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Friday, October 23, 2009

Copyright © 2009 The Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide
October 23, 2009

“Customer UC” For Improving Collections ROI

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

As knowledgeable technology experts now agree, unified communications (UC) is a concept for integrating the use of various forms of communication technologies to make more flexible and efficient contact with people; such contacts can be initiated either by other people, or, even more importantly for business processes, by automating process workflows.

The “ROI” of UC technologies is expected to come from both reduced costs and more efficient and productive business processes that involve timely contact with people. The latter objective will also include reducing labor costs by exploiting automated notifications and self-service applications. More importantly, any customer-facing business process activity that can impact revenue generation will be of particular interest to business management, making contact center applications high-priority targets for UC implementation planning.

We are starting to see some contact center applications being integrated with UC capabilities to help provide the ROI that enterprises require. For example, Aspect, which has its roots in the contact center market, announced its unified communications solution, “Streamlined Collections.” By applying its long experience with traditional, telephony-based outbound customer contact and self-service applications to the increased need to make debt collection both more productive and cost efficient, Aspect is targeting a common high-value business process that suffers from the limitations of traditional, person-to-person telephone contacts.

The nature of outbound contacts for debt collection lends itself ideally to the flexible capabilities of UC, as well as the opportunity to exploit automated self-services applications, efficiently coupled with selective, on-demand live assistance when needed. This customer-facing outbound UC application fits in very well with other “Customer UC” applications, which I define as all forms of business communication services that directly involve interactions with “customers,” whether as contact initiators or recipients/respondents.

Moving Debt Collection From The Past To The Future

Debt collection letters have always been slow, with no guarantee of delivery or a convenient means of quick response. Collection phone call attempts are even more expensive, especially if you don’t know when and where to make direct contact with a particular person, and/ or debtors are avoiding such contact. The limitation of a traditional phone call to handle a data exchange has also been a major shortcoming for efficiently negotiating a collections interaction with a customer.

However, the consumer communications world has been dramatically changing in terms of personalized communications through individual email mailboxes, personalized mobile “smart-phones,” instant messaging (IM) contacts, Short Message Services (SMS) for mobile devices, social networking contacts, etc. It is really time to exploit the new web-based contact environment, not just the old telephone network, since the limitations of the Telephone User Interface (TUI) also restrict the flexibility of automated self-service applications, requiring greater use of live assistance than online Web applications. So, UC, coupled with mobile, multi-modal “smart-phones,” can expand the benefits of outbound self-service applications and reduce the need for live assistance to provide additional information.

A typical collections scenario would involve a customer contacting a customer service department for an unrelated reason and a business process application detecting the fact that a payment is overdue and automatically generate a personalized (text) “notification” message to the debtor (via email, SMS). A mobile recipient with UC capabilities will have the option to hear the message as well read it. Then, depending on the recipient’s particular situation, various response options can be offered, ranging from simple confirmation of receipt to a choice of payment methods. If there are questions or problems that require additional assistance, the response can escalate to an exchange of emails, a real-time “chat,” or a live call connection to an available and qualified collections agent.

Aspect’s Streamlined Collections integration with UC capabilities exploits “Communications Enabled Business Processes" or “CEBP”, where an automated business process can initiate an outbound communication contact to an individual person, based on personalized criteria. Customer debt collection is an ideal application for CEBP, enabling the choice of outbound contact, self-service application, and access to live assistance to be automatically optimized selectively on an individual customer basis.

“First Contact Resolution” Metrics For Outbound Customer Contact
Personalization of outbound contacts for customer collections will be very critical, because it will require differentiating the modality requirements of contact – proactive notifications coupled with self-service or live assistance options, as well as privacy concerns for the individual customer. Aspect has categorized its collection activities across different “phases” of the process, i.e.:

· “Early stage” 30- day
· “Mid-stage” 60-90-day
· “Late stage 90-day +

Each phase can have its own “message” to deliver, along with different choices for delivery and distinct self-service application options and live assistance requirements. Leveraging consumer’s increased use of ‘smart-phones” will enable faster contact accessibility, as well as customer response flexibility for both online or voice response self-service options. This will also minimize the need for live agent involvement unless requested by the customer. The self-service approach also facilitates identifying the level of live assistance required, which may or may not be immediately available and can be deferred.

