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March 07, 2008

Practical Examples of Communications-Enabled Business Processes

By Alan Rosenberg, BlueNote Networks


What to Look for in a CEBP Platform
 
High-level Web Service APIs. Choose a platform that can be utilized by Web developers who may not be well versed in telephony programming. Beware of platforms featuring low-level telephony interfaces requiring vendor-specific knowledge and training.
 
Rich feature set. Seek a platform featuring a broad set of interfaces that meet both your immediate and longer term project requirements. APIs should support call control, session management, presence monitoring and control, plus multi-channel notification and IVR interfaces.
 
External business logic support. Best-of-breed platforms let you create external plug-ins to allow outside business processes to influence call setup and handling, so you can automate and regulate communications flows and programmatically block, record, or deflect telephone calls based on rules or regulations governing your particular business.
 
Application context conveyance. Look for a platform that allows programmers to pass session contextual information to external applications to improve process flows and business transactions. For example, you may wish to collect Web visitor data and pass it to a contact center agent during a call.
 
Comprehensive toolset. Choose a platform with a rich SDK that includes detailed documentation, with sample code and applications to jumpstart your development process.
A few years ago, Gartner (News - Alert) Research coined the term Communications-Enabled Business Process (CEBP) to describe a new generation of communications solutions that tightly integrate interactive communications with business applications. By marrying real-time communications with business processes, enterprises can improve customer satisfaction, streamline workflows, more quickly respond to critical events, and more efficiently execute time-sensitive transactions.
 
New Business Communications Platforms (BCPs) are leading the way in delivering CEBP capabilities, enabling enterprises to quickly and easily add interactive communications to internal business processes and customer-facing applications. As the following examples demonstrate, BCPs are improving businesses communications today, in a broad range of industry verticals and market segments.
 
Communications-Enabled Web Sites
 
Enterprises are leveraging CEBP technology to add click-to-talk or click-to-chat functionality to customer-facing Web sites. By allowing a customer to communicate with a service representative directly from a Web page, businesses can reduce Web site abandonment and improve customer satisfaction. BCPs provide interactive text chat capabilities; enable customers to use their computers to make VoIP calls; and allow Web visitors to enter a home or cellular telephone number for automatic callback.
 
BCPs can pass important account and transaction data to call center agents so customers don’t have to repeat information, and calls can be handled more rapidly and efficiently. Click-to-talk and click-to-chat functionality is prevalent in just about every industry. It is used by retailers to enhance e-commerce transactions, and by manufacturers, financial services organizations, airlines, public utilities, and others to streamline business transactions and improve customer service.
 
Voice-Enabled Portals
 
Hotels, hospitals, and universities are using BCPs to add telephony functionality to in-room terminals, broadband Internet service offerings and personal portals. Trendsetting hotels are leveraging BCPs to add voice services to in-room Web terminals. Guests can make complementary VoIP calls to outside numbers; connect to hotel guest services; and contact local business partners such as restaurants, local attractions, and sporting and entertainment venues. Hotels are delivering superior guest services, while enjoying increased customer loyalty, plus realizing new splash advertisement and call termination revenues.
 
Innovative healthcare providers are offering in-room Internet services to patients and their visitors. These multimedia systems offer Web access, video entertainment and gaming, plus VoIP services for telephone calling, contacting hospital services, medical staff, or conferencing together distant relatives. These in-room services are enabling hospitals to tap new revenue streams and retire non-producing telecommunications assets.
 
Universities are leveraging BCPs to add VoIP to broadband Internet packages so students can access university voice services from their dorm rooms or wireless campus network. Innovative colleges have created virtual study rooms where students, professors, and teaching assistants can meet after hours to discuss classroom activities and assignments.
 
Communications-Enabled Kiosks
 
BCPs deliver voice capabilities to kiosks in retail spaces, lobbies, student unions, convention centers and civic auditoriums. In retail environments, kiosks allow shoppers to research product information on their own, and speak to an in-store or remote sales specialist for additional assistance. Retailers are leveraging voice-enabled kiosks to extend their reach to unattended locations such as convention centers, town squares, and shopping mall concourses.
 
Civic authorities are placing kiosks in airports, train stations, and visitor centers so travelers can call local hotels, restaurants, or car rental agencies. And businesses are adding touch-sensitive, directory-enabled kiosks to lobbies so visitors can self-register and contact hosting employees.
 
Interactive Notification Services
 
Forward-looking enterprises are using BCPs to deliver interactive notification services to their customers. Leading BCPs support multiple methods of communications, including telephone calling, SMS message delivery or email notification, plus provide ways for customers to interact with back-office business systems and call centers.
 
Airlines use CEBP technology to notify customers of delayed or cancelled flights, allowing customers to interact with an IVR system or a call center agent to reschedule a flight or request a refund. Credit card companies alert customers to unusual account activity, allowing them to verify or deny a transaction. Brokerage firms notify customers when a stock reaches a pre-defined price, allowing them to confirm a sell or buy order using a touchtone phone.
 
Internal Business Processes
 
Enterprises are leveraging BCPs to eliminate telephone tag and streamline decision making and business process flows. The best BCPs provide extensible presence services for contextual call routing. Rather than trying to reach a party by name or phone number, callers are automatically connected to the person who is best suited to help them based on business function, skills and availability.
 
In a financial services example, a general financial advisor on a customer call seeks a real-time consultation with a government bond specialist. Rather than dialing the phone number of a particular specialist, the advisor simply clicks on a government bond icon in his client application and is connected automatically to an available specialist.
 
In a sales force automation scenario, a salesperson needs to offer an extraordinary discount to close a deal by the end of the business day. Rather than trying to manually find a manager who can approve the discount, the salesperson initiates an approval action directly from his sales force automation application and is automatically connected to an available sales manager authorized to approve the requested discount level.
 
Summary
 
Business Communications Platforms are helping businesses of all kinds improve productivity, enhance decision making, and increase customer satisfaction. Enterprises are improving internal business processes by reducing human latency, eliminating telephone tag and increasing collaboration. In customer-facing applications, businesses are reducing Web site abandonment, improving contact center interactions, and resolving customer issues more efficiently.
 
With portal and kiosk solutions, organizations are offering state-of-the art user experiences, tapping new revenue streams, and retiring legacy non-producing telecommunications assets. By incorporating interactive communications directly into business processes, forward-looking enterprises are able to deliver outstanding customer experiences and maintain a competitive edge in today’s ever-competitive global economy.
 
Alan Rosenberg is director of Product Line Management for BlueNote Networks (News - Alert). With BlueNote SessionSuite platforms, enterprises, ISVs and partners can quickly and easily embed interactive real-time communication services into a range of commercial or custom software applications, Web sites and internal business processes using industry-standard interfaces and technology. Rosenberg can be reached at arosenberg@bluenotenetworks.com.



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