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Thursday, April 04, 2013

“Unified Customer Services” For Digital And Mobile Consumers

We are finally seeing unified communications (UC) finally taking over customer interactions. This means that every size organization, in every type of market segment, must be prepared to support consumers/customers with the flexibility of UC for all types of interactions. What is bringing new impetus to this shift in business communications are three key factors:
·        Mobile consumer devices - Multi-modal mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, have expanded convenient and fast direct consumer access to online, self-services, including various modes of person-to-person contacts, online information access and transactions, and pro-active notifications by automated business processes.
·        Interoperability and integration between various forms of person-to-person communications and business process applications – Because there is increased flexibility required for contacts with mobile people, the various forms of communication must now dynamically be controlled by the end users, depending upon their individual needs and circumstances as contact initiators or recipients/respondents.    
·        “Cloud” – based applications – As both communication and business process software applications become location independent, developing and integrating them in “cloud” environments becomes critical to faster and lower-cost implementations and ongoing change management.
Customer services are rapidly moving from legacy call and contact centers to “Unified Interaction Centers,” where online self-service applications are not only minimizing the need for live assistance to consumers to get information or perform simple transactions, but also facilitating more flexible access to specialized assistance whenever needed. The result of such changes to customer assistance is greater personalization, experience customization, and, ultimately, customer satisfaction.
This year’s Enterprise Connect brought increased focus on the important role of the contact center in business communications, in this report from the show. Customer services are now becoming recognized as high-value applications and “use cases,” that are benefiting from integration with “consumer BYOD,” UC-enablement, and “cloud” services.  
Customer services used to be locked in together in different technology platforms that were difficult to integrate. As a result, only big organizations could afford to invest and support implementing all the pieces involved with legacy telephony call centers. One of the leading innovators in contact center technologies was Interactive Intelligence (ININ), decided to build their software infrastructure fully integrated from the ground up, calling it an “all-in-one” software product. However, because, of contact center application complexity and costs, many SMB organizations could not afford to implement such contact center technologies by themselves.
The challenge of supporting customer services has been greatly increased by the advent of “Mobile UC” and multi-modal live assistance and self-service applications, not just phone calls. So, while UC-enabled business communications focused initially on internal organizations and collaborative contacts, the big Customer Service markets were pretty much stuck on old CPE-based call center telephony. Now, however, with increased consumer mobile flexibility, “cloud” based applications are making big waves in all kinds of customer service applications.

The Really Big SMB Market For Unified Customer Services

I have always felt that customer services will really be the same for small or large organizations. The main differences showed up in things like:
·       How big your market is
·       How much live assistance and expertise will be needed by different customers
·       Software tools for running operations smoothly, training customer-facing staff,
·       Management tools and metrics to insure customer responsiveness satisfaction (“Experience!”)
·       Customization of self-service applications for different types of applications, especially “mobile apps.”
Interactive Intelligence (ININ), among other leading customer service software technology vendors, emphasized it’s strategic move of going after the SMB market, since small businesses really need to use most of the same technologies as larger organizations. There have always been more SMBs out there than larger enterprise organizations, so with the advent of “consumer BYOD,” there is suddenly a huge need for third-party expertise of Channel Partners and Consultants to help develop, support, and manage the complex technology of multi-modal customer services in “public,” private,” and hybrid cloud environments.
The “cloud’ environment will be particularly useful for implementing and managing integrations and self-service customizations. That always used to an expensive and time-consuming effort. Now, with all application technologies moving into interoperable “clouds,” it should no longer be any big problem for any size organization to move forward selectively with individual customer groups, customer-facing staffs, and specific customized online applications, associated with different forms of live assistance.        

Bringing The Right Experiences To The Customer Service Table

As confirmed in many recent market studies, mobile customers are now expecting:
·        More access to mobile online self-services
·        Pro-active mobile notifications and alerts, rather than calling in or checking online
·        Greater flexibility in choice of user interfaces (voice, visual)
·        Options for multiple forms of “smart” access to live assistance when needed
Watch for the growth of cloud-based “Unified Interaction Centers!”
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