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Unified Communications Magazine September 2007
Volume 1 / Number 2
Unified Communications Magazine
Richard Grigonis

Does UC Improve Call Center Performance and Satisfaction?

By Richard "Zippy" Grigonis

 

At first glance, the combination of unified communications and contact centers should make for a potent brew, both in terms of streamlining operations and boosting the all-important "firstcall resolution" metric carefully monitored by all call/contact centers, that powerful indicator of both performance and customer satisfaction.

 

As it happens, call centers were attempting to achieve some of the functionality afforded by UC, long before full-blown UC ever officially existed.

 

Ross Sedgewick, Director, Global Marketing for Applications at Siemens (www.siemens.com), says, "When you think back about five years ago, when companies started to integrate front-office CRM applications such as Siebold or mySAP CRM into the contact center agent voice call control desktop productivity tools such as softphone dialers, that was a form of unifying the communication tools with the line of business applications used by the agent. So using UC in call center operations isn't entirely a brand-new concept. It's just becoming a more conscious decision now to extend that from the four walls of the contact center agent population out into the enterprise to help resolve calls more quickly and efficiently. It also includes the virtual, mobile enterprise users that may be using wireless devices. It touches other media such as instant messaging, as well as voice."

 

"In fact, when I joined Siemens in 2002," says Sedgewick, "I wrote a white paper called 'Beyond the Contact Center'. It concerned this topic of extending the presence and collaboration model across media and across the boundaries of the organization, even to suppliers, business partners, mobile workers, and so on, to drive higher levels of first-contact resolution and thus provide more efficient levels of customer service."

 

"We at Siemens were the first company to presence and collaboration into our products," says Sedgewick, "particularly our agent desktops. Those efforts spanned multimedia presence, webchat as well as email and voice presence and collaboration. We created three 'tiers' of desktops for what we call the Super Agent, which is basically a supervisory console, as well as the Agent Desktop. There are part-time agents working in something like accounts receivable, an overflow call handling group, or a second level support group. To that end we created a special streamlined, downsized version of the desktop client called the Associate. We also support voice users and can connect them to the enterprise even if they are mobile, and tie them all into a presence and collaboration model so they all can be 'visible' in real time to an agent, and they can be sorted by scale, by department, by job role, and even by media - so you can ask, 'Who is available to assist me with the resolution of a call?' at the moment of need. That's all of what we launched in 2004 as an integrated part of our product line."

 

"Presence and collaboration tools are thus a core piece of the UC solutions we've been building into the HiPath ProCenter agent desktops and the three different desktop levels I mentioned earlier for different types of users," concludes Sedgewick.

 

Getting Things Right on the First Call

 

At Mitel (www.mitel.com), Stephen Beamish, Vice President, Business Development and Strategic Alliances, says, "Mitel has been a longstanding provider of Microsoft-based contact center solutions. A term we constantly use is 'first-contact resolution'. That's the key, to develop solutions that are not 'cookie cutter'. Customers can benefit from a contact center solution where the time to resolving an issue is as short as possible. We realized that, within a contact center environment, we had an opportunity to partner with Microsoft to provide an integrated solution specifically around their Live Communication Server and now their Office Communication Server for unified communications. The best way to describe it is to walk through an example. . ."

 

"My wife was traveling to Europe and was using my travel points," begins Beamish. "Her question was, 'When I get to London, am I allowed one luggage bag or two under the new security measures?' So I called Air Canada and I asked them, and because I'm a frequent flyer I can get through to a faster line, but they put me on hold anyway. Seven minutes later they picked up and said, 'Yeah, you can take two bags.' So I asked them, 'What took you so long?' and they replied, 'First we had to call Heathrow, then we had to find the correct department, then we had to find the correct agent to tell us about the baggage restrictions'. So I said, 'You're lucky that I stayed on the line'. This is exactly the kind of morass that our contact center solutions can prevent. With our integrated customer interaction solutions in the contact center, we've integrated LCS. What happens now is that when my call comes in, the agent sees a screen pop, which would be on Office Communicator. You click to answer and it pulls up the CRM of me, the client. It will display, 'Stephen Beamish, travels X number of times a year. He has Super Elite Status and is a Very Preferred Customer.' And so when you ask the question, 'What can I do when traveling through London?' through unified communications we are now able to federate data with other departments. So in this case you could federate with Heathrow, and see the presence and availability of subject experts there. The agent can then see that under baggage questions there are three agents that can answer those and one person is available, and he or she can start chatting with that person through the instant messaging of Microsoft Office Communicator."

