By Paul Adams
Unified communications (UC) continues to emerge as an invaluable customer relationship management tool in contact centers because of its ability to quickly link internal experts and knowledge workers with agents, drive efficiencies through collaboration, empower agents that are home-based, remote, or utilizing mobile devices, and improve customer experience.
Benefiting from UC in the contact center, however, requires full and seamless integration of UC services such as unified messaging, video, instant messaging and presence, and enhanced Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) with legacy contact center systems.
Contact center executives, decision makers, managers, and staffers stand to benefit from UC in the contact center, but before that can happen, it is essential to ensure seamless integration of unified communications services into a contact center environment with legacy systems. There are three considerations:
- Factors driving integration of UC services into contact centers: There are market, business, and technology factors driving greater demand among enterprises for unified communications in the contact center. Key factors include:
- A shift from premise-based to hosted UC solutions: Enterprises now have access to in-demand unified communications features as a “service,” which makes unified communications available and affordable to a broader range of organizations. Hosted UC solutions also provide for more seamless – and cost effective – integration with legacy contact center systems.
- An increased focus on customer satisfaction: With customer expectations for the contact center experience on the rise, organizations are hyperconscious of customer satisfaction. The legacy voice system experience of long hold times, dropped calls, and automated routing black holes are all fodder for customer dissatisfaction, and organizations are seeking scalable, affordable, and flexible ways to create more rewarding customer experience.
- A need for consistent customer experience: Unified communications are, in a way, about unifying the customer experience. As the number of possible customer touch points expands to mobile devices, social networks, video, and chat, organizations are recognizing the need to ensure that a customer’s experience remains consistent and effective.
- A drive to improve contact center efficiencies: Contact centers are relentlessly driven to increase agent efficiency, lower costs, and increase customer satisfaction – and balance these competing objectives appropriately. The introduction of an IP-based architecture and growth of innovative Web-based applications enabled via the IP network now allow contact center agents to address core objectives in ways that were never possible with simple legacy ACD platforms.
- Strategies to ensure seamless integration of UC services: Ensuring successful integration of UC with legacy contact center systems requires that organizations first recognize associated challenges, as well as strategies that can be employed to ensure the process is seamless. Contact centers today find themselves challenged by cumbersome investments in legacy systems (such as PBXs and IVRs) that can’t simply be tossed aside; costs of UC adoption that require a clear pre-deployment ROI, even for hosted UC; and what can be in some contact centers a resistance to change workflows that can result when UC is introduced into the environment.
With these challenges in mind, there are key strategies enterprises should consider prior to integrating unified communications with legacy contact center systems, including:
- Understanding required workflow modifications: Call centers are designed around efficient call handling – how queued calls are handled, how calls are distributed to available agents, how calls are handled or overflowed during peak hours, and so forth. The bottom line is that the call flows used with legacy systems were designed to work with the legacy technology and were designed around the concept of multiple trunks into the ACD platform where they were queued and distributed to agents when they became available. Hosted ACD services, on the other hand, handle call queuing and routing in the network, and allow for fundamental changes in the call flows. As a result, the most important consideration with a migration to a hosted service is evaluating the basic call flows and adapting them to maximize the routing capabilities of an IP-based network, using network-based queuing and “virtual queues” that can include agents from any location.
- Simplifying workflow: A key business driver for unified communications in the contact center is the ability to provide agents with immediate access to subject matter experts and information throughout the organization. To ensure that this information becomes an asset – rather than a liability – to the agent, contact center executives must be sensitive to not overload agents with too much information. Efficient contact centers are built around a very structured workflow, which ensures that callers get a consistent positive experience. Introducing change to the workflow can be disruptive, so contact centers should focus on introducing UC features that help the process and improve efficiency, rather than simply adding information noise the agent must filter.
- Focus on integrating high-value UC services: Seamless integration of UC services requires focusing on capabilities that will deliver an improved, consistent customer experience, as well as provide cost and productivity gains within the contact center. Services that can deliver an initial, significant positive impact for enterprise contact centers include: instant messaging and presence that enables agents to resolve issues by tapping the knowledge of coworkers or subject matter experts quickly; video capabilities that enable face-to-face video interaction with customers or permit agents to include internal subject matter experts via video; and remote/home-based agents that can easily transition between different environments (home, office, or remote).
- Benefits of integrating UC into contact center operations: Hosted UC solutions introduce some dramatic improvements in the contact center environment, including:
- Reduced TCO (total cost of ownership): Integrated hosted unified communications can deliver lower total cost of ownership relative to premise-based UC or standalone legacy contact center systems (50 percent lower in some cases). This is achieved through the elimination of capital expenses and lower operational expenses.
- Improved efficiency: With hosted unified communications, agents can handle more calls efficiently through the use of Web screen pops with scripts, automatic delivery of customer information to the desktop (such as CRM info, location info, and data entry screens). Agents can also resolve problems immediately with instant messaging and presence by seeing who is available, communicating via a chat session, and resolving problems in real time.
- Improved customer satisfaction: Hosted unified communications solutions provide contact centers with access to high-end features such as ACD, callback services, outbound dialers, and CRM integration typically reserved for large, multinational corporations. These trigger new economies of scale for organizations of any size.
Conclusion: While some aspects of UC-legacy system integration has been available to contact centers for some time (with the exception of more recent developments for mobile touch points), the price point has been prohibitive for all but the largest organizations. Even though large organizations could afford the equipment, the process of integrating that equipment to deliver a unified experience was difficult.
The decreasing cost point and increased comfort level of agents with unified communications improves the value proposition for a wider swath of organizations to integrate unified communications with legacy contact center systems.
Paul Adams is director of product management at BroadSoft, a global provider of IP-based communications services to the telecommunications industry.
[From Connection Magazine – June 2011]