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August 1999

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e-Rip Van Winkle And The 60-Second Nap


One of the most promising technologies yet for the call center is integration with the Web. According to Bob Weinberger, vice president of marketing at WebLine Communications Corp., "Buyers and sellers of all product types are increasingly using the Web to engage in real-time commerce. The companies that will thrive will be the ones that use the Net to extend personal contacts with their customers. As this trend continues, the challenge many businesses face is determining optimal strategies for integrating the Web with traditional sales, service and support operations. The bottom line is that companies are experiencing significant results today by integrating the personal value of human interaction in their call centers with the information value of the Web. There is no magic formula that dictates which method of communication is the right one. The fact is, businesses need to be prepared to interact with their customers in the manner that best suits each customer -  whether it be via telephone calls, e-mail, voice over IP calls, interactive Web sessions, network faxes, etc. And to do so in an environment that delivers a unified channel to customers for all their sales, service and support needs. Companies that recognize this imperative are winning in the online world."

There are myriad ways of connecting users to your "contact center" besides using the telephone. I'll list them in order of increasing importance (at least in my opinion). Web chat is a technology that is currently the lowest common denominator- whether or not you have a second line or a telephone, you can always chat live with an agent if the Web site you're surfing supports it. I, for one, think chat is a great medium for communicating with my friends and relatives and I use AOL Instant Messenger for this purpose at times. Chat's inability to transfer the emotions of speech (even with emoticons) is the biggest downside of this technology as a viable solution for long-term Web and contact center integration.

The next way of integrating a Web surfer and your contact center is with a Web callback button. This makes sense when a customer surfing your site doesn't have a multimedia computer and can?t use Internet telephony to communicate with your agents. Or, perhaps, the Web surfer has a multimedia computer, but he or she is using it in an office setting, and doesn't want the agent's voice broadcast through the speakers. Finally, many firewalls don't allow H.323 (the latest Internet telephony standard) calls to penetrate the corporate firewall and thus, Internet telephony is not an option. By the way, if you are looking for a firewall that is H.323 friendly, I understand Check Point FireWall-1 v4.0 does allow H.323 calls to get through their firewall with minimal difficulty.

Finally, a Web surfer can click on an Internet call button that allows the surfer to connect to a live agent using Internet telephony. This, of course, is the best way for Web surfers to connect to your call center for a variety of reasons, among them the facts that neither party has to pay for the call and it eliminates the chance for a callback by the contact center to result in a busy signal, no answer or who knows what other type of problem. In addition, the Web surfer may not have a free line to make/receive calls. At some point, we all need to become comfortable hanging telephones off our computers. Either manufacturers will bundle phones with computers (hopefully video cameras, too) or we will have to buy USB phones of our own when the price points become reasonable.

The adoption of all of the above technologies has been a bit slow to date, which is too bad because the more difficult we make it for our customers to do business with us on the Web, the more business our customers will do elsewhere. Of course, amidst Y2K upgrades, Windows 2000 upgrades and a million other issues to deal with we sometimes take for granted that a contact center that is not broken doesn't need fixing. The problem is that we are talking about Internet time here. In other words, what we would think should take five years to happen takes place while we are away on a two-week vacation! Am I exaggerating to make a point? Yes! But not by much. Look at the call center market's evolution. Contact centers, e-commerce, IP telephony, e-mail, multimedia, video call centers - where did all of this new stuff come from? Two years ago we barely thought about these issues in the call center. The Internet continues to dazzle us with its unlimited potential to bring us new business, as well as its potential to drown us in a never-ending sea of acronyms and technologies. Rest assured though, there is no escaping the new technology that is being unleashed on our contact centers. Our customers are getting younger and they are all Internet savvy. Do you have kids? Are they more comfortable with the Web than you are? Do you realize that generation Xers are a huge demographic group you'd better target quickly? We all need to stay current and implement the latest technologies into our contact centers before our competitors do.

Barnes & Noble used to be the first name that we all thought of when someone said bookstore. Christie’s was the name that used to come to mind first when someone said auction. Merrill Lynch used to be the name that came to mind first when you said stock market. In the last two years, Amazon.com, eBay, and E*TRADE have come out of nowhere and become category leaders in terms of mindshare. Sure, the former “brick and mortar” counterparts may all be longstanding and profitable businesses, but we know in marketing, mindshare is everything. Who would have thought the former “household-name” companies would have to play catch-up on a new electronic playing field?

Every day, I meet more people that have stopped doing business with companies that don’t return e-mail promptly. Speaking of which, kudos go to Hertz Corporation. I left a car-charging adapter for my cell phone in a rental car on my last trip to Miami. Somehow I remembered that the Web address for this location was [email protected]  (it was posted on a wall as I waited for the shuttle bus). Within eight hours of sending an e-mail about my lost phone cord, it was on its way to me. That is what I call awesome customer service! Does your contact center provide this level of service?

As you’re exploring various ways of integrating the Web and your contact center, don’t forget that in the July 1999 issue of this publication, we ran a roundup of over 70 companies providing such products. Please visit "Humanize Your Web Site" to see this list.

