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May 08, 2008

The Really Intelligent Customer Front Door

By Dan Miller, Senior Analyst & Founder, Opus Research

The purpose of this column is two-fold. First is to endorse the concept of the intelligent Customer Front Door™ (iCFD, as trademarked by Genesys Telecommunications Labs), as the foundation for rapid deployment of contact center applications that benefit from Contextual Communications. Genesys conceived of iCFD as a marketing and packaging umbrella under which multiple partners can deliver highly configurable but largely complete customer care applications. By design, it is not alone in its efforts. The list of partners already includes Voxify, Tuvox and Nuance (News - Alert).
My second, and more self-serving, intention is to raise the topic of voice biometric-based authentication of callers as it relates to the iCFD. And it will take most of this column — and perhaps a session or two at the upcoming Voice Biometrics 2008 Conference in New York City — to provide sufficient background.
Taking Advantage of a New Approach
Contact centers have long been centers for innovation. From their beginning, they resided at the edge of two networks (enterprise IT and public telephony). Agent “positions” are places where computer workstations sport connections with telephony headsets. Being perpetually on edge, ironically, puts them at the center of innovation for both customer care and contextual communications.
CTI (computer telephony integration) links were fashioned to support call center functions. They were the medium through which information about incoming phone calls could be “popped” to agents’ screens to serve customers in real time. CTI (News - Alert) links were the command and control channel for ancillary boxes, like IVR (interactive voice response) systems and ACDs (automated call directors) to support intelligent transfers and complex callflows.
In their effort to capture the IT professionals who now manage telephony functions on UC (unified communications) infrastructures, vendors risk that the initial driving force behind CTI will be lost. Portals with composite applications supplant agent desktops and supervisor dashboards. Presence awareness now trumps screen pops. SIP supplants CTI links for conveying call treatment instructions and information that must accompany a talk path.
The iCFD makes the contact center more distributed. Genesys has merged its CIM (Customer Interaction Management) suite of software with its SIP server (to support CTI-like interactions over an IP backbone) and the GVP (Genesys Voice Platform) as an IVR. The partners mentioned above support rapid deployment of field-proven customer care applications.
Competition on the Horizon
Trade marking iCFD is a branding coup and land grab by Genesys. Yet it is unlikely to discourage other call processing, voice processing and customer care infrastructure providers from adopting a similar approach. I was recently briefed by Transera, the company founded by Prem Uppaluru and Mukesh Sundaram (News - Alert), who, by no coincidence, are the executives who launched a company called Telera, which was bought by Genesys almost eight years ago, where its flagship product was rebranded as the GVP.
Transera’s (News - Alert) core product, a set of software called Seratel, supports the on-demand, virtual contact center. Through carrier, application and hosted services partners, it creates a voice application environment that can route calls inexpensively to any destination in the world. In Prem’s words, all that is required is SIP-based invites. In a very partner friendly manner the platform can run third-party customer care, IVR, analytics and reporting applications.
In the Beginning Should be the Word
In a virtualized world, contact centers no longer reside “at the edge of the network” because there is no edge. The applications transcend customary silos like physical location, business organizational structures (IT vs. telecom vs. contact center, etc.), vendor-specific hardware or software that “owns” its own data. The mission is to optimize the system for rapid response to customer queries with resources that are best suited for the context of the call. Those resources can be live agents or “media servers” that respond in the form of automated speech, text, graphics or video as indicated by expressed or imputed user preference.
This is where my column has come full circle because I firmly believe that successful, timely response to user needs in real-time relies on quick, accurate authentication of the caller. When business is carried out over the telephone (a growing percentage of which are mobile), that task is best served by voice biometric-based authentication and identity proofing. The spoken word should replace Account Number/PIN or challenge questions so that companies can get down to rapid response to customer queries.
Come to New York to Learn More
Long regarded as a long-way off, voice biometric authentication is more prevalent than you probably think. Currently, our research tallies more than 4 million voiceprints enrolled around the world. The lion’s share supports password reset applications, but a surprising number of customers are enrolling their voiceprints in order to receive better and faster service from communications, healthcare, insurance, governments and (soon) banks.
One of the more stunning success stories is that of Bell Canada (News - Alert), which has enrolled more than 650,000 of its customers in its Voice Identification service which, in conjunction with a call steering application based on Nuance’s Voice Platform, supports single-number handling of customer care calls across four different lines of business. It’s a precursor to the iCFD. Yet, these developments and the lessons learned achieving them have been a well-kept secret — until now. At Voice Biometrics Conference 2008 (May 14-15 in New York City) we’ll follow a format that encourage executives to share their experiences and provide perspectives on the challenges and opportunities surrounding implementation of biometric solutions that take advantage of the architectural changes that are underway.
-Dan Miller is Senior Analyst with Opus Research

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