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Monday, November 14, 2011

The "UC Contact Center" For All Business Communications

Copyright © 2011 The Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

November 13, 2011

Welcome To The New “UC Contact Center”

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

It is getting very apparent that the current shifting of communications technology to software and mobile, multimodal devices (smartphones, tablets) is also driving business communications towards greater flexibility in initiating and responding to business contacts between people and with automated business process “apps.” Most importantly, with a flexible UC framework, business communications can now selectively accommodate all contact and informational access needs for end users both inside and outside an organization. Such flexibility will have a significant impact on the traditional, telephone-oriented “call center,” enabling its transition to a true, two-way “contact center” between people and business process applications.

Unified communications (UC) has been defined by the experts at UC Strategies as “Communications integrated to optimize business processes.” That definition seems to have held up well to cover both “communications” and “business processes,” but it leaves open the question of how and when UC can best be implemented.

Because voice telephony is moving to more flexible, efficient, and less expensive IP networking, it is now being viewed as part of general UC capabilities. As such, all business telephony technologies have to be rethought in terms of UC flexibility, and one of the most important areas is the good old “call center.” While leading providers of contact center technology are revising their product offerings under various product names, they really are all expanding telephony call center functionality with multimodal UC capabilities.

The Evolution of the “UC Contact Center”

It all started with the telephone and business callers having to leave messages when they couldn’t speak to a person that could deal with their needs. Before answering machines came into play, “message desks” in large organizations wrote out simple pink message slips identifying the caller, while commercial “answering services” collected transcribed messages for subscriber retrieval when they did not answer their phones (busy, ring no answer). Later, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) technology queued incoming calls for assignment to the next available “agent.”

Such communication services were not restricted to handling incoming calls, but also included outbound dialing to notify the call recipient of an urgent call and, if appropriate, cross-connected the caller to the recipient. In other cases, the answering service included a “dispatch function” to alert a field service person via their wireless pager to call in and retrieve message information from the operator who took the call.

In an attempt to minimize the use of live agents to give callers basic information and handle simple transactions, the call centers started using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technologies to handle incoming calls. However, because of the limitations of the telephone device, caller input was done via the Telephone User Interface (TUI), where all input was made through the Touch-Tone keypad, and all output was done through pre-recorded speech. Needless to say, IVR was useful for only simple applications, and anything complex required the call to be transferred to a queue for a live call center agent.

The “call center” name transitioned to “contact center” many years ago with the growth of the Web and consumer email usage, but one of the real benefits of UC and multimodal smartphones that can now be offered to consumers/customers is to increase easy-to-use self-service applications for information access and transactions. Not only do self-services, if done right, increase user satisfaction with on-demand access and responsiveness, but they also reduce the amount of labor costs to service such customers.

Outbound vs. Inbound Calls

“Call centers” were primarily designed to handle incoming calls from customers who didn’t want to speak to a specific person, just someone who could answer their questions and perform transactions, like make an appointment, change their service information, etc. However, outbound calls were also distributed to call center agents to deliver notifications, reminders, solicit new business, etc. The problem with outbound calls is that there is no guarantee of the accessibility of the person being contacted, so automated outdialing technology was introduced to detect ring/no answer, busy lines, answering machines, etc, before assigning the live call to an agent. If the phone was answered by an answering machine, voice mail, or someone other than the specific person (callee) desired, the calling agent could only leave a message.

With the increasing use of mobile smartphones, not only can a specific person be contacted for a phone connection more easily, but also personalized messages and notifications can be delivered quickly and easily in text or speech to their personal devices. This will be particularly important for time-sensitive notifications such as health care, financial services, and emergency situations.

To add further business benefits from mobile, multimodal smartphones, automated business process applications can initiate such outbound contacts, along with immediate access to self-service functions, without requiring a live agent. With UC capabilities, however, “click-to-contact” options will still allow the customer to access live assistance and expertise contextually from within the notification or self-service application. That minimizes labor costs while still enabling easy and selective access to live assistance for a better customer experience.

The “UC Contact Center” For Internal Users and “Job Contacts”

When you mention the term “contact center,” the old image of dedicated agents handling calls to and from customers is triggered. However, as business users increasingly use mobile smartphones and can benefit from “dual persona” separation of “job contacts” from personal contacts, they too can benefit from timely notifications and on-demand access to live assistance within the organization.

Job contacts can include both traditional “person-to-person” contacts for collaborative activities, as well as contacts through Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP). Again, both person-to-person contacts and timely automated notifications can be efficiently utilized when the recipients are using multimodal smartphones. So, there will be many business process “use cases” that can benefit from the combination of UC and the centralized, multimodal “UC Contact Center.”

Bottom Line For UC Planning

For these reasons, all legacy call centers have to be on the top of the list for UC migration planning. There will be implications for how dedicated contact center “agents” are trained, monitored, evaluated, etc. for maximum job performance in a multimodal, telecommuting environment. Customer interactions will likewise be affected by CRM issues that will change because of dynamic mobile contacts, both inbound and outbound.

Now is also the time to trial self-service applications for both customers and for internal users to insure that the user experience will be most effective when deployed for general use. Such trials can be done more quickly and less expensively by exploiting CaaS (Communications as a Service) offerings, before finalizing procurement and implementation decisions.