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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Customer UC Issue #5 - Implementing Customer UC Applications

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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.