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Feature Article
March 2002

Chris Donner Harmony, Or Discord?
Davox Purchases CellIT; Forms Concerto Software

By Chris Donner, Contributing Editor

Davox. The opening motif. Drifting through the hall, resounding from an assorted collection of instruments: Unison, Ensemble, LYRICall. Theyve played this piece before, such as when Davox teamed with AnswerSoft a few years ago to move more aggressively into the inbound space from their background in predictive dialing/outbound and blended call management. The birth of Ensemble out of Unison might be directly attributed to this earlier performance.

CellIT. A bold new strain, yet one already familiar to audiences at halls nationwide. Indeed, a very popular past performer at our own Communications Solutions Expo. So many interaction methods beyond the traditional circuit-switched network voice, Web chat, e-mail, Web callback all controlled with universal routing rules, and all converging at a single point: the agent. This is the sound of customer interaction management today, and tomorrow.

The question is, does bringing these two elements together result in a Concerto? That remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: The challenges that lie before the industry lie before this new company as much as any other. Technology moves fast, but implementation and agent training and retention move slowly, even while customer expectations somehow seem to keep pace with technology. Putting aside for a moment any possible issues with integration of old and new systems, are customer contact centers and customer service representatives ever going to be ready to handle, in real-time, the new contact methods brought about by the Web? What about those resulting from the growing wireless market and its various devices, from cell phones to PDAs to...who knows what? The answer is that they must, of course, but when? I buy online all the time, but with few exceptions, if I have serious problems with billing or services or products, I know better than to try to get these problems resolved via e-mail or Web chat.

Basics Of Business
These days things are tight all over, but the need for customer service remains crucial to the survival and prosperity of retailers (e and otherwise), service providers, wholesalers, distributors, etc. Companies like the newly formed Concerto Software and their competitors are betting their business on this simple fact. The trouble is that effective deployments of such next-gen contact centers are still sparse enough that, unless the end user/consumer wants to keep track of service options on a case-by-case basis, its best for him/her to do whats most convenient for the bank, utility, retailer, etc. that is, its best to just grit your teeth and pick up the phone. Deploying these platforms is not so much a matter of overcoming the technical issues that is being done by companies like Concerto as it is convincing those who buy and use CRM platforms that making and receiving phone calls and forcing people to deal with vague touch-tone IVR menus is no longer acceptable. If they dont keep up, they will lose out.

On a personal, anecdotal level, I would say Im seeing the very beginning of this trend, although even calling it a trend at this point might be too strong. I have had very positive, all-online experiences with a handful of companies, such as Geico, Verve Hosting (host of my private Web site), and so far with New York States E-Z Pass system. But the vast majority of my customer service issues are still resolved the old way: pick up the phone, key in my account number, wait in a queue, speak my account number to Agent #1, get transferred, speak my account number to Agent #2, and so on.

Concerto represents the sound of the future, which ironically might just mean no sound at all, other than keyboard clicks or the tap-tap of a stylus on a screen. The technology is there, and acquisitions like this make perfect sense as the industry moves forward. Soon enough, customer demand will convince the contact centers and service agencies of the world that they need to keep up. The ones who have faced the music will find they have a significant advantage over those who insist that theres nothing new to hear.

The author may be contacted at lguevin@tmcnet.com.

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