 

"The agents can now bring the customer into a three-way conference call," says Beamish. "So you've now brought together the subject expert in London, the agent at Air Canada and the customer, and have a three-way conference call using Microsoft and Mitel solutions to integrate and have all three parties talking at once. That's how we got together the multimedia contact center solution with Microsoft LCS to create a real unified communications experience. At the end of the day, the key to all of this is once again first-contact resolution. And that information goes into the CRM system, so the next time I make an inbound call, that information is retrieved and provided to the agent." The tantalizing possibilities afforded by an amalgam of UC and contact center solutions, along with FMC (Fixed-Mobile Communications), has attracted the biggest players in the IP communications space.

 

Ross Daniels, Director, Marketing, Contact Center Solutions, Cisco Systems (www.cisco.com) says, "Cisco has a full line of Unified Customer Contact Solutions that specifically target contact centers. For mid-market contact centers, we have Unified Contact Center Express, which scales to 300 agents and includes automatic contact distribution [ACD], interactive voice response [IVR], computer telephony integration [CTI], and a sophisticated agent and supervisor desktop application in a single, integrated package. Unified Contact Center Express customers can add a number of different application options, including Cisco Unified Web Interaction Manager for text chat and web-based customer service, Cisco Unified Email Interaction Manager for email-based service, and Cisco Unified Workforce Optimization for scheduling, workforce management, and quality monitoring and recording."

 

"For enterprise contact centers, we have Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise, which scales to thousands of agents and is optimized for highly distributed, virtual environments with requirements for high availability and redundancy," says Daniels. "Providing intelligent contact routing, computer telephony integration, a variety of agent and supervisor desktop options, integration to CRM systems, as well as email and web-based customer service options, Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise meets the needs of the most sophisticated customer interaction environments worldwide."

 

"All of Cisco's customer contact solutions are optimized to work with the full suite of Cisco Unified Communications solutions," says Daniels, "including Cisco Unified Communications Manager. The tight integration across Cisco Unified Communications makes integration of video, unified messaging, presence, or mobility a very straightforward process."

 

Like Cisco, other vendors look at this market in terms of contact centers falling into two or three size categories, just as they did with non-UC contact centers.

 

Jeff Ridley, Director of Product Management at ShoreTel (www.shoretel.com), says, "We have three tiers of contact center solutions, ranging from an informal group product called Workgroup which is for a smaller, less structured organization, through a mid-tier Contact Center product designed for groups with a bit more formalization, and then up to our Enterprise Contact Center, which is a much more advanced solution. That's where you encounter some of the unified communications and some of the multimedia aspects of interacting with customers."

 

"Typically, after a function gets started and you soon end up where you need several people teaming up to do one thing, our ShoreTel Workgroup product is a great fit because it assumes people are peers and are working together on something," says Ridley. "As that group or function gets bigger, and it becomes more important to the enterprise, somebody will be appointed as the group's supervisor. Now, a supervisor needs to know what's going on. They need reports, metrics, and measurements of performance. That's where you move into our Contact Center product line. As that operation continues to grow, more things are happening inside it; there are more agents, and it becomes more strategic to the organization. At that point you should move up to our Enterprise Contact Center product."

 

"I'm not sure it's exactly correct to say that when you move up into multimedia with respect to UC interacting with customers, that scenario automatically leads to a productivity-winner," says Ridley. "I'm more productive chatting than speaking with a customer. However, that situation does tend to more influence customer satisfaction; your customers can interact with you the way your customers want to, as opposed to presenting them with a single option. We've seen that most organizations move in that direction because they want to be able to differentiate themselves to their customers as offering superlative service, and it�s less about getting every last drop of productivity out of each agent."

