Making Business Realities Work For You!
Part II: Optimizing All Contacts With The
BY TONY RYBCZYNSKI
Business Reality: True value is in relationships, not transactions.
Now that customers can leap to the competition with the click of a mouse,
organizations need to manage the intrinsic value in relationships -- looking
not only at units and transactions but also at the full dynamics of
interactions with customers, suppliers, and partners. That requires a
technology infrastructure that supports a unified, relationship-based view
of these audiences, spanning all touch points and systems. Traditional
enterprise systems, however, typically reflect a process- and
product-oriented view of the business. They consist of numerous independent
systems on different platforms, which share information in a limited way.
Unique new services will engage the enterpriseï¿½s customers, making it
difficult for them to switch their business to another company. They wonï¿½t
even think about going to the competition, because their lives have been
made so much easier. And they tell other people about their positive
experiences. Ultimately the enterpriseï¿½s customers become virtual
salespeople and evangelists for the enterprise. In this world, customer
relationships replace brands as businessï¿½s most valuable assets. We call
this an ï¿½engagedï¿½ enterprise, because instead of responding to customer
needs, it anticipates and engages the customer with proactive services.
Technology Response: Optimize all contacts with customers, suppliers,
The Contact Center is the primary point of contact between an enterprise and
its customers, partners and suppliers. It is a key technology in the engaged
application architecture -- delivering time-critical, media-adaptive
capabilities across multiple service delivery channels, including the Web,
telephone network, messaging and fax. It converges agent and self-serve
applications, supporting notification, transactions, interaction, and
collaboration. The contact center interfaces into the enterprise environment
(including databases and customer relationship management CRM applications)
over a highly reliable, application-optimized network infrastructure, which
itself is part of a highly integrated IT application environment.
Bottlenecks need to be eliminated, since time is of the essence.
Three technology enablers form the foundation of an engaged application
architecture: SIP, Web Applications Middleware, and XML. These tools and
protocols leverage IP networking, security and application technologies
across the enterprise and into the Internet.
Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)
SIP is medium-agnostic, and acts as communications glue across multiple
environments and media. SIP does for person-to-person communications what
HTML has done for information access. Unlike traditional VoIP and video
conferencing protocols, SIP restricts itself to the control plane, through
which it creates, modifies, and terminates sessions that contain two or more
participants. These sessions can be multimedia conferences, audio and video
streams, multimedia distribution, or simple telephone calls. SIP is
independent of the data plane, or ï¿½bearer path,ï¿½ defining how data, voice,
image, or video is transmitted across various transport networks including
IP, ATM, and TDM, whether wired or wireless.
By separating the control and data planes, SIP enables us to move away
from vertically integrated applications. SIP-based communications open the
door for an array of new services (e.g., based on name, not address) that
enhance personal productivity across all media and all devices through a
range of addressing, personalization, presence management, mobility,
conferencing, and collaboration. The user interface is via a Web browser, a
PC, or PDA application, a Web-enabled wireless handset, or an IP or
In a SIP environment, every endpoint that can be in a session first
registers with the network. This registration of an endpointï¿½s ï¿½presenceï¿½ on
the network provides a unique capability to determine if a session can be
initiated without first making the call. The concept of presence is
demonstrated to millions of Instant Messaging users who create buddy lists
of individuals they want to chat with. When one of their ï¿½buddiesï¿½ signs on
the network, their presence is shown on their buddy list. SIP extends
presence with information about the device that is being used and the
willingness of the participant to have his/her presence known. This allows
the engaged application to dynamically adapt the session for the device that
is currently being used on the network.
Web Applications Middleware
As enterprises started to ï¿½Web-enableï¿½ their business systems, new
business systems were developed that handled the Web side of things but were
not linked to their existing systems. As a result, for example, a customer
could call customer service on the telephone to change an order created on
the Web, only to be told that customer service doesnï¿½t have access to those
Web application middleware built on Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) open
standards and Microsoftï¿½s .NET make it easier for an enterprise to
Web-enable its voice and data applications. Developers can focus their time
and energy on applications, without having to reinvent scalability and
reliability features. The basic premise is to provide a multi-tier
application development framework consisting generally of Presentation,
Business Logic, and Data Access tiers. By dividing an application into
tiers, one tier can be changed without affecting the others and code written
for an application to be reused.
Consider the enterprise that writes an order-tracking application for the
Web. The applicationï¿½s Presentation tier displays the Web pages and captures
the required input from the customer. The Business Logic is the code
necessary to validate the input and determine the orderï¿½s status and the
Data Access tier has a standard interface to all the various legacy data
sources that contain customer information, inventory data, product orders,
reservations, and countless other types of crucial business information.
