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Sunday, June 17, 2012

UC Enabled Mobility Changing Contact Centers

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

 By Art Rosenberg 

I didn't have to say it, but Time did in a recent post entitled "Stop Calling Your Smartphone A Phone!

Whatever consumers want to call their personalized mobile device they are using instead of legacy wired phones, the bottom line is that the device is going to be used less and less for voice conversations and more and more for text messaging and access to information. Given that major shift by consumers, traditional call/contact center operations will have to change accordingly, as recently discussed by UC Strategies experts as the "UC Contact Center."

Consumer mobility is turning out to be the biggest validation for UC enablement of contact center applications, particularly for self-service business applications or customer "mobile apps."  While there have been major efforts by the major telephony vendors to justify UC for "collaboration" and internal user productivity through simplified conferencing, the fact that consumers/customers are moving quickly to multi-modal smartphones means that their interactions with an organization will exploit more informational interactions rather than person-to-person contacts, and the latter to more text-based than voice connections.

The wireless carriers have recognized this in new business models as reflected by Verizon Wireless's just announced "Shared Data Plan," which emphasizes data usage pricing (particularly entertainment music and video) and "throws in" unlimited phone calls and messaging. They encourage using the wireless service by many users and for many different endpoint devices.  The pricing is not cheap and is still being debated, but the approach is definitely going to have ripple effects with mobile consumers and their interactions with "UC Contact Centers."

For openers, will contact centers eventually get rid of toll-free access numbers? Not just because there will be no charges for incoming subscriber calls, but also because customer contacts will become IP-based through enterprise web portals. 

More important to contact center operations will be the impact of UC-enabled self-service applications, both inbound and outbound, and their ability to access live assistance on-demand with a customer's choice of modality (voice, video, messaging, etc.).  Enterprise self-service "mobile apps" have to be supported by the wireless carriers without penalizing the customers who use them, and it's not clear how these will be offered.

At a recent consultant's meeting hosted by IP Telephony provider ShoreTel, the impact of mobility and "cloud"-based UC applications left some of the consultants with questions about their clients' contact center needs. So, expect to see more contact center developments in the near future.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

UC-enabled "Multimodal Customer Experiences"

Copyright (C) Unified-View, All Rights Reserved.
June 7, 2012

A recent analysis of contact center applications moving into the "cloud" showed that IVR (self-service) applications was the application that was most frequently shifted off premise to a "cloud" based service. This highlights how customers will be accommodated with more flexible self-service options as they start using multimodal smart phones and tablets, rather than traditional voice-only telephones. 

As I suggested in a previous post, mobile customers will now require an integration of various customer service experiences. It will be a combination of how self-service interfaces are designed for smartphones and tablets, as well as how live assistance is accessed and supported when needed. It also includes proactive, outbound “notifications” and alerts to mobile customers from automated business process applications, and what response options can be given to the mobile recipient.
Old call center options for live assistance will remain for customers who continue to call from voice only telephones. However, even, there, if the customers has ever interacted online, there will be more contextual “intelligence” for efficient call handling. However, as more and more consumers adopt multimodal smartphones and tablets for personalized mobile contacts, “cloud”-based, UC-enabled contact centers will play an increasing role in seamlessly integrating all customer interactions. This trend will impact how organizations must support new “customer experience” needs as discussed in this video interview.

“Multimodal” customer experiences will include the following:

1.      Getting access to information and transactions online
2.      Getting access to live assistance in the customer’s choice of communication (messaging, voice, video, hybrids)
3.      Being proactively notified of important, personalized time–sensitive situations
4.      Getting suggestions and comments from user communities
5.      Timely responsiveness to the mode of interaction

So, when you talk about insuring customer satisfaction and loyalty, it will be a combination of their experience with any or all of the above. The challenge for business organizations of any size, will be to optimize those different customer experiences, so that all of them will be positive for the customer.

What Customers Really Need

Live customer assistance is needed when customers can’t get what they want on their own, whether it is information, authorization, help with a problem, or to perform some kind of transaction. The main point is that if they can do it easily themselves, they won’t need live assistance. On the other hand, if a self-service application is not user friendly or too time consuming, the customer will jump to live customer assistance.

If, for whatever reason, the customer does need such live assistance, they will typically want such access immediately. That is not to say such access is necessarily a real time connection (chat, voice, video), because often there is no need to have the answer immediately. This will be particularly true when there is a known need for research into the problem or authorizations must be done before the results can be given. In such situations, the customer, as the contact initiator, may well choose to send a message, voice or text, and get confirmation that the message has been received. It might also be useful to let the customer know when a response may be forthcoming.

When it comes to real-time live assistance, customers won’t appreciate any of the following:
  • Being put into a waiting queue with no indication of how long that might take
  • Being connected to someone who doesn’t who you are and what you have already done online and requires a repeat identification procedures
  • Being connected to someone who can’t answer their needs
  • Being transferred from one person to another; conferencing is a more “seamless” mode of involving other expertise
  •  Speaking with an agent that doesn’t speak their language very well
So, to avoid any of the above problems that can arise because of staffing issues, it will make sense to allow customers to exploit well-designed self-service applications that can now be offered to mobile devices. Fortunately, multimodal mobile devices will facilitate this approach to customer services by starting with customer access to information and notifications and then allowing “contextual” contacts with live assistance.

