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July 2001


Mobility And Evolving Contact Centers

BY ERIK LOUNSBURY, Editorial Director

Back in February, I met much too briefly with Andy Mattes, Member of the Group Board, Siemens Information and Communication Networks, at Siemens' Opinion Leader Conference in Seville, Spain. Mattes covered a range of topics, such as IP applications and phones, the increase in customer interactions as a result of e-commerce and how corporate GSM will cut down on the number of devices and phone numbers one must have. As our conversation was fairly short and given the fact that Siemens has been in the forefront of communications for over a century, I felt compelled to ask him a few more questions on the changing contact center and Siemens' perspective of how new initiatives in mobile communications are part of those changes.

EL: The mission of call centers has evolved as they have become contact centers with new technologies and new responsibilities. What changes have you seen in the call center over the past few years?

AM: The two most widespread changes that we have seen in the contact center are (1) the adoption of customer relationship management principles and the applications to support them, and (2) the incorporation of new customer contact media, such as e-mail and Web chat.

With regard to customer relationship management (CRM)... In the e-business world, competitors are only a mouse click away. Now more than ever, business success hinges on attracting and retaining loyal customers. To build loyalty, it's no longer sufficient for the agents in the call center to know a few key facts about their customers. Enterprises need to employ CRM -- both a business philosophy and the strategic applications to support it -- throughout the organization to capture information about their customers and leverage it during every interaction, whether in sales, service, support or the back office. By knowing more about their customers, enterprises make it easier for their customers to do business with them, which increases their loyalty. According to Reichheld and Schefter, increasing customer retention rates (loyalty) by only 5 percent can increase profits by 25 percent to 95 percent.1

With regard to multimedia... A few years ago, state-of-the-art e-service entailed providing an e-mail address for customer contact. Today, not only do customers expect to be able to contact the enterprise through a variety of media, such as e-mail, Web, fax and video, as well as the telephone, they expect a consistent, high-quality service experience regardless of the media they are using. Enterprises need the ability to routinely direct customer inquiries to the best possible resource, whether that is a service representative, an automated system or a self-help application. Irrespective of the media the customer chooses, the enterprise needs to manage and report from one comprehensive management system and use this information to further streamline processes and improve the customer experience.

EL: How has IP convergence made a difference in the contact center?

AM: IP convergence is a major driver to make these requirements a reality. The modern contact center has to offer rich call center features independent of the underlying IP or TDM technology. Siemens HiPath ProCenter Standard and Advanced suites, for example, offer the capability of being integrated into either a PBX or a native business over IP Solution such as the HiPath 5000 communications platform. Using an IP converged solution within a call center environment offers the advantages of both rich applications and a very flexible IP infrastructure.

What this means to a business is the potential to dramatically increase agent productivity. Studies show that multimedia contact center agents are more productive agents. Not only does a customer expect contact center agents to be aware of his purchase history, he also expects them to know, for example, which Internet page he is looking at while on the telephone with the contact center. The causal link between IP in the contact center, agent productivity and, most importantly, customer satisfaction is becoming more and more compelling.

EL: Three or four years ago, many people thought the Internet and e-commerce would completely end the need for live interaction between a business and its customers. Why do you think that did not come to pass?

AM: At the end of the day, all business transactions are about relationships, and relationships are about people. The Internet and e-commerce are wonderful tools for accelerating business transactions between two businesses or between businesses and consumers, but to keep any relationship flourishing requires human-to-human contact. That's why we see voice interactions in the contact center increasing, not decreasing, with the advent of the Internet, e-commerce and other new forms of customer contact.

EL: Siemens' HiPath architecture is focusing on three areas: work points, eCRM and mobile business apps. How do you see business processes changing in each of these areas?

AM: In the area of work points, the technology trend is toward cross-platform accessible telephone handsets and soft clients. A user can literally choose and customize his work point to match his personal working style. This means no less than redefining the way a user relates to his telephone. In the area of eCRM, we are seeing that customer relationship management is no longer relegated to the physical contact center. Here, I am speaking not just about having home-based agents, itself a boon for the industry. I am also speaking about the trend toward highly skilled agents. Think, for example, of the pharmaceutical industry, where a company might have one agent sitting in California to whom all calls of a highly specialized nature are fed.