When the enterprise wants to extend the order tracking application to be
accessed using speech recognition, only a new presentation tier to handle
the voice prompts and speech recognition needs to be written. The rest of
the application can be used as is.
eXtensible Markup Language (XML)
XML is the most widely accepted, platform-independent standard for
building structured documents for Web applications. XML supports
internationalization and localization and is becoming a de facto standard
for data exchange between applications. Structured documents include such
elements as spreadsheets, address books, configuration parameters, financial
transactions, and presentation scripts.
Since XML is the universal format for data exchange, ï¿½dialectsï¿½ have been
developed to exchange data with people as well as machines. One of these
dialects, VoiceXML, was developed as a standard way to write speech
recognition scripts for the Presentation tier. These scripts use a
combination of speech and touch-tone commands so that data can be exchanged
between people and machines. The introduction of multi-tier architectures
and standards such as VoiceXML are radically changing the Interactive Voice
Response (IVR) business. In a VoiceXML IVR environment, the complete speech
application is written in a language independent of the vendor or vendorsï¿½
hardware. The enterprise can reuse any of the code for the IVR application
in a Web-based application that accomplishes the same task (e.g., self-serve
voice and Web banking). An enterprise can tailor voice menus for each
customer, instead of playing the same voice menus to every customer. In
addition, with VoiceXML, it is possible to easily write applications that
provide ï¿½last minuteï¿½ customization and personalization of voice
CCXML (Call Control XML) is another important dialect of XML that was
defined as a standard way to provide telephony services to Web-based
applications. CCXML is used in conjunction with VXML in the engaged
application to provide call redirection, conferencing, and monitoring based
on the occurrence of unplanned events.
SOAP (Simple Object Applications Protocol) is an XML-based protocol
designed to exchange information between applications in a decentralized,
distributed environment. SOAP is standardized and is used in the creation of
Web services, which allow different vendorsï¿½ components running in different
companiesï¿½ data centers to work as part of a single application.
Finally, SALT (Speech Application Language Tags) is also based on XML and
makes it possible to build multi-modal applications. It was originally
developed to use speech as a method to navigate through Web pages so users
can do things like speak to their PocketPC to ï¿½get my current itineraryï¿½
instead of typing in a URL. Multi-modal applications such as these will
become increasingly important as new-generation wireless PDAs and PocketPCs
become widely used.
IP-Empowered Contact Centers and Self-Serve Applications
The Web has become an effective pre- and post-sale delivery channel, but
the rate of abandoned shopping carts suggests that humans still need to talk
to other humans, sometimes. Do you have independent business operations,
where your call center is not integrated with your Web-based channels; and
interactive voice response (IVR) self-service systems that are not
integrated with your customer relationship management (CRM) system? Or have
you evolved to a more integrated approach?
IP-empowered contact centers and self-serve applications are the engines
for engaging customers across multiple channels and for improving the
quality and consistency of those interactions.
Web-enabled contact centers provide the ability to progress naturally
from where the customer has been on the enterprise Web site, to invoke
screen sharing (such as for filling out forms), and to push pages to send
requested information to the customer. E-mail, fax, and chat handling
systems further expand the number of ways that the customer can interact
with the business, while making optimal use of agent resources.
The acceptance and success of self-service, automated customer contact
applications are dependent on the way theyï¿½re designed and implemented. If
you can make it possible for callers to get what they want faster, then you
enrich the user experience, whether or not you provide a live human being as
the first point of contact.
In fact, in many cases callers may prefer automation. Who wants to talk
to a live human being when paying a long overdue bill by phone? Who really
wants to wait for a live human being when checking airline departure times,
the latest interest rates, or the date and amount of your last payment?
Enhancements in multi-language speech recognition technology for IVR
systems have made this man-machine interaction much more efficient and user
friendly -- improving customer acceptance. Instead of tedious menus where
the customer uses the buttons on the telephone, the customer can now
verbally request the information needed. This saves the multiple menus
traditionally associated with dial-tone (dual tone multi-frequency)
signaling and results in shorter calls -- a more economic solution for both
enterprise and customer.
Together, these technologies enable enterprises to evolve from a model of
services-on-demand to a model of proactively engaging with customers --
providing timely, valued services to them, and making it natural, intuitive,
and productive for them to engage with you.
Tony Rybczynski is director of strategic enterprise technologies for
Nortel Networks with 30 years experience in networking. For more
information, visit the companyï¿½s Web site at
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