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Contact Center: New Applications Address Excellence in Customer Service
[March 22, 2007]

Contact Center: New Applications Address Excellence in Customer Service

Analyst, Access Intelligence LLC
A look at new applications introduced throughout 2006 reveals that leading telecommunications vendors were focused on the contact center environment. Database publisher and analyst group TelecomTactics finds that new solutions for the contact center topped the list of newly-announced applications, followed by mobility, unified messaging and new collaboration solutions such as video telephony and conferencing.  

Vendors are keenly aware of the exploding contact center market which is exceeding growth estimates made by leading market research firms. TelecomWeb’s InfoTrack for Converged Applications "First-Half 2006 Contact Center Report" says global contact-center shipments for the first half of 2006 yielded worldwide manufacturer revenues of $1.45 billion, with agent-seat shipments (new and add-on) approaching 1.6 million.
New Contact Center Apps 2006
Over the past year, leading vendors have addressed a number of “key areas” related to contact center with an eye on excellence in customer service, including multi-media functionality, quality monitoring, visual real-time displays, collaboration and presence for improved agent-customer interaction, voice self-service and solutions for remote agents. Several hosted contact center solutions also hit the market in 2006, offering a flexible option that eliminates the expense of on-premises equipment and scales according to a changing contact center environment.
The Goal: First Contact Resolution
“First contact resolution” in which a customer’s request is handled completely during the initial contact is every contact center manager’s goal. To this end, leading vendors are rolling out new solutions that improve the customer experience by making agent-customer interactions faster and more effective and also by monitoring the performance of individual agents and monitoring the contact center as a whole. A 2006 Nortel (News - Alert) survey concluded that improved customer service is a top goal for 66 percent of contact center managers, while 43 percent believe improved quality is top priority.
Most vendors offer a selection of contact center solutions based on complexity and the type of customer relationship desired – from the most basic (a simple, single-site call center taking inbound voice calls) to more complex, multi-site organizations that require multi-media functionality to highly advanced contact centers with sophisticated tools and processes. Regardless of size and complexity, the goal of any contact center is to efficiently handle all aspects of a customer’s request. Consider the following key elements in meeting this goal.
Intelligent Routing: Routing customer calls and other forms of communication (e-mail, fax or Web requests) to the most skilled agent, by time of day, per caller input or other defined factors results in better service for customers. A number of vendors are introducing “historical” call routing which sends incoming calls and e-mails back to the last extension or the last agent that handled that customer. If the agent is busy, the customer can then be routed to alternate agents who the caller has spoken to previously. 