This also ties in very well with mobile business applications in general, where we are seeing dramatic changes in the way enterprise employees expect to be able to use and leverage mobile communications and information-sharing applications, accessing both real-time and non-real-time information and resources. This unified communications trend is strong in the U.S., where one coast is always nearly half a business day ahead or behind the other coast, making time-shifting communications applications, such as voice messaging, play a larger part of meeting enterprises' communications needs. The rest of the major markets throughout the world are following suit. No matter where you are or what kind of business you are in, the key is to ensure that solutions address the specific needs and workflow of a business.

EL: Mobile applications seem to be much more prevalent in Europe and Japan than in the United States. Do you believe this will change?

AM: The sheer size of the U.S. market has slowed adoption of mobile communications, but the trend is clearly toward more mobility in the U.S. as well. The key driver for mobility here and elsewhere is simple business necessity. Studies show that most e-business transactions are not accomplished during the first interaction between a customer and a business. More and more, the almost inevitable changes in color, size, shipping address, etc., will be completed when either the agent or the customer is mobile. Therefore, in order for businesses to thrive, they must be able to interact successfully with mobile customers and to employ mobility solutions themselves.

EL: How will an increasing number of mobile applications affect the contact center?

AM: Two main trends can be observed here. First is that many end customers become more and more mobile. They do not want to miss the advantages of the Internet, e-mail access or other services that bring them in direct contact with partners or enterprises. A mobile end-customer requires the same services and quality of service from an enterprise independent of his location, time of contact and individual access media. Enterprises have to take these trends into consideration when offering services via call or contact centers.

On the other hand, enterprises are in the same situation. For many employees, there are no more reasons to work in the office. Often they offer a much higher efficiency when working on the road or at home. Mobile applications today offer multiple means to deliver all data needed to these mobile workers. This trend also has an impact on the call center design: The necessity to integrate mobile or home agents into call centers will increase in the future.

Here again, Siemens HiPath ProCenter Standard or Advanced suites are solutions that -- together with the HiPath mobile solutions, such as HiPath Teleworking or HiPath Xpressions unified messaging solution -- meet these trends and requirements.

A Practical Application
The mobile in mobile communications implies travel, and as anyone who has been in an airport terminal in the past few years can attest, one of the biggest time wasters and hindrances to mobility is standing in line at both the counter and then at the gate. I recently spoke with Malik Mamdani, CEO of Aeritas, Inc., about a solution Aeritas has developed to address long lines in airports. Mamdani explained that Aeritas Express For Travel (running on the underlying J2EE-compliant, XML-enabled Aeritas Mobile Platform) combines voice and text interaction in a single user session, allowing airline passengers to conveniently handle flight check-in and receive a barcode-based boarding pass directly on their mobile phone or PDA. The boarding pass is then scanned at the gate using the airline's existing equipment, allowing passengers to bypass the ticket counter or gate counter for a boarding pass.

After a quick, one-time registration process, combining speech and text to make the experience as easy as possible, travelers can use the service for all future check-ins. The service supports leading mobile networks and works with existing Web-enabled phones and PDAs, enabling airline carriers to reach a vast majority of their frequent flyers. The service utilizes state-of-the-art voice verification technology to securely verify the traveler's identity prior to issuing a boarding pass to the wireless device.

Aeritas recently announced that, in partnership with Siemens Business Services (SBS), Division Transportation and German airline Lufthansa, it has begun trials using the Aeritas system for a mobile check-in and boarding project called m-Barq.

m-Barq allows frequent travelers holding etix, an electronic ticket, to check-in and receive an electronic, barcode-based boarding pass on the display of their WAP-enabled mobile phone. The barcode will then be verified via scanners at security and boarding control points prior to boarding the flight.

Siemens assisted Lufthansa in identifying the technology required for this offering and plays a crucial role in the implementation and deployment of Lufthansa's m-Barq service. The trial service will be rolled out by the end of the year to Lufthansa's Frequent Travellers on route within Germany. Upon the successful implementation, Lufthansa will expand m-Barq to other routes.

Mamdani told me that Aeritas will target the travel industries first, and then plans to expand into the retail applications market. He also intimated that Aeritas will be working on another airport pain point, baggage location.

1Frederick Reichheld and Phil Schefter: "E-Loyalty: Your Secret Weapon on the Web," Harvard Business Review, July-August, 2000.

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

[ Return To The July 2001 Table Of Contents ]

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