It's no secret that I like looking at new and exciting technologies. I'm
normally like a kid in a candy store at trade shows. That said, I was a
bit disappointed with the exhibits at the International Call Center
Management (ICCM) show this August in Chicago. There just weren't that
many announcements about new products that interested me. Microsoft
exhibited at the show in a big way, touting the power of speech
recognition, something we have been talking about at industry shows for
over a decade. More specifically, Microsoft was pushing its SALT platform
(speech application language tags). The benefits of using this language is
multimodality, or the ability to use voice, a GUI and other potential
input methods for the same application. Microsoft's entry into this arena
has done little to galvanize the market around SALT thus far. I believe,
however, this will change if they continue to invest heavily in this
Before I continue, I should point out that I believe the reason for the
lack of new announcements is due to the fact that research and development
budgets were decimated during the recent downturn. An obvious rebound is
occurring in the tech market. I believe if it maintains traction, we can
expect to see a slew of new offerings by Q2 of next year.
In any case, I'd like to highlight a few of the technologies at ICCM
that did manage to catch my eye and my enthusiasm.
Thankfully, I had a chance to catch up with the people at Witness
Systems who were showing off their Contact Center Performance Optimization
Suite. Their recent acquisition of Eyretel, a company that made
high-volume recording and compliance equipment, has helped Witness enhance
its eQuality software suite with features like new templates that allow
easier detection of performance peaks and valleys among agents or agent
The eQuality suite further allows all customer interactions to be
recorded; but, more important, organizes these transactions based on your
business rules into different folders for later playback. A question that
comes up frequently in contact centers is whether it is acceptable to
allow agents to speak with customers for more than a preset amount of
time. In other words, how do you go about comparing length of agent talk
time on a call versus sales/service performance? Should you allow agents
to spend more time than average talking with customers? The answer is
likely to be different depending on the industry and offer, which is why I
am happy to tell you that you can make use of included correlation tools
to find out how handle times affect closure rates, if at all, in your
For those outsourcers reading this, you'll be happy to know that this
suite of applications now supports SSL, meaning these agencies can allow
their clients to view confidential performance data over the Internet more
Here is a company from which we are beginning to hear more in the
U.S., and they have a big story to tell. Prosodie is the largest hosting
company in France. They have a stake in a UK-based CLEC and have purchased
a business intelligence provider, a Web hosting company and a unified
messaging provider in the U.S. The company also has colocated facilities
around the U.S.
Using this arsenal of advanced communications products allows Prosodie
to provide a fairly bulletproof hosted ACD service and IVR service.
Another business the company engages in is making calls on behalf of
politicians. Essentially, we are looking at what may be the world's
largest communications ASP or hosting company. The company can also
provide overflow capacity if that is your need. I believe we'll see a lot
more from this company in the U.S. very soon.
Positive Software Systems, Inc.
Let's say you have a number of call centers and are looking to connect
these centers to a single server for more effective management and
control. Positive Software has products that allow you to do just this.
The company evolved from doing consulting to developing products and now
focuses on allowing businesses to manage their centers from a single
secure server connecting agents, multiple dialers and data repositories.
One of the benefits of using a central server is that it gives you the
ability to move a campaign from dialer to dialer, which can be an
important issue in disaster recovery situations. There is also the option
to replicate servers to ensure redundancy as well as the ability to import
business rules. In many cases, business rules are dictated by regulations.
In the collections market, for example, you cannot call a person more
frequently than allowed by law.
Other features include real-time business intelligence reports as well
as the ability to comply with all manner of do-not-call laws and new
privacy laws such as California's recent SB 1386, which dictates that if
you have customers in California or are based in that state, and you have
a computer security breach where confidential and personal customer
information is accessed, and this information isn't already readily
available on the Internet, you must notify customers that their data were
compromised. As always, I suggest you consult with legal council regarding
compliance with government regulations.
