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Customer Interaction Solutions
November 2006 - Volume 25 / Number 6
Rich Tehrani


Web 2.0 Meets VoIP And Call Center 2.0

By: Rich Tehrani, Group Editor-in-Chief,
Technology Marketing Corporation

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The most interesting thing happening in the call center industry today is the next-generation movement called Call Center 2.0. Like every other concept with a 2.0 moniker, this means many different things, depending on who you are and from what angle you face the industry. For the purpose of this article, we'll define Call Center 2.0 as a collection of applications and/or services that takes advantage of Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 has a few definitions of its own, and it may be helpful to review them. When we discuss Web 2.0, we include the following factors:

1. Multimedia or audio/video-based sites such as YouTube;

2. Sites utilizing AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML), a technology that allows a Web-based application to seem as fast and seamless as locally installed software. Google (News - Alert) maps (maps.google.com) is an example of AJAX;

3. Web sites that function based on community input and contributions. Again, YouTube is a good example, as is digg (www.digg.com); and

4. Mashups, or the seamless passing of information between applications and Web sites.

I recently came across a call center solution that takes advantage of my last factor, mashups. Though it is not a mashup itself, it does take advantage of the seamless passing of information from one application to another. SKY-click is a free call center solution that leverages the Skype (News - Alert) client and offers users a call center solution that can scale to meet an organization's needs. It includes the kind of vital features necessary in a professional solution: time management, call dispatching, managing the availability of collaborators, a missed call solution, feedback management as well as music on hold.

By integrating the solution into your Web site, you can allow customers to call your call center via Skype using VoIP, chat/IM and video. In addition, SKY-click PRO is available on salesforce.com's AppExchange and can be run on your existing hardware and software environment.

In addition to SKY-click Pro, SKY-click launched SKIPI. This entirely free service will enable customers to add functions to the SKYPE ME buttons used on the Web site, blog or e-mail signature that allows users to contact a company or individual quickly and easily.

SKIPI is basically the same service as SKY-click Pro, but it is free and does not offer the reporting built into SKY-click Pro. Both services work by allowing you to put multiple Skype user IDs behind a SKYPE ME button. You can have unlimited Skype names behind a button, but if you have more callers than agents, the extra callers get a busy signal or go into voice mail.

It is worth noting that SKY-Click Pro has feedback and reporting features absent from the SKIPI product. However, since it is free, it may make sense for smaller centers to start off with SKIPI.
At the moment, this sort of product is aimed at niche users because it works only with Skype. Agents will have to have multiple interfaces to the customer, including a typical ACD for PSTN calls.

In addition, there is no skills-based routing built into the product, so agents are randomly distributed on the call. But free is free, so many small, start-up companies may find this solution invaluable. The product shows tremendous promise, and having a PSTN link is very easily accomplished with a PIKA Connect board from Pika Technologies (www.pikatechnologies.com). What this board does is interface between Skype and Asterisk (News - Alert) PBXs. Although the underlying complexities of this interface are beyond the scope of this article, it is sufficient to say that soon we can expect to see this sort of service accommodating all different types of calls. All agents can be Skype clients, and calls can come in via SIP, Skype, the PSTN or via other protocols supported by Asterisk.

At the moment, SKIPI, the free service, is targeted to communities, social networks, dating services or companies seeking to offer their customers the ability to speak with their commercial or accounting departments directly from their Web site, or for free online advertising campaigns.

You may have noticed, from this and previous editorials, that I find this kind of service amazing. The reason it impresses me so much is the integration of the products and services from Skype to salesforce.com. As more integrated solutions proliferate, companies are now becoming free to mix and match solutions, Web 2.0 style, and end up creating Call Center 2.0 applications.

You may remember (or you may have read) that about 20 years ago, to have integration between applications, you needed CTI links from Rockwell that worked with IBM (News - Alert) mainframes. Only organizations with multimillion-dollar budgets could afford to do this sort of thing, and the products back then were rudimentary at best. Now you can build a best-of-breed video call center for free!