 

"As for UC interactions with people inside the business, we have a product called Converged Conferencing which does web collaboration, audio conferencing, as well as secure instant messaging inside the enterprise," says Ridley. "That application is more about interaction. I believe there's a trend forming, and it's less about making the whole enterprise look like it's a contact center where everybody logs in and their time is measured. After all, many people don't have functions that can be mentioned in such a formal manner. But presence is obviously a key part of instant messaging, and there are multiple ways of communicating with people such as text messaging via our Converged Conferencing Bridge, and to some extent people may be using one of the public services. Those are some technologies that have impact, because they reach from the knowledge worker into the contact center. They focus on the notion of reaching the person who has the answer. At times you need to escalate a call to talk to an expert inside my company. A couple of people may know this answer. Via presence, I know which of these people is available for me, I can reach them and more quickly resolve the call - and that is a productivity booster. That's where enterprise UC starts to reach into the contact center and really begins to drive productivity."




 

Bolting on UC

 

As mentioned previously, some companies have been working with various forms of UC-like functions, both in conjunction with and independently of contact centers. Since 1994, for example, Zeacom (www.zeacom.com) has developed solutions that provide UC and contact center solutions to SMBs for the NEC, Avaya and Cisco telephony platforms.

 

Recently Zeacom released their Communications Center v 4.1 with enhancements for executives, agents and knowledge workers as well as Outlook and Microsoft 2007 support. Zeacom brought together its contact center and messaging solutions under its new Communications Center Brand. The two solutions have always been developed as one platform, providing a total UC package. Among other things, the Microsoft Outlook 2003/2007 application supports the Zeacom 'Executive Outlook' plug-in, providing presence, telephony, fax and voice messaging inside Microsoft Outlook.

 

Ernie Wallerstein, President of Zeacom, says, "Every contact center vendor wants to 'break down the walls' of what a traditional call/contact center is. We want to sell more licenses and bring more value to an organization. Unified communications is, with its homologation of all of the different media types, yielding some visibility of what other people are doing within a specific peer group. Call centers have been trying to do this, as well as just doing it, for over 10 years. But we haven't been doing it for an entire enterprise. So call centers have been trying to pull off some kind of UC scenario for some time now, first with ACDs then UCDs, then CTI. Screen pops were an early big advantage; that's how we would sell the ROI to companies. Call transfers were a lot faster."

 

"Now, we've always had only one product and only a single code base since Day 1," says Wallerstein. "We sold them as two separate products: as a contact center solution under Zeacom Communications and a messaging application which we called Chorus, but they were built with the same code base. We sold the platform as two separate products because we saw two separate markets at the time. Our customers have done both and they then began doing what we are now repositioning ourselves as, which is a single unified communications platform. Our current release, 4.1, the Zeacom Communications Center, contains many changes that are cosmetic (graphics, user icons). In particular, the 4.1 Desktop for Agents, Knowledge Workers and Executives underwent a cosmetic transformation. It now has new XP/Vista-type icons and wizards and a revamped desktop screen and toolbars. The new 4.1 Call History screen provides flexible handling of missed and recent calls. Queued multimedia items such as chat, fax and email can be previewed from the call history screen even after deletion, and all calls are logged in the Desktop even when the application is closed."

 

Executive users of the Zeacom Communications Center will discover manager/assistant options so that if an assistant doesn't answer, the caller is returned to the executive's mailbox with an appropriate new set of options rather than getting stuck in "voicemail jail" or the assistant's mailbox.

 

"We did some integration with the latest versions of Microsoft and Lotus platforms to bring it up-to-date," says Wallerstein. "The low-level code, however, remains the same executable for all intents and purposes. Fortunately, the market is talking up UC."

 

Convergence, of course, is an ongoing, ever more encompassing process. Recently, for example, Intervoice (www.intervoice.com) announced a new unified platform capable of serving both the enterprise contact center market as well as network subscriber services. It has multimodal capabilities based on SCXML (State Chart Extensible Markup Language), a flexible state machine language designed for building voice and multimodal interfaces, and which combines concepts from CCXML (Call Control eXtensible Markup Language) and Harel State Tables. The idea is to create an amazingly flexible next-gen call center and messaging services system that will enable providers to rapidly deliver new services based on changing consumer trends, and to provide a clear migration path from IN to SIP to IMS environments, thus protecting current investments in technology.

 

Unified communications will extend advanced call control and call center features as far as users can take their mobile devices, all in an effort to boost productivity and make customers happy.

 

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC's IP Communications Group.

 

Unified Communications Communications Magazine Table of Contents







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