Since this roundup, VocalTec contacted me and informed me they have just completed a major installation of their Surf&Call Center in the commercial premier of Deutsche Telekom’s freecall Online, what they believe to be the most extensive Web-to-call center service in the world.

Deutsche Telekom sells this service to companies that would prefer not to deal themselves with the hardware issues inherent in such a Web/call center solution. This extends Deutsche Telekom’s existing line of toll-free 800 services, enabling companies to receive 800 calls originating from both traditional telephones and the Web. Two businesses also announced that freecall Online’s service is integrated into their e-commerce Web sites.

Of course, as you would imagine, the main customers for this service are in Germany and I don’t speak German. In fact, I have enough trouble just understanding all the new telecom acronyms at industry trade shows! But for what it’s worth, this is one of the sites implementing Deutsche Telekom’s new service, www.ProSieben-Club.de. Imagine learning about the latest call center technology and getting a taste of Europe at the same time. Indeed e-commerce knows no geographic bounds!

Whatever your specific needs (service or hardware) and regardless of where your call centers are located (U.S. or internationally), there is really no reason to not be seriously shopping for the next generation of contact-center-enabling technologies such as chat, Web callback and Web call buttons using Internet telephony. Your contact center can’t afford to be caught napping in an age of Internet time and global e-commerce, or, like Rip van Winkle, you’ll be rubbing your eyes in amazement at all the changes.


Rich Tehrani
Group Publisher

Live Office Of The Future And Enterprise CRM Debut At CTI™ EXPO

Last month I wrote about how The Live, Multimedia Blended Call Center was such a huge hit at the last CTI™ EXPO in Washington D.C.: it attracted more than 1,000 attendees in just two days. This live demonstration was so successful that we weren’t sure we could top it at CTI™ EXPO Fall 1999 in Las Vegas, December 7-9. It was readily apparent that attendees at CTI™ EXPO were ecstatic to see products in action on the show floor. This was not the typical trade show demo with smoke and mirrors — CellIT and their many partners demonstrated a working call center that made and received thousands of calls in a two-day period over ATM and IP-based packet networks.

We knew we had to bring the Live, Multimedia Blended Call Center back to our next CTI™ EXPO in Las Vegas — we had so many requests and the Live Call Center drew so much attention at our last show that we’d be crazy not to repeat it. Besides, by now, you know we at TMC™are never satisfied — and we always promise to provide you with the best trade shows anywhere. I myself have been purchasing products for years as a MIS director, and believe me, I know how difficult it is to select products that meet your needs — for both today and tomorrow. You can only learn so much by researching on the Web and contacting one company at a time amongst the myriad interruptions in a typical office setting. You can never adequately compare products unless you see them together under one roof within a window of a few days. That is why tradeshows like CTI™ EXPO are experiencing exponential growth. So we have been racking our brains for over two months, trying to come up with essential attractions that will top CTI™ EXPO in D.C. and make it easy for you to select products and technologies that will ensure the future success of your enterprise. CellIT and the engineers of TMC™Labs (the people who bring you the objective and in-depth reviews found in all TMC™ publications) helped me come up with the following irresistible attractions that will help anyone concerned with the future success of their organization.

CTI™ EXPO, December 7-9 in Las Vegas, NV, will house more live demos than I’ve seen at any previous trade show, ever! We will showcase a Live Office Of The Future, demonstrating the latest productivity enhancing products such as unified messaging, fax servers, speech recognition, PC-PBXs, SOHO tools, Web and call center integration products and more. The engineers of TMC™ Labs are diligently assembling participants for this one-of-a-kind demo as you read this sidebar. This demonstration will provide you an in-depth look at the latest productivity boosting technology for the rest of us — the typical office worker.

But this wasn’t enough for us. We love demonstrating how powerful today’s technology is in real-world settings as this is the only way to really learn how the next generation of products will actually work for you. Productivity is skyrocketing in America and is driving our economy ever forward. CTI technology turbo charges productivity and we can’t wait to demonstrate the latest products to you live, right on the trade show floor.

Besides the Live Office Of The Future and the Live, Multimedia Blended Call Center, we decided another demo was needed to tie these two disparate areas of the show floor together. Every company exists to serve its customers and, therefore, nothing is more important than providing unmatched customer relationship management or CRM. To that end, we will also showcase a Live Enterprise CRM Demonstration at CTI™EXPO. Another first, the goal of this demonstration is to show how customers in any organization should be handled by a company’s CRM software. We will integrate all facets of CRM, such as field sales, customer support, e-business, marketing, front office, field service and more! CTI™ EXPO will provide the most complete working demonstration you can ever see under one roof and it will be extremely objective and educational — it has to be. The Live Office Of The Future and the Live CRM Demonstra-tion will be orchestrated by the TMC™ Labs engineers, the people who objectively test the products you read about every month in all TMC™ publications: C@LL Center Solutions™, CTI and INTERNET TELEPHONY. As always, you can get more information at our newly designed Web site (www.ctiexpo.com) and by registering today on the Web, you will save $25 off the cost of exhibit hall admission. I hope to see you there.

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