Good news'Intervoice has dropped the 'Brite' suffix that was added a
few years back. I always found this combined name awkward and I'm glad
they changed it back to their original name. It may be counterintuitive,
but even though the company name is shorter, the breadth of products the
company offers has increased dramatically. I spent hours in their booth at
ICCM, but it felt like days. Not because what I saw was boring, but
because there was so much to touch and feel and see that I took copious
notes and asked lots of questions. I actually toyed with making a separate
article out of what I saw, but time and space often interfere with the
best editorial intentions.
Perhaps most important, Intervoice has eschewed the proprietary nature
of its past in favor of open systems. They did this in part due to the
fact that 50 percent of their RFPs are asking for VoiceXML or SALT.
Perhaps Microsoft's SALT is farther along than I originally thought?
The Omvia Voice Framework allows the design of speech apps with full
logic and design flows using a GUI-based design program. Once designed,
these applications can be ported to VoiceXML, SALT or IQTalk, if desired.
The point here is that you can use the proprietary development environment
that is more developer friendly now and port your apps to the 'industry
standard' language of your choice. I liken this development environment to
a compiler, as you can export your application into the source code that
runs on a given machine. In this case, the machines are VoiceXML, SALT and
IQTalk. A case can be made that this approach is more open than either of
the two more recent open voice languages, VoiceXML and SALT. This is, of
course, because Omvia applications can be potentially ported to other
languages in the future, if need be.
Whether this approach is more open, like all things in life, depends on
your perspective. In case you don't know, I have been called a lover of
Microsoft because I once mentioned in an article that their operating
system constituted an 'industry standard' OS.
Intervoice has been in the market for 20 years and supports almost
every CTI interface from Aspect to Dialogic CT-Connect to Cisco ICM CTI
with Service Control Interface (2.6 spec).
Another great product is the Invision design tool that lets designers
concentrate on creating superior applications with the user in mind
without worrying about the development language. Using a GUI allows easy
development as components can be easily 'dropped into' applications. You
could drop in a component that allows a credit card number or expiration
date to be acquired.
Using Intervoice tools, you can define variables and grammars and can
even have multiple active grammars if desired.
You can use a mixed-initiative-style user interface, allowing the user
to lead the interaction. This is something that makes applications much
more flexible by allowing the user to interrupt the current operation, if
need be, to make a query. This can be very useful in a funds transfer
situation where the user decides in the middle of the transaction to ask
for an account balance or even multiple account balances.
Any Bacon With That?
Using the Omlet (Omvia Servlet) Interface, you can access URLs which
contain VoiceXML or anything else on the Web. What's more, parameters can
be passed to and from these pages through named lists. You can also build
expressions that a Web browser can point to for testing. Intervoice also
has a developer portal where you can test your applications. You have the
option to download a debugger and set breakpoints.
eOn Communications surprised me by launching outbound dialing capabilities
for its contact center solution, including algorithms that comply with the
new FTC Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR).
The benefit of a solution from eOn over a standalone dialing solution
is that contact center managers can use common call routing, performance
monitoring and management reporting tools for both inbound and outbound
blending capabilities. Many standalone dialers need expensive integration
to achieve this feat.
Skills-based routing that most associate with inbound can be applied to
outbound as well, allowing the most qualified agent to take the call.
eQueue Outbound is flexible in supporting many different outbound dialing
modes such as preview dialing, progressive dialing and, of course,
predictive dialing. You can pace the dialer for performance and
compliance. These outbound capabilities can be added to as few as 10
agents and up to thousands and are supported by eQueue Release 5 software.
While I started off by complaining about a lack of new things to write
about, I guess I should amend that opinion. I filled this column with just
enough material ' any more, and I would have had to wait another month to
accommodate all of it. Perhaps this whole tech slowdown is a blessing in
disguise for us editors. As the market continues it upswing (keep your
fingers crossed with me), in the next few issues, I am looking forward to
writing about Siebel as well as some of the competitors nipping at its
heels such as Salesforce.com and Saratoga Systems. Drop me a line if you'd
like to see other topics in this column or in the magazine as a whole.
Group Publisher, Group Editor-in-Chief
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