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January 2009 | Volume 27 / Number 8
CALL CENTER Technology

ININ: Forecasted Contact Center Technology Applications 2009

By Brendan B. Read
Senior Contributing Editor

In May 2007 Interactive Intelligence surveyed its clients on business needs and issues including what technologies they are interested in and would be further interested in deploying at the contact centers over the next 18 months.

We have followed up with Rachel Wentink (News - Alert) , Senior Director, Product Management to find out which of these hardware and software tools and related services these organizations are likely to go live with in 2009 in the view of the economic downturn, changing needs, and technology evolution.

Here is a summary of the 2007 survey. The second figures are percentages of the first numbers

• 8.25 percent: video, deployment: 7.83 percent

• 6.8 percent: decision support and data mart, deployment: 10.67 percent

• 3.8 percent eLearning, deployment: 4.9 percent

• 3.3 percent fixed-to mobile convergence, deployment: 6 percent

While video ranked at the top of technology charts when the survey dug deeper it found that the vast majority: 89 percent cited video conferencing and only 11 percent said ACD-routed video either unidirectional (customer to agent, agent to customer) or bidirectional.

Wentink says interest would be rising into 2009 with videoconferencing because while fuel costs have dropped though airfares have not fallen that much, and budgets especially for travel have tightened up.

“Even if airfares were to decline significantly people will still want to save money on their travel budgets and fly only to very important meetings or where they need to be on the ground,” says Wentink.

In contrast, ACD-routed video appears to have less interest than when the survey was taken.

While the tool has specialized applications, such as demonstrating how to fix products and telemedicine where medical professionals can remotely examine patients, Interactive Intelligence has seen few inquiries in having that feature added to its products.

ACD video also poses challenging human resources issues such as hiring and screening for appearance that can open organizations to lawsuits by rejected applicants. Appearance is also sometimes used by employers as a cover for gender and race bias.

“Video is not at point where many firms can justify ‘yes it would be nice to see you’,” adds Joe Staples, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Marketing. “It has got to have ROI like cutting travel customers in videoconferencing or an application that requires a visual interface, such as seeing you repair hardware or how deep that cut on your arm is. Outside of those uses, there is not going to see much movement in video.”

Decision support/data marts
Decision support and data marts ranked high on the technology list and for good reason. Some firms want to perform data analytics while others are looking to bring information together from the contact centers and other channels to better understand sales patterns and product demands. The specific technologies that they are looking at include business intelligence, speech analytics, and trends analysis software.

“I started in the contact center industry in 1990 and the questions contact centers have now are the same as then, “explains Wentink. “These are: ‘what’s going on, why are people contacting us, and how best can we answer their questions’.”

The willingness to invest in decision support tools and data marts will depend on the ROI analysis and how strong organizations are financially and in market position to justify those outlays.

Vendors have responded with less costly scaled down versions of them, and are frequently offering these technologies on a hosted basis rather requiring buying licenses and hosting the solutions on their hardware, software, and networks.

“Those who purchased decision support technologies before the downturn are using them while those who haven’t are waiting,” explains Wentink. “There are less expensive tools out there and they will be looking at those to see if they can justify them on reduced budgets.”

There is continuing interest in eLearning, which works best and is deployed for knowledge improvement, skills refresher and enhancement, and in simulation-type of training. In some instances, eLearning can substitute for more costly instructor-led training. Rather than pulling agents off the phones, for instance, a short eLearning module covering relatively simple topics can be offered during times of low call traffic. Time can be scheduled in advance for more complex learning activities but the computer can still be the delivery mechanism.

Yet similar to decision support and data marts, firms may not invest in it or may cut back on training of all types unless there is strong ROI and the information delivered is critical.

Some of eLearning-imparted training might be put on hold. For instance, e-Learning modules on softer skills, such as handling angry customers better, may be viewed by management as something that can wait. eLearning that updates knowledge on products, services, and procedures would still be likely be okayed.

“Companies have to see a strong and immediate ROI on eLearning in order to motivate themselves to purchase an eLearning system or send staff to instructor-led training,” explains Wentink. “If they see hard ROI then they have to balance it against other needs that they have. eLearning might win in that situation depending on how the others rack up.”

Fixed-to-mobile convergence
Fixed-to-mobile convergence is the ability of staff, such as sales reps, higher level support reps, and managers to have the same platforms for smartphones, laptops, and desktops and unified communications to connect them as they either move around a facility and/or travel outside of it. They need this seamless transition from environments regardless of communications media, such as for an outside sales team member who is talking to a client while leaving an office, driving, and arriving at their next appointment.

Fixed-to-mobile tools have been developing: such as mobile CRM platforms and 3G and 4G-network delivered wireless voice and data services on multifunctional and user-friendly smartphones. Competition and customer pressure are making them more affordable. Yet as with other technologies the hard questions organizations are asking is whether the outlays can be justified.

“Fixed-to-mobile convergence is another situation where hard ROI is critical,” explains Wentink. “Is it something that is nice to have or is it a tool that is essential for them to become more productive and enable firms to cut costs? Very few people will be implementing nice-to-haves in the next 18 months.”

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