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Customer Inter@ction Solutions
July 2007 - Volume 26 / Number 2
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Our Video-enabled Future

In the short time I've been covering the call center industry I've heard a lot about the “fast approaching day” when agents will be able to interact with customers via two-way video. As a former outbound call center agent, I think this is a really cool idea — and I see a wide variety of ways that video communications could be used to enhance our daily routines in the not-too-distant future.

People in the call center industry have been exploring the idea of integrating Internet Protocol video in the contact center for years, and now many of the software and equipment makers, including CosmoCom, Verint, Genesys (News - Alert), Radvision and others are finally ready to make this prophecy a reality. Within the next few years, experts say, two-way video communications will be the new cutting edge way of doing business. The banking industry is already starting to deploy “virtual tellers” at branch offices (this in addition to completely branch-free, Internet-based “virtual banks”) — while the retail industry is apparently gearing up to introduce “virtual store clerks.” This “kiosk-based” form of video communications at bank and retail locations is the prelude to the much larger roll-out of fixed-line and mobile two-way video communications, which will ultimately bring this new form of communication into the privacy of our homes.
________________________Within the next few years, experts say, two-way video communications will be the new cutting edge way of
doing business.


Obviously, there are still hurdles to overcome before video communications becomes commonplace. For one thing, there's still the basic problem of not enough bandwidth on our last-mile networks (in fact, almost half of the U.S. is still on dial-up) — then there's the simple fact that most consumers do not have video phones or even video cameras and microphones connected to their PCs at home. Perhaps more importantly, there is still a question of how many people really want two-way video communications — whether actually seeing the person you are speaking with offers enough value to the consumer to make the cost of rolling out IP video communications worth it. But with the major wireless service providers of the world, working in concert with the handset makers, aggressively rolling out video capabilities on their next generation networks, we are no doubt getting closer to the day when two-way video communications will become a reality. As advanced new mobile devices (i.e., videophones) come onto the market, and consumer demand for them increases, it only makes sense that the call center industry will follow suit.

For now it appears the banking industry is taking the lead in bringing this new technology in play. Numerous banks have already deployed “virtual tellers” at branch locations, and some banks are doing away with branches altogether and going to a pure “virtual banking” model (where all transactions are handled electronically via the Internet). For most of us, using a “virtual teller” at a branch office will not be too different from using an ATM, except you'll be able to communicate via video link with a “virtual teller” who is, in fact, a call center agent located miles away. In addition to handling basic transactions (such as cashing and depositing checks, which in many cases will be handled via pneumatic tube), these “virtual tellers” will be able to answer questions about your account, as well as cross-sell and upsell new products and services that the bank is offering. This new technology also brings tremendous advantages to the banks themselves, as they will be able to centralize and reduce staff, lower their real estate costs (as branches can be made much smaller) and deliver more consistent service to all customers.

Similarly, the retail industry is gearing up to introduce “video kiosks” where you'll be able to ask virtual store representatives questions about the products the store sells — maybe even take a “virtual tour” of the store before you go inside. Perhaps one day the “virtual clerk” at Home Depot will be able to tell you that, yes, they do have 12-inch Milwaukee Super Sawzall Blades in stock, that they're in aisle 12, and that they cost $21.97 each before you spend 20 minutes wandering the aisles looking for something that might not even exist.

Farther down the road there's the potential for using IP video for a wide range of customer service and support operations, which people can access from their homes. For example, one day an agent in a tech support center will be able to “show” a consumer who just bought a new computer how to load some new software, or perhaps troubleshoot a set-up problem, right on the consumer's computer screen. The ability to “show” a consumer how to do something, in real time, rather than “tell” them over the phone will no doubt have powerful applications in the future.

I see tremendous potential for video in the contact center and I see plenty of applications for it that make sense. However, like all things in technology, this isn't going to happen overnight: the software and equipment makers are going to have to work on it slowly, in bits and pieces, and experiment with it as they go along. Still, I look forward to the day when I'll be able to get a truly “personalized” customer service experience with a call center agent who I can almost reach out and touch…

The author may be contacted at [email protected].
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