In addition, this solution also allows for IP contact center functionality, and using the wideband codec in Skype allows for better sound quality than the PSTN!

So it's free and it sounds better than PSTN-based solutions. It's not hard to see why this solution has so much potential. Hopefully, you're as excited about it as I am.

The challenge, of course, is how to make money as the market evolves. SKY-click is delivering Pro versions of solutions that generate the revenue while giving away the entry-level products. This is the sort of model being used by Skype — the giveaway gets users hooked, and Skype earns money from incremental service features such as minutes used on Skype Out and Skype In.

This giveaway approach is becoming more commonplace in the tech industry, and allows for rapid distribution of products and services. The success of products like Asterisk and Skype is certainly influencing an entire generation of developers, and one wonders how many of these virally spread products can gain the mass appeal of Skype or Asterisk. We will see how this one does. So far, I like the idea, and it remains to be seen how call centers will take to this sort of solution.

For more information please read "SKY-click Releases SKIPI — The Free Call Center" (www.tmcnet.com/394.1) and check out the Call Center 2.0 Conference January 24-26, 2007 in Fort Lauderdale (www.callcenter20.com). CIS

Call Center 2.0 The "Self-Healing, Self Optimizing Call Center" At  the Call Center 2.0 Conference

Former [email protected] (News - Alert) CEO Eli Borodow, now with Oracle ([email protected] was purchased by Oracle in June 2006), gave a riveting speech recently at the Call Center 2.0 Conference about how the call center of the future will be increasingly automated and flexible. The Call Center 2.0 Conference was collocated with the recent INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & Expo WEST, which took place in October at the San Diego Convention Center.

As you can imagine, Eli touched on multitenancy (a core differentiator of [email protected]'s products) and went on to say that multitenancy is useful not only for service providers but also for many large customers that are able to take advantage of multitenancy to share infrastructure across sites and business units without sacrificing local autonomy and control over each group's business processes.

Call Center 2.0 was the theme of this keynote, with a focus on tight integration with Oracle's (News - Alert) CRM offerings; unification of the disciplines of customer relationship management and customer interaction management; multitenancy and its benefits for corporate hosting (to service diverse internal business units on common infrastructure) and commercial hosting of IP contact center technology (through carrier-partners and Oracle itself); as well as the differentiated ability to adapt and change IP contact center ACD business processes in real-time via human input into Oracle's Unified Administration Manager tool (for their multichannel ACD offerings).

The goal of such adaptability is to achieve ongoing technology lifecycle renewal, increase efficiency and maximize customer satisfaction. Eli also alluded to the fact that real-time automated business process optimization is "Call Center 3.0" and that much of that is possible at Oracle today, via Oracle's Business Intelligence Suite, which includes its acquisition of Sigma Dynamics (a real-time analytics company that can enable real-time automated business process optimization for call centers on a custom basis based on a customized set of performance goals). Eli's vision is that such technology will ultimately be packaged as a "productized" and pre-integrated solution to empower mass market, mainstream call centers to get the most out of their Oracle ACD and CRM investments.

The point is that we will soon see an increase in our ability to automate call center optimization with metrics that are driven by performance goals, and our ability to make real-time adjustments to technology-driven business processes. The technology should soon become easier to implement and more affordable.

So while we at TMC thought we were ahead of the curve by launching our Call Center 2.0 Conference, perhaps the call center market is moving even faster than we imagined.

Certainly, Oracle's vision of the call center of the future is very exciting and portends a business environment in which call centers become more efficient than we ever dreamed possible.

To learn more about Call Center 2.0 topics such as these, I'd like to invite readers to attend the Call Center 2.0 Conference to be held January 24-26, 2007 in Ft Lauderdale, Florida (www.callcenter20.com). This year, we will be adding some incentives to make it fun. A lucky attendee will walk away with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and another will win a Toyota FJ Cruiser. You must be present to win, so be there and get ready to learn all about Call Center 2.0 at the only conference in the world dedicated to the topic. Visit www.callcenter20.com for details.

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