Just as IVR applications have traditionally been used to screen incoming calls and determine intelligent routing to qualified call center agents, outbound contacts that connect recipients to either an online or an IVR self-service application can perform the same role for customer access to live assistance via a presence-based call connection or chat session.

Benefits for Everyone

Although important, it is simply not enough to claim that UC technologies will reduce enterprise operational costs in various ways. Unless it pays off in making a specific business process more efficient and productive for all users involved, the overall business process results will not be optimized. In the case of the Aspect Streamlined Collections contact center application. UC-based technologies exploit mobile consumer communications, email, and self-service technologies to maximize the following benefits:

For the enterprise:
· Efficient customization of interactions for different customer circumstances
· Faster revenue generation
· Minimized operational costs, especially need for staffing support
· Lower infrastructure technology costs
· Maximizing customer retention, customer experience satisfaction

For the customer:
· Greater contextual personalization of collection contacts
· Maintaining customer privacy for such interactions
· Opportunity to avoid or minimize financial penalties
· More response flexibility and information access, especially for mobile customers
· Greater flexibility for access to live assistance on demand

UC-based business process applications can be selectively implemented to improve a particular business process that will involve a specific group of end users, both inside and outside of an organization. They can integrate existing communication technologies with new capabilities to produce the benefits of cost savings, but more importantly, business process efficiencies and productivity. Aspect’s Streamlined Collections Solution is a practical example of the benefits of Customer UC in the rapidly changing world of consumer communications.

The consumer transition to universal online Internet access, UC, and multimodal “smartphones” won’t take place overnight, so there will be a requirement for enterprise organizations to continue to support traditional customer telephone contacts in addition to new UC contacts, with live assistance. For this reason, the Streamlined Collections unified communication applications for the contact center from Aspect integrates its outbound contact planning and workforce management functions to optimize “agent” and “expert” resources across all forms of customer interactions.

In addition, Aspect has its collections business process optimization solution packaged as “Optimized Collections,” which focuses on enhancing calling strategies and helps apply the right resources at the right times to improve collector productivity.

What Do You Think?
You can contact me at: or (310) 395-2360.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Getting Enterprise Telephony Ready For UC

Copyright © 2009 The Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

October 19, 2009

New, Combined Gateway Simplifies Migration of Enterprise Telephony To OCS UC

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

While business managers in enterprise organizations may just be starting to research their operational business needs to identify and prioritize their UC requirements to improve business processes, IT management must prepare to migrate existing enterprise telephone systems into the coming UC infrastructure environment.

For the many organizations that are deploying the latest version of Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS 2007 R2) for their UC infrastructure, NET’s newest VX series gateway with Enhanced UC Features, will provide a very practical, cost-savings approach to integrating enterprise telephony with the PSTN, SIP trunking, different PBX systems, and various UC applications provided through OCS. This migration can be done selectively to support specific individual end users (e.g., mobile users) or for selected business groups as needed, rather than on an across the boards basis.

As has been stressed many times, UC is not a single communication system, but a concept of open, communication applications that are interoperable across different user interfaces. UC communication applications must also be able to integrate with a variety of enterprise business process applications to enable them to initiate contacts and to interact with people both inside (internal staff) and outside (business partners, customers) of an enterprise organization. This also means that communication access for UC applications must support network and device independence, if necessary through gateways, in order to allow for all forms of contact between people and any business process applications they interact with.

The flexibility for Microsoft’s OCS to support a variety of SIP service providers or ITSP’s is also expanded by NET’s demarcation gateway approach. As a certified Microsoft partner for OCS gateway, NET gateways increase the number of supported, approved SIP carriers from three to eleven, and also directly support a wide list of WAN interfaces.

While it will take time to plan and implement all the business process applications that can be communications enabled (CEBP), IT management doesn’t have to wait, but can safely get a head start by moving forward with integrating existing telephony capabilities with Microsoft’s OCS server and UC applications.

What Do You Think?
You can contact me at: or (310) 395-2360.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Customer UC Issue #5 - Implementing Customer UC Applications

Copyright (C) Unified-View, All Rights Reserved.

