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August 2009 | Volume 28 / Number 3
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Suppliers: Kiss Your Customers

By Keith Dawson
Principal Analyst, Frost & Sullivan


Here's a scene that's been replayed time and time again in contact centers: vendors develop a technology that's awesome and revolutionary. Unlike anything ever seen before, it promises to transform operations and bring all sorts of benefits. Deployment commences at some early adopters. And then reality sets in: the new tool requires consulting, integrations, and customizations. It takes longer to get going than buyers thought. And the benefits are a long time coming. Disappointment and cynicism set in.


That was the story back when the lead character was CRM, and also for CTI, and IP telephony, and even (a really long time ago) workforce management software. It may be what´s happened recently with speech analytics.


Early adopters often found they had overspent for features that had great appeal in the abstract, but little application in reality. Back when those tools were in their earliest stages, users often found themselves shelling out a lot more than they´d planned for extensive configurations, integrations, and consulting ventures. It wasn't that vendors misled them: it´s that no one had yet standardized the practices that tied those tools into the daily life of the center. There weren´t good benchmarks for how much it should cost or how long it should take to implement screen pop, for example. Or how to collect and organize customer data and deliver it properly to agents.





But there is good news, because after some initial difficulties, those older tools all found their footing and their place as truly beneficial, transformative call center technologies. What changed?


They all started out as products designed by engineers, lab-based wonders that hadn´t yet been battle-tested by actual users, in actual call centers. With all due respect to the engineering community, usability and functional value don´t always hold sway when a breakthrough technology is being developed. It takes time in real-world scenarios to see what features are useful and which ones are just ornamentation. It takes time to develop the best practices in deployment that keep consulting costs (and total cost of ownership) down to a reasonable level.


None of those breakthrough technologies of the last 15 years had real impact on business processes until feature sets and deployment methods had standardized based on the specific practices needed by contact centers, pulled by demand rather than pushed by the suppliers. It wasn't until they started focusing on solving specific call center related problems, literally playing small ball, that they crept into centers in a big way and became, over time, the fantastic transformative tools that we know today.


We can look back at CRM and CTI and see a bright lesson for today's vendors, especially for those offering speech analytics tools to contact centers. Speech analytics is an absolutely amazing technical achievement: it is engineering virtuousity of the first order. It performs as advertised, letting you look inside the content of recorded calls for meaning. So why hasn't it caught on in call centers? It's not because the tool isn´t good enough – instead, it´s because the tool hasn't been developed with an eye to actually solving call center problems. It's too big, sometimes even bloated; too expensive; takes too long to deploy; requires a lot of consultative help to integrate into existing systems. Sound familiar


Emotion detection, for example, has long been considered a selling point of speech analytics and an emblem of how sophisticated the technology can be. But even though it´s a fantastic demonstration capability, where is the hard dollar value to offset the high cost of deployment?


I think speech analytics is one of the best tools to come around in the twenty years I've been studying contact centers. And it is encouraging to me that vendors are now starting to come around to a "Keep It Simple, Stupid" (KISS) attitude, seeing the value of their applications through the eyes of their users, not just the blue-sky visions of their engineers.


Envision Telephony and Verint Systems for example, are moving swiftly to recast speech analytics for a real-world environment. In both cases, the companies are offering tools that are smaller, easier to deploy, and easier to use with a lighter footprint.


The key to making a blue-sky technology relevant (and thereby increasing its penetration in the user base) is to build the case for its real-world value. Sometimes you can paradoxically add value to a technology by making it simpler, by leaving features on the table. My Swiss Army knife is easier to use with two blades on it than 12, and even though I admire the ability to fit an awl, a magnifying glass and scissors into the little case, I don't really need all those tools. Just the basics work fine. So it is with call center technology. It´s heartening to see the contact center suppliers applying the same lesson to their tools, in this case before the user community gets jaded about the value of the technology.


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