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IP Contact Centers
June 2004

Has A Chat With Cisco


The editors of Customer Inter@ction Solutions' magazine recently spoke with Barry O'Sullivan, VP and GM of the Customer Contact Business Unit of Cisco Systems.

CIS: Please discuss Cisco's latest contributions to solutions for the call center and what makes them unique.

O'Sullivan: I think that we've played a primary role in delivering on the promise of IP (Internet Protocol) for customer contact. Our solutions allow customers to realize the benefits of a distributed, flexible, resilient and cost-effective customer care environment. From our discussions with customers, we see clearly that the focus of customer contact is moving beyond the traditional call center paradigm to something that we call the 'Customer Interaction Network.' In this model, enterprises make themselves available to customers via any medium, from anywhere and from any device, and deploy their customer-facing resources ' agents, self-service voice applications and Web-based self-service applications, for example ' anywhere within their enterprise network.  The Customer Interaction Network model is enabled by IP and converged voice and data networks, and the concept mirrors Cisco's vision of the evolution of networking to systems in the Cisco Intelligent Information Network. The Cisco Intelligent Information Network protects critical business assets through an integrated, multilayer network fabric that enables maximum business productivity, creates a resilient network infrastructure designed to be self-optimizing, self-defending, self-protecting and self-healing, and allocates system resources to maximize employee productivity. What the Intelligent Information Network does for an enterprise organization, the Customer Interaction Network does for a customer contact organization.

The Cisco products that help deliver on the promise of the Customer Interaction Network include our IPCC (IP Contact Center) products and our ISN (Internet Service Node) solution. Cisco's IPCC product family, which includes our Express, Enterprise and Hosted Editions, delivers a range of ACD features, with features such as integrated IVR, CTI, outbound and multichannel capabilities. I think that one of our unique capabilities is being able to tie the applications to the infrastructure; in other words, to optimize the call routing, self-service or CTI applications for the converged communications infrastructure and to take advantage within the applications of everything that a Cisco converged network can provide. One example of this application and infrastructure convergence is supporting a highly distributed environment. By taking advantage of Cisco communications infrastructure traits, such as quality of service, network security and clustering, we're able to achieve a level of quality, security and scalability within the applications that helps to set Cisco apart. The last thing I would point to as a key value proposition for Cisco's customer contact solutions is the strong ecosystem of partners that we bring together to help solve customers' business problems. It's not enough to have an excellent customer service application such as our IPCC; what rounds out the solution is the integration of third-party applications such as CRM, workforce management and quality monitoring. What makes the solution complete is a group of channel delivery partners who meet robust testing and certification requirements to be able to sell, install and support Cisco customer contact products.

CIS: Lately, it's very fashionable for industry analysts to claim that CRM was a huge failure. Do you agree? If not, where do you lay the blame for companies not experiencing what they thought they would with CRM technologies?

O'Sullivan: I think that certain CRM implementations have been tremendously successful, while others have not delivered the customer service efficiencies that enterprises expected. Actually, I think it's too early to declare CRM ' either as a way to think about handling customers or as a set of technologies to deliver more effective customer service ' a failure. In any technology deployment, the keys to success include setting the proper expectations and, more important, understanding what business problem the customer is trying to solve. The key ideas around CRM ' having a unified view of your customer, maximizing customer loyalty by delivering a positive service experience, delivering higher value services to your most loyal customers ' haven't disappeared or been proven incorrect. On the contrary, what we see is that having happy customers remains the best way to expand operations during good times and the best way to weather the storm during bad times.
From our perspective, CRM can only be successful with the proper communications infrastructure and applications in place. It's not enough to have a fantastic database detailing every interaction a customer has ever had with your company, if the first question you ask them after they've transferred to a live agent out of an IVR (interactive voice response) system ' where they've just finished entering their account number ' is: 'What's your account number?' CRM without integration to contact routing and CTI is bound to fail because it doesn't take the necessary step of ensuring that the customer is viewed as important; and if the customer's time isn't important, then how important can his or her business be? CRM implementations that are designed to complement and enhance a well-designed contact routing system have a much greater chance for success.

CIS: Although everyone seems to agree that a customer's contact information and history with a company should be linked across all media, we all know from our daily dealings with banks, insurance companies, wireless providers, etc., that this is not the case. What do you think is the reason for the resistance many companies have toward transforming their call centers into multimedia knowledge centers?

Most of the challenges of transforming call centers into multimedia or multichannel contact centers or, as we would call them, Customer Interaction Networks, have been management and operational in nature, rather than technical. There have been point solutions for multichannel communication for more than five years. In the last couple of years, major vendors like Cisco have introduced fully integrated solutions, bringing together traditional telephone ACD functions with multichannel contact routing.  So the issue isn't technology. What our customers have asked us are things like, 'How do I compensate an agent who can handle both e-mail and telephone versus an agent who is phone only?' 'What kind of training does a text chat agent need that's different from an e-mail agent?'  'What needs to change in my agent screening and hiring process with a multichannel environment?'
As a technology provider, Cisco delivers an integrated solution that offers our customers flexibility to deploy any combination of the various multimedia channels as they see fit. We try to ease their transition to multichannel customer care by developing intuitive user interfaces for agents, supervisors and administrators, and by bringing a unified view to routing rules and reporting across the channels. We'll also share with our customers the practices that we've developed using these technologies ourselves at Cisco (we've been using text chat, Web collaboration and e-mail within our own contact centers for almost five years). Finally, Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group has a practice in customer care that consults with Cisco customers regarding leading practices.

CIS: What is your vision of the future of the CRM/contact center industry, and where will the challenges lie?

O'Sullivan: Our vision is as I mentioned before ' customers moving from call centers and contact centers to Customer Interaction Networks. We envision an industry where agents located anywhere can simply 'plug in' to the customer interaction network and provide an exceptional customer service experience over any media channel the customer desires. Certainly, we see that the Customer Interaction Network will be enabled by voice and data convergence and IP, but this is not so much about technology as it is about changing business processes. Actually, that's one of the biggest challenges ' helping customers understand that technology is only an enabler ' but what really matters is solving business problems. To that end, Cisco is seeing companies move away from the nodal paradigm that has prevailed in the call center industry for three decades and truly changing the way they can do business. Organizations might bring customer care out of the 'call center' and into other parts of the organization ' in essence extending the customer interaction network to 'knowledge workers.' Overall, we're very excited about what the future holds for this industry. We feel that we have a strong product portfolio and an excellent go-to-market strategy to help bring customer care into the future.

CIS: What will be this year's 'must-have' technology for call centers?

O'Sullivan: IP, of course. The momentum of voice and data convergence for customer care is very strong and I think we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

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