October 3, 2009

“Customer UC” – Panelists Discuss Issue #5 – Trialing and Implementing New UC Applications

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

More Panelist Comments on “Customer UC” Issues

I put all business communication contacts that directly involve customer facing activities into “Customer UC,” because they must ultimately all be accounted for in managing customer relationships. This topic was discussed by a panel of innovative contact center technology developers at a kickoff session, ”UC and the Contact Center,” at TMC’s last Internet Telephony conference in L.A. (9/1-3). My panelists were representatives from Altitude Software, CosmoCom, and Fonality.

In previous posts on what was happening with UC in the Contact Center space, I summarized comments by the panelists on the first four issues we discussed that face business organizations looking to exploit the benefits of UC for customer contact activities.

Here are their comments on another key issue discussed:

Issue #5. How should an organization implement new “Customer UC” applications for their customers?

As business information becomes increasingly accessible online over the public Internet, the need for an organization to provide personnel for such access is greatly reduced. Not only does this capability for direct customer online access to information reduce operational labor costs, but it expands customer service levels to 24x7 self-services and opens the door to other kinds of transactional services that would traditionally be limited to “office hours” and premise-based access. Clearly, cost-effective expanded customer service capabilities can accelerate revenue growth and profitability.

Voice-based self-service (IVR) applications, while productive, have always been limited to simple applications because anything complex would quickly require live assistance. On-line web-based applications have been better because visual screen interfaces are much more practical for information output, long menus, graphic output, links to web sites, etc., but once live assistance is required, it becomes limited to Instant Messaging facilities or email, with no simple way to switch to a real-time voice connection. However, with the rapid consumer adoption of personalized, multi-modal, mobile devices (“smart-phones”), UC can now help bridge the gap between customers, online or voice self-service applications, and various sources of live assistance. Going a step further, business process applications can now also become more pro-active in contacting customers to flexibly deliver information and services on a customized, individual end-user basis.

The challenge for implementing any new contact center communication applications will be a learning process to design and test the new user interfaces and integrations with real customers and contact center staff, before finalizing such offerings. Given the fact that UC is still evolving as a set of old and new communication applications that need to integrate and interact with each other and with business process applications, most business organizations don’t have all the technologies nor the expertise in place to develop and test the effectiveness of a UC solution to a business process problem. We have a “chicken and egg” situation - we don’t want invest too heavily in new technologies until we can demonstrate that it will work with customers and will produce the benefits for expected.

Most consultants and industry pundits therefore push the practical idea of “pilots” and “trials,” but that only raises the questions of “how?”

Panelist Comments

· Every organization will have its own business process application candidates for UC trialing. Based upon type of business, customer base and geographical locations, current use of self-service applications, and strategic operational problems that need to be addressed

· The business process application that is of high priority because of time-criticality and impact on revenues, but with relative ease of testing implementation, should be selected for trialing first

· The key operational problems associated with that application must be identified first

· The UC feature set required for that application solution and it’s operational problems must be determined

· The users involved, including, “agents,” “experts” and types of customers, must all be identified for trialing purposes

· Any existing online or IVR self-service applications must be evaluated for changes that must be made for new options for customers and impact on customer-facing staff (“agents,” “experts,” business partners)

· Performance metrics, for evaluating the pilot, need to be established, including metrics not previously used for traditional call center operations

· “Try before buy!” – Before investing in the purchase of new technologies, it would be advantageous to utilize hosted services to test the tools for designing, developing and managing the UC communication applications and for integrating them with existing process business applications

· A “phased” approach may be used for a given business process application, where not all the desired UC applications are implemented or integrated at once. For example, the first target might be online customers and a specific set of business process applications that can maximize the benefits of UC flexibility at the desktop. Alternatively, mobile customers might be the first targets because of their increased accessibility and need for both timely delivery with multi-modal flexibility

· After trialing the application solution for its effectiveness with the users involved, a next step will be to test the approach for scalability with increased volumes.

· Prepare both your “pilot” customers and “agents” for the expected changes they will experience from legacy technologies in both self-service options and in accessing live assistance. Based on the actual user results, the user preparation for the full rollout can be finalized.

Bottom line, every organization should be prepared to learn how to benefit from UC in the contact center environment, even though the technology is still evolving and experience is lacking. Trialing and piloting self-service applications with hosted and “cloud”-based software services are rapidly becoming a cost-effective, practical alternative to quickly finding out what you don’t yet really know about your customized, UC-based, self-service application needs.

What Do You Think?

You can contact me at: or (310) 395-2360.