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Remember the call centers of the early 1980s? They were nothing more than rows of cubes, each with a standard phone connected to a PBX and not much else. No computers. No headsets. You just picked up the handset and dialed.

Today, thanks to the power of Internet Protocol and Web technologies, call centers have evolved into full-blown mutlichannel, multipurpose “contact centers,” where customers can make contact with company representatives via phone, e-mail and Web chat sessions — even two-way video communications. Today’s centers sport Automatic Call Distributors (ACDs) for receiving large volumes of inbound calls and routing them to the appropriate agents; predictive dialers for auto-dialing slews of numbers for outbound sales and marketing campaigns; Interactive Voice Response (IVR)/speech recognition systems, which assist callers with routine inquiries and transactions and route calls quickly to the appropriate agents; performance management software, which helps maintain and improve agents performance through scorecards and dashboards, among other capabilities, while agents are at their desks; workforce management software, which handles the scheduling of agents shifts and helps centers predict peak periods of call volume; call recording software for recording agent/customer interactions; speech analytics software, which helps companies mine their recorded call data and gain new insights into customer behavior; e-learning software that assists in the training and coaching of agents; and the list goes on. All of these pieces of software form an ecosystem that automates a contact center’s operations, leading to efficiencies which in turn lead to higher profits and increased customer satisfaction.

Today’s IP contact center software not only helps agents better serve customers by giving them the tools and information they need right at their fingertips, it also enables ongoing improvement of agent performance, streamlines complex business processes and delivers “actionable intelligence” — data which can be retrieved in real time or near-real time and used the drive key business decisions. As such, the contact center has evolved to become the “customer information center” of the enterprise. Facilitating this evolution is the fact that vendors of contact center software are increasingly bundling their solutions, thus creating tightly integrated suites of software which are designed to work in concert to deliver maximum benefits. For most centers, the heart of this software ecosystem is the IP-PBX, which delivers the core functionality needed to properly distribute calls and other contacts to the agents. Thanks to the power of IP and the “virtualization” of the contact center through hosted (i.e., Web-based) offerings, all end-points on a contact center’s network are now equal, meaning that every agent — whether they’re in the center at company headquarters, a remote center overseas, or working at home — has access to the same tools and information systems and can receive or initiate contacts in the same manner.

What follows is a list of companies that provide IP Contact Center software solutions. For this “roundup” we have included software makers, who offer a suite of solutions delivering the basic functionality needed to operate any IP contact center. Companies that specialize in software we consider “peripheral” to core functionality (such as “pure-play” providers of workforce management, call recording, speech analytics, etc.) have not been included. This list is intended to serve only as a starting point for companies who may be interested in researching or purchasing this type of technology. For more information about the companies and their products, please visit their Web sites.

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