are not ready turn over their infrastructure needs to an outside service provider can gain many of the same benefits by “self hosting” their own platform for all the various contact center applications within their enterprises. This approach adds another level of unity to UCC – unity of applications.
7. The Unified-View - What market segments are you targeting and why? (Vertical, horizontal)
Of course we continue to target service providers globally. This means not only developing new service provider relationships, but also supporting the growth of our existing service providers, which translates directly into growth for CosmoCom.
We also target the internal customer care applications of our service providers, because our presence on the network side of these organizations gives us a place to start, and of course because telecom service providers represent one of the largest segments of the contact center market.
More broadly speaking, we target the high end of the enterprise contact center market, which is found not only in telecommunication service providers, but also in utilities, the public sector, the financial services industry, and others. These are the customers most likely to benefit from our strengths in large, highly distributed, “virtual” contact centers, and in supporting multiple, enterprise-wide applications on one platform via multi-tenancy with tenant self-administration.
Bringing this conversation full circle, these customer-rich and increasingly customer-centric organizations are also the most likely to adopt the UCC model that we discussed earlier, and we believe that we are in the strongest position, technologically and commercially, to support this movement.
What Do You Think?
The Math of Customer UC: blog. (http://unified-view.blogspot.com/)
Read our exclusive articles below on hosted UC services for customer contact applications:
Online Customer Contacts: Online Self-service Needs Are Evolving
Converging Customer Self-services: What Technologies Need to Converge Between Online and Voice Self-Services?
Customer Voice Contacts: Smarter Call Center IP Telephony Routing
Stop Guessing! The Five Real Reasons For Migrating Your Call Center to IP