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Supplier Q&A on UC With Toshiba

Call Center Services Featured Article

Supplier Q&A on UC With Toshiba

April 09, 2009
By Brendan B. Read
Senior Contributing Editor
Beginning this month TMC (News - Alert) is publishing a series of Q&As with leading customer interaction/CRM solutions suppliers in key product/service markets to get their insights on trends within contact centers, their specific industries, and with their firms. They are also being asked for best practices in buying and obtaining maximum value from their solutions.

 
Being featured in April is Unified Communications (News - Alert) (UC). Replying for Toshiba America Information Systems, is Jon Nelson, product marketing manager Telecommunication Systems Division.
 
What top trends do you see happening in both contact centers and in your industry and what is driving these trends?
 
We are seeing more remote call center agents, many of whom are working from home, which saves on overhead costs. It also allows companies to keep valuable people who may otherwise leave their jobs if they have to attend to an ailing family member or a new baby. It also makes it easier to have part-time call center agents who can come online during peak periods or live a long distance from the office. 
 
With the ability to monitor the call center real-time, it really doesn’t matter where the agents are located. As well, with presence and chat capabilities, remote agents can get help from supervisors quickly and easily.
 
Customers are not shying away from technology. They leverage it to reduce costs and streamline processes. Examples are UC tools such as IM, smart phone VoIP mobility (not so much for agents but other customer service personnel), collaboration, and voice and web conferencing, and the ability to use these for agents to effectively work at home. Successful vendors will show them how to do this. 
 
What new products, services, and/or enhancements to your existing solutions have you developed, or perhaps are currently working on in response to these issues, and how will they help contact centers improve their performance?
 
Toshiba (News - Alert) introduced a number of new products in response to these trends. For example, a new version of Net Phone offers the call control GUI, which is especially useful for agents using with screen pops to their CRM applications, plus it provides presence status of other users, IM chat for quick help from support personnel, and whiteboard collaboration. ACD networking enables telecommuting agents to work the same at their home as in their offices.
 
With the built-in integration with Toshiba’s Strata ACD Call Center Suite applications, the call center agents and supervisors have one-touch recording of telephone conversations, custom application integration via Net Phone, and integration with third-party applications such as OAISYS (News - Alert) Tracer. Toshiba’s Call Monitoring and Reporting application allows supervisors to look at the status of the entire call center, including remote agents, real-time and at a glance, or they can run reports on a schedule or on the fly.
 
Where does your firm fit in your marketplace? What are your core differentiators? How would you describe your view of the future evolution of the company? Have you recently or do you plan to enter new markets and if which ones, why, and through what means?
 
Toshiba provides an ideal call center solution for customers with as few as a handful of agents up to as many as 360 in a single location, or thousands networked together in multi-location applications with as many as 20 sites. Our differentiators include the ability to provide comprehensive capabilities and options to choose from at an affordable price.
 
Toshiba is consistently among the top manufacturers of IP business communication systems for SMB enterprises and large national accounts with multiple locations such as retailers and restaurants. We are a leader in key vertical markets including retail, restaurant, healthcare, and government/education. It also has one of the biggest and most successful national accounts programs in the industry.
 
Another of Toshiba’s core differentiators is that it has one of the most reliable and durable business telephone systems available and backs it up with the industry’s only seven-year manufacturer’s warranty. We also have the ‘total office solution’ with our other business products, including industry-leading notebook computers, copiers, and surveillance video and recording systems.
 
Toshiba is also one of a handful of manufacturers to give its enterprise customers a choice of mixing and matching IP, digital and even analog on a single telephone system, so they can use the endpoint that make sense for each individual user. We give our users a wide variety of choices in endpoints, including IP, digital and analog desk telephones, conference telephones, soft phones, SIP phones, and wireless LAN Wi-Fi phones.
 
Toshiba’s migration path is unmatched in the industry. Customers using older Strata DK and CTX platforms can upgrade to the current Strata CIX platform while reusing many of their existing telephones and system cards, enabling them to retain much of their original investment.
 
In August 2008, Toshiba introduced its new Strata CIX1200, expanding the addressable market to 1,000 users. With the Strata CIX1200, Toshiba brings its features and capabilities to customers who needed a larger system, both new and upgrade customers. As well, since the Strata CIX systems can be networked, customers who need a larger system can have multiple Strata CIX systems at a single site or multiple sites. With this new system, we are able to meet the needs of larger companies.
 
Discuss the state of technology with UC solutions. Is it arriving, has it arrived, or does it have a ways to go and if so why and what is needed for it to get there?
 
Authorized Toshiba Dealers tell us that some companies are trying Unified Communications solutions, while others are happy with their standard telephony solutions. We aggressively push UC solutions with our core products. For example, we provide five free unified messaging seats and ten free Video Communication Solution seats with the purchase of Toshiba’s Strata MAS (Media Applications Server). We find that once you get a few people using these capabilities, more people want them. Until people actually use it, they don’t know what they are missing. 
 
UC solutions have definitely arrived, but in varying degrees of acceptance, and in bits and pieces, so we think overall UC has a ways to go. The applications that have gained the most traction in the market are the ones that show value and ROI through quantifiable productivity gains. We are continually working to enhance our UC offerings by partnering with companies who are creative innovative UC solutions that can be integrated with the Toshiba Strata CIX platform. There is still a lot of opportunity.
 
Concerns have been raised about the reluctance of other employees to become and to provide quality service as experts, tapped by presence/UC solutions; many of these individuals were not hired for their customer service abilities. What you would recommend and how are firms coping with this issue
 
Reluctance of non-customer service employees to get involved in customer service issues is an attitude that spans all industries and is not a technology issue. The ‘not my job’ syndrome can be overcome by educating all employees that everyone’s job includes making customers happy. Without satisfied customers who pay all our salaries, no one’s job would exist. Technologies such as presence and IM may draw more and different types of personnel into customer service conversations, so it is import to overcome this reluctance.
 
What shape do you see contact centers and your industry going forward? Where are the growth markets? What is the ROI for UC and why are and should firms invest in these solutions in today’s challenging economic times? What do you see happening post-downturn?
 
We expect contact centers to continue to grow with more and more remote agents in the contact center, many of whom will work from home or remote branch locations. Companies can get strong ROI by allowing agents to work off site and cut down on the office real estate needed to house them. They will have less turn-over in agents and higher productivity. The call monitoring and tracking capabilities in our solutions allow supervisors to manage remote call center agents just as if they were all in the same location.
 
Growth markets overall are healthcare and government, both of which have seemingly been unaffected by the economic downturn. For UC, even with tough economic times minimizing customer spending, they still seem to have money for items that prove value and ROI. The ROI mainly comes from productivity gains from imbedding communications capabilities into business applications used by agents and customer service personnel. We still think UC adoption rates will remain fairly small until post downturn.
 
What best practices do you recommend in buying, installing, and getting the most value from your offerings?
 
Toshiba Strata CIX IP Business Communication Systems support a variety of call center capabilities that can be implemented in a variety of configurations. This enables customers to pick and choose products and applications offered to match their specific business requirements.
 
We recommend customers listen to their Authorized Toshiba Dealers who are well trained in all of the Toshiba business communications solutions and certified solutions from Toshiba partners. With more than 800 dealer locations nationwide, Toshiba dealers are there to support customers and help them maximize their communications capabilities. 
 
One way we help our dealers and customers maximize value is by offering flexible leasing options, which provides a lot of value at a smaller cost than a capital expenditure. With the lease, which can bundle in service and extended warranty, customers know exactly what they will pay each month for the expected life of the system. In this economy, knowing your overhead costs is a big benefit.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jessica Kostek
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