Customer Assistance Is A Two-way Street

Live assistance can also exploit access to self-services. That is, even though the mobile or online customer may be talking to a live customer service person, it will be simple for the agent to transfer the customer to an appropriate self-service application, along with any contextual data needed by the application. This can include access to “mobile apps” that will be highly focused on specific customer-related applications.

Many years ago when I spoke at a conference about IVR self-services, I suggested that when a customer transfers to live assistance, the agent should similarly transfer the customer to an appropriate IVR application when the rest of the customer’s needs can be done by themselves. Someone in the audience asked me who provides that capability, and I had to say “No one yet!”

Today, with multimodal smartphones and cloud-based applications, there is no limit to how self-services integrated with live assistance can optimize customer support needs. The trick to cost efficient customer service will be to maximize all forms of self-services, but retain customer options for live assistance.

 This post sponsored by the CIO Collaboration Network

Monday, June 04, 2012

UC-Enabling End-user Notifications

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 While there has been much attention paid to simplifying business communications between people, the emphasis has primarily been on integrating the various forms of contact initiation. That would include all forms of messaging, real-time voice/video calls and conferencing, as well as various social networking postings. That covers a lot of new communication activities, especially when you add in automated alerts from business processes and applications.

What is now becoming more important, particularly for UC-enabled mobile end users with smartphones and tablets, is to manage their accessibility and time priorities as contact "recipients" by screening all forms of communication contacts as part of a "unified," contextual notification service. I am sure some aspects of this capability are already being implemented by various service providers, but probably buried under the Mobile UC umbrella. 

To read more of my thoughts about bringing "unified notifications management" to end user contact recipients, see my recent post at:  

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Customer BYOD and UC Enablement

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

 June 1, 2012

Mobile Multimodal Customers Need UC-Enabled Notifications and Self Services

End users are transitioning from desktop PCs and telephones to mobile, multimodal smartphones and tablets of their choice, under the label of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) Initially, BYOD strategies have been primarily focused on supporting mobile users within an organization who need access to people and business applications whenever they were not at their desks. However, BYOD is also being exercised by consumers who are business customers, and will need to be accommodated by traditional contact center operations. 

IT management has been mainly concerned about the security of business information accessed by employee mobile devices and is trying to come up with policies for supporting personal mobile devices that employees might increasingly use for business applications. That challenge is still being dealt with in various ways, including “dual persona” software clients that separate business-related activities on the mobile devices from personal usage, and Mobile Device Management (MDM) tools for controlling authorized mobile device access and usage. BYOD mobility policies have been primarily focused on end users within an organization as a means for increasing business process performance efficiency, individual end user productivity, and minimizing communication costs.
However, BYOD mobility is just starting to be recognized as a key factor in communicating with consumers/customers who are rapidly adopting smartphones and tablets as their primary means of multimodal communications. Clearly, organizational “BYOD policies” can’t be applied to customers who do whatever they want to, but traditional contact center operations will now have to accommodate mobile customers and the devices of their choice. 

Customer Mobility and “Total Customer Experiences”

There has also been widespread recognition that customer satisfaction will depend on their “experiences” in interacting with an organization. Until now, this meant dealing with customers via telephone calls, messaging, and online self-service applications, each area usually being supported in separate technology silos. With UC-enabled smartphones and tablets, mobile users will be dynamically exploiting all modes of business interaction with a single mobile device that will let them switch modalities “on demand.” With video conferencing and social networking options, business communications with customers will certainly become more complex.
What that means is that every form of contact between a customer and an organization must be “unified” in various ways, so that each interface experience will be individually efficient and effective for the customer’s needs. The “total” customer contact experience will reflect the individual user interfaces for communications and self-service applications that will be exploited by a customer depending on their needs and communication environments. When live assistance is involved, the “experience” will obviously be also dependent on the skills of the agent or expert that is providing assistance, as well as the modality of contact involved.
Given that most organizations are working with legacy contact center technologies, the challenge for including support for mobile customer needs is great and needs to be strategically planned. This is exactly where UC-enablement technologies and “cloud-based” integrations will play leading roles in achieving what I describe as the next generation “UC Contact Center” or, better yet, the “UC Interaction Center.” The latter is more inclusive of automated self-services that mobile smartphones and tablets will help to increase over the need for live assistance.

Interface Challenges For Mobile End Users

The fact that there different types of smartphones and tablets being acquired by consumers, means there are differences in form factors, as well as different operating systems that will impact user interface designs, as well as different integration (API) needs. Because some wireless carriers won’t support “open” accessibility to all devices and applications they don’t control, is not going to help matters in dealing with the needs of “BYOD” mobile consumers.
A logical place for any organization to start their mobility journey to is to redesign and integrate current online self-service applications to access and accommodate the smaller screens that mobile consumers will be using instead of traditional PC desktops. This would include “mobile apps” available directly from the enterprise network or through “app stores,” and could include new outbound notifications from business process applications as well. By also including integrations with communication applications, i.e., “click-to-contact” live assistance, the basic framework for mobile customers to access information, the customer will still have options for contacts with a live person. Such “contextual contacts” will provide greater efficiencies in handling a customer’s needs, but will not necessarily change anything for customers who simply want to immediately “talk” to someone who is available and qualified.
Most organizations are still perplexed about migrating to an “UC-enabled” communications environment, when their legacy telephony investments are still functional. My suggestion is to first fill in the “holes” that are not properly covered by legacy technology; customer mobility, coupled with BYOD, is one the biggest revenue impacting “holes” that currently exists.  
 This post sponsored by the CIO Collaboration Network