Multi-media Blending: Multi-media functionality is increasingly becoming an integral part of all contact center environments, improving the efficiency and productivity of a contact center by enabling agents to interact with customers via multiple channels - voice, video, instant messaging, fax and Web chats - all at the same time in the more advanced solutions. At the very least, most current contact center packages support agent-customer interaction via e-mail (in addition to telephone calls). TelecomTactics research finds that nearly 60% of contact center solutions currently on the market offer Web Chat and E-mail Automation functionality.
Quality Monitoring: The recording and quality monitoring of agents and agent groups within a call center can ensure that customers receive the best service possible. Quality monitoring encompasses a range of applications, including call recording (all calls or those defined by specific rules), silent monitoring, line tapping or handset tapping, quality scoring, agent self-evaluation, trend reporting and metrics, on-demand recording and screen capture. Some systems can automatically send out caller surveys to evaluate an agent's performance.  Supervisors can then “grade” an agent based on what customers report as important.
Self-Service Applications: A number of leading telecommunications providers are addressing the growing trend in voice self-service solutions and speech-enabled applications since enterprises benefit from automating more customer service tasks and using the same databases, application servers and business rules for both Web and voice self-service interactions. Voice XML technology enables a telephone to perform the same self-service functions that can be performed on the Web. In addition to routine inquiries such as checking account balances and paying bills, customers can use a telephone to fill out forms, place orders, and request information. More advanced technology, such as self-service that blends speech recognition and video, or other multi-media technologies, is beginning to emerge.
Virtual Networking: Ideally, a customer will always reach the best qualified agent to address their inquiry. One way to meet this goal is by configuring a “virtual” environment in which geographically dispersed agents can operate within the same skill groups regardless of their location in the contact center network. Calls are routed throughout the network as needed, and locations share databases and network resources for screen pops, reporting and administration.
Visual Tools: New visual and graphical tools are making it easier for agents to serve customers efficiently and allowing managers to successfully monitor overall contact center performance. For agents, the newest graphical user interfaces feature automatic screen pops with customer information, activity logs, contact directories and more. The more advanced tools deliver presence and collaboration information to agents so they can connect with knowledge experts to get real-time information or click to include the expert on the call. For managers, the latest tools provide real-time, color-coded data on traffic patterns, customer waiting times, agent utilization and other metrics. These tools can identify bottlenecks so that managers can reassign customers if necessary.
Workforce Management: Workforce management solutions automate contact center staffing and agent scheduling so that an agent is always available to receive customer communication.  Workforce management ensures that agents are performing their assigned tasks at the appropriate time per a schedule and can even take into account seasonal effects and promotional campaigns to identify possible shortages or excesses in staff. In addition, by tracking peaks and valleys in customer traffic, a contact center can take advantage of excess agents who can shift their focus to sales activities, for example.
New Visual Management Tools Improve Customer Service
New visual and graphical tools for agents and managers are making it easier for agents to serve customers efficiently and are enabling managers to successfully monitor contact center performance and reconfigure in real-time. Below are a few of the new visual tools announced by leading vendors in 2006.
Alcatel (News - Alert)-Lucent’s OmniTouch Contact Center Premium Edition introduces a "user-centric" approach with centralized and graphical or "visual" management. Visual CC (pictured), the “cornerstone” of the solution, provides graphical displays of real-time, color-coded data and pre-defined reports that make it easy for team leaders to visualize and configure the contact center parameters instantly according to traffic patterns, alerts and waiting times.
Avaya’s (News - Alert) Interaction Center 7.1 enhances the traditional ACD by incorporating Web Chat, E-mail Response, and Web CallBack. SIP capabilities for the Avaya IP Agent PC application add presence and instant messaging, improving the communication among agents and knowledge experts who can help with customer requests. Avaya’s Operational Analyst consolidates data to present a “360-degree view” of agent-customer interactions and overall contact center performance. Among the real-time operational reports is “Service Class and Queue Performance” (pictured) that compares statistics among service classes and queues.
Genesys (News - Alert) Telecommunications Laboratories, Inc., an Alcatel-Lucent company, addresses resource optimization with the Genesys 7.5 Customer Interaction Management Platform and the company’s Workforce Management product. Pictured is a WFM Supervisor’s forecast view that publishes information on agent scheduling and the number of agents required to staff a contact center at a given time per specific service levels.  A forthcoming new solution, the Dynamic Contact Center Dashboard and Customer Experience Composer will provide visibility into all operations, including inbound and outbound calls, campaigns and calls in queue.
Interactive Intelligence, Inc., offers the Interaction Optimizer, a new workforce management module for the company’s Customer Interaction Center (CIC). Interaction Optimizer (pictured) enables forecasting, scheduling and a real-time adherence features for supervisors. The software module helps a contact center improve agent productivity and effectiveness, while ensuring that agents are performing their assigned tasks at the appropriate time per the schedule. Optimizer also provides “demand forecasting” which considers seasonal effects and promotional campaigns to identify possible shortages or excesses in staff. 
Mitel (News - Alert) addresses excellence in the contact center environment with the Mitel Customer Interaction Solution and the add-on application, Visual Queue (pictured). Managers can take advantage of centralized management and visuals across the entire distributed environment, identifying callers and re-prioritizing them from one queue to another using a simple drag-and-drop operation. Each customer is matched with the best available resource. Presence integration lets agents reach back into the organization and across supply chains to find the right expert to immediately resolve a customer inquiry.
Nortel’s SIP Contact Center 6.0 solution adds a new Supervisor Client that displays tabular and graphical reports with visual or audible alarms (pictured). Supervisors can record and monitor agent communications, not only for voice calls, but also screen information from e-mails and Web chats. A new Agent Desktop combines a telephony toolbar, customer details, a contact toolbar, an activity log (basic, e-mail or Web), current contact details (depending on type of contact – voice, e-mail or Web), a contact timer and status indicator. The new desktop brings together all multimedia contact types and also presents outbound campaign scripts within a single tool. 
Sandra M. Gustavsen is an analyst for TelecomTactics and Access Intelligence, LLC. To see more of her articles, please visit the TelecomTactics column page.
For more information on contact center offerings from leading telecommunication manufacturers, visit or contact Sandra M. Gustavsen at [email protected].

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