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Rich Tehrani

The call center is a complicated place. In a way, it's like Grand Central Station to any business. Almost all contact with customers (customer contact, of course, being the most important kind of contact there is for a business) passes through the call center. It either originates there, or is the ultimate destination. It arrives on a number of tracks, so to speak. It comes in at all different times and via various means. (Hey…the subway comes into Grand Central Station too, you know. And there are taxi stands. Private car drop-offs. Work with me, here.) As a result, the call center has become a complex place. Agents are increasingly challenged to manage a great deal of data and juggle an increasingly large number of applications.

Some days, just the sign-on process alone, multiple times per day, is enough to waste enough time to effect a negative impact on call center volumes.

Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) recently announced steps to do away with some of the complexity via its debut of Microsoft Customer Care Framework 2008 (CCF 2008), a software product designed to help companies improve the quality of their customer interactions by aggregating information from existing business applications into a single unified desktop. This latest version offers noteworthy updates to simplifying tasks and workflow processes, integrating customer interaction channels and accelerating the time to market. By implementing CCF 2008, companies can actually increase operational efficiency and enhance productivity within their customer care environment.

“Customers want prompt, accurate and rich interactions with the companies with which they do business,” said David Sliter, general manager of the Industry Solutions Group at Microsoft. “Customer Care Framework 2008 makes it easier for companies to support their customers by automating workflow and integrating it with business processes. With a truly unified view of the customer coupled with application automation, employees are empowered to deliver world-class sales, marketing and service experiences to their customers.”

I had a chance to speak with Vish Thirumurthy, Group Product Manager of Microsoft, about the CCF 2008 announcement in more detail.

RT: Can you provide an overview, in a nutshell, about what CCF actually does for the agent at his or her desktop?

VT: CCF provides a unified, real-time, 360-degree view of customer information by aggregating and automating all the data from disparate back-end line of business systems, and the channels of communication from which the customer may be contacting them. By integrating the channels, there is consistency between the customer information regardless of the channel of contact. CCF also now provides sophisticated workflow for tasks and business processes to help guide the agent easily through their daily tasks in responding to customer queries. The workflow automatically brings up the required applications in the process and auto-populates information into and between the various relevant applications.

RT: Which applications (CRM, etc.) specifically is CCF linking up? Just Microsoft solutions or other common contact center software solution?

VT: CCF leverages and works with a wide range of business applications including Win32, Web-based, Java, custom-built, and legacy applications — as well as all telephony infrastructure (CTI, IVR, etc.) that is currently in place. CCF provides the interface to channel providers from a central/controlled server which allows CCF to smoothly integrate all the communication channels.
RT: Can you talk about the "Windows Workflow Foundation" in more detail? How does this work, and how does it save agents time?

VT: CCF leverages Microsoft’s Windows Workflow Foundation as the engine that provides the automation between the applications to automatically open on the desktop the relevant apps to handle a given customer request, and common information is populated between applications. By automatically accessing the relevant applications, and providing the workflow from one to the next, the agent’s process is significantly streamlined, and they can spend more time providing a satisfying sales, marketing and service experience for the end customer

RT: I could see how that would eliminate errors in having to retype information, as well. Automating workflow sounds like a good idea, but it seems like one of those applications that's only as good as the person making the workflow decisions. Does Microsoft help companies make choices that make sense for each contact center?

VT: Microsoft works with the company’s business analysts to determine their specific workflows based on their typical customer interactions to design and map the workflow and applications.
RT: What happens when the applications that need to be integrated are hosted applications?

VT: CCF can integrate these applications in the same way as the back-end applications through programmatic or presentation integration.

RT: How complex is the job to integrate CCF with all these applications? How soon can a company be up and running?

VT: Since CCF provides front-end, presentation layer integration as one option, CCF can rapidly aggregate the applications to the desktop. With the enhancements to this latest release of CCF 2008, it is considerably quicker, easier and less expensive, with less risk than ever to realize business results and rapid ROI. CCF accelerates the development, integration and deployment of customer care solutions, and there is no replacement of existing systems required. A company can be up and going with CCF within weeks or several months depending on the size and complexity of the implementation.

RT: How are some ways that CCF 2008 would hit ROI goals for users? (Lowering turnover, reducing training times, eliminating wasted time for log-ins, etc.)
VT: CCF rapidly recognizes a return on investment for customers. Key to this is the impact on agents, with reduced training times (by as much as 50 percent or more), increased retention due to improved job satisfaction by providing all the tools needed for them to meet their goals of delivering efficient service, as well as the resulting lowered recruiting costs. There is also the time saved with Single Sign-On, which can eliminate seven to ten minutes of time, reduce call handle time, reduce customer hold time, reduce call transfers and provide the opportunity for needs-based selling

RT: Can you tell us about anyone who is using CCF 2008 now, what they're using it for and what improvements they have seen?

VT: We have a number of global customers across multiple industries such as BT Germany, Vodaphone, Telemar, Nawras, Elisa Mercy Healthcare, T-Com, Unibanco and El Pais. They have all recognized an accelerated ROI due to rapid deployment, many have recognized significantly reduced call handle times, as well as reduced training time for agents, and some have measured increased employee retention, as well as improved customer interactions, which ultimately drives customer satisfaction.

RT: Thanks for your time.

Email: rtehrani@tmcnet.com

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