Recently, I was reflecting on the early days of the call center market. In 1982 when
this publication was launched, the word call center was over half a decade away from being
coined and we called the process of making or taking phone calls for any reason
"telemarketing." Furthermore, automation was almost nonexistent: many couldn't
fathom the additional expense of computerization. In those days, most telemarketing agents
used index cards to keep track of all of their clients.
The larger telemarketing centers did have minicomputers or mainframes, but small to
medium businesses were not so fortunate. Some of the first contact management systems to
make a dent in this market were Telemagic and Salemaker, which were PC-based, single-user
products at first. In the mid 1980s, companies such as Brock Control and others released
Unix-based telemarketing center applications as well.
Even at that stage, however, call center technology decisions were simplea few
software apps to choose from, a few different ACDs and a predictive dialer manufacturer or
two. A look at the call center industry today paints a dramatically different landscape
than days of yore. Today, there are so many decisions to be made, I don't envy the people
tasked with building call centers.
One of the biggest changes to the call center market is the new focus on customer
relationship management (CRM). We've covered CRM heavily in this publication since our
very first issues, way before the term was even coined. The logistics are obvious: back
then, the call center was the primary place for customers to contact your company, thus it
was the primary place where CRM transactions took place. As the market has evolved, so has
this publication, so as of January 2000 this publication will enhance its name to "C@LL
Center CRM Solutions" to more clearly reflect its coverage.
We must all adapt to change or perish. The Internet has had a profound impact on how
call center products need to be purchased. Web, e-mail and chat integration are only a few
items that must be taken into consideration in order to launch a successful contact
center. And every purchase must be made with the underlying goal of providing superior
What makes all of this especially fun for me, someone whose job it is to keep track of
all the changes in the market, is the amount of new players on the scene. Recently,
Alcatel entered this market head on with their purchase of Genesys. 3Com will soon make a
major push into the call center market with their NBX product line. And Cisco, a company
that has made numerous acquisitions in this space, is poised to become a dominant player
in the call center market in the very near future.
Of course, every new entrant into the call center market has a long-term and short-term
strategy. Many of them are quite intriguing I wish I had time to report on them
all. As Cisco Systems is an extremely dominant leader in the router market, virtually
owning the Internet, they have enough money to purchase as many companies as needed to
dominate any market they wish. Currently, one of their main focal points is on this market
and billions of dollars of acquisition are only the beginning of their strategy.
I thought it interesting to analyze Cisco's call center strategy in full detail,
including how they divide up their various business units that deal with this and related
markets. Whether or not you think you are ever going to be a Cisco customer, you must take
their long-term vision seriously as they have proven to be ferocious competitors in the
router and Internet telephony space, so I am sure they will have a dramatic impact on this
industry as a whole.
After making a number of acquisitions such as Selsius, GeoTel and WebLine that all
touch on the contact center, Cisco formed the Cisco Application Technology Group. This
group is tasked with developing applications for customer contact and unified messaging
across the enterprise, service provider, and small/medium business markets.
Cisco's goal is to deliver products that give companies the flexibility to interact
with their customers via phone, Web, fax and e-mail while maintaining tight integration
with existing ACD, IVR, network and desktop applications. By unifying the systems
underlying voice and data distribution, they are enabling companies to implement
"new-world" solutions at their own pace while leveraging their current
technology infrastructure investments. Moreover, Cisco is concentrating heavily on giving
their customers the ability to manage every contact center resource from a single control
point, enabling companies to rapidly adapt their operations to evolving customer
expectations and changing market conditions.
The Customer Contact Business Unit (CCBU) develops and markets Cisco ICM
software, intelligent contact management solutions based on technology acquired from
GeoTel Communications. CCBU products enable premises-based contact centers to personalize
service and enhance customer retention by supporting multimedia contact channels,
multivendor technology platforms, enterprise answering resources, including small
office/home office (SOHO) agents, and network-to-desktop CTI.
The Network Applications Business Unit (NABU) develops and markets Cisco NAM software,
network applications management solutions based on technology acquired from GeoTel
Communications. NABU products enable service providers to expand addressable markets,
increase customer loyalty and reduce operating costs by delivering value-added services
such as network voice applications, VPN, virtual call center and network CTI.
The Unified Communications Software Business Unit (UCSBU) develops and markets Cisco
GateServer software, unified messaging applications based on technology acquired from
Amteva Technologies. UCSBU products enable service providers to reduce churn, increase
revenue and lower total cost of ownership (TCO) by providing a single, unified means to
satisfy all of a customers fax, voice mail and e-mail requirements.
Cisco ICM Software
For premises-based applications, Cisco ICM software is an enterprisewide,
intelligent contact management solution based on GeoTels Intelligent CallRouter. ICM
software enables a company to effectively manage customer interaction by intelligently
distributing incoming requests from multiple contact channels, including carrier networks,
the Internet, fax and e-mail, to resources across the enterprise such as ACD and IVR
systems, SOHO agents and desktop applications. As each incoming request is received, the
system profiles the customer to select the most appropriate resource the first time. ICM
software scales to support single-site or multisite contact centers.
Cisco NAM Software
Cisco NAM software delivers network applications management capabilities to the
service provider market. This solution, which is based on the GeoTel Network ICR platform,
enables service providers to participate as full partners with their customers in all
aspects of customer interaction. Most fundamentally, carriers can now offer full-featured
automatic call distribution (ACD) as a network service using network agents combined with
a customers own ACD agents in an enterprisewide virtual call center.
Network prompting and CTI can be provided either in the network or on a customer site
or both, with complete customer control and integrated call processing across all
With the entrance of so many new companies into the call center space, we can expect
fresh new ideas on how we can improve our customer relationships. Before you make your
next call center product selection decision, make sure to consider long-time players as
well as the new entrants. Every call center is unique and it may just be a blend of
products from old and new players that you need to put together the most ideal solution
for your corporate needs.