Despite the fact that so many people have been using cloud-based communications services in the personal lives, there remains as much confusion around the cloud as ever. Much of it comes from the simple fact that you can’t actually see the cloud; you can’t walk into your data center or communications closet and see it, as you could a traditional PBX (News - Alert). But it’s also a question of definition. As with many new communications, specific definitions are at the mercy of specific vendors, who naturally define services in relation to their own strengths.
Defining cloud communications, integrating communications apps into businesses processes and delivering enterprise-class technology to contact centers, will be among the topics explored this week at ITEXPO in Miami where Cloud Communications Expo will kick off on Jan. 31.
Before heading down to sunny Florida this week, TMC CEO Rich Tehrani had the opportunity to catch up with Tim Passios (News - Alert), senior director of solutions marketing at Interactive Intelligence, who will address attendees at Cloud Communications Expo this week in a number of sessions. Their full exchange follows below.
TMC: What was the most significant technological advancement in the past 12 months and why?
TP: For us, the most significant advancement was the launch of version 4.0 of our flagship all-in-one IP communications software suite, Customer Interaction Center™ (CIC). With this release, we improved our architecture, enhanced the user experience, and provided new tools to expand management’s insight into what’s going on within the contact center in real time.
- Improved architecture - By moving all media processing off the CIC server to media server appliances, CIC scales higher and is more reliable. Additionally, CIC can now be run on a virtual server for those customers running on Hyper-V or VMWare.
- Enhanced User Experience – We’ve added several new user interfaces and applications such as an enhanced Web client, additional email handling, improved agent assistance requests, and a new Web portal for internal stakeholders and external customers.
- Expanded Management Insight – CIC version 4.0 also introduced a significant new application for real time word and phrase spotting called Interaction Analyzer™. With just a single license, CIC users can turn on speech recognition capability that will monitor – in real time – the conversations between customers and agents, then alert supervisors whenever key words or phrases are spotted. This gives supervisors the ability to know exactly when problems arise and, using coaching tools, to intervene while the conversation is occurring to correct problems and improve customer satisfaction.
TMC: What has been the biggest trend in your market segment and how is it impacting your customers?
TP: The biggest trend within the contact center market has been the dramatic adoption of cloud-based communications-as-a-service (CaaS) solutions. With the downturn in the economy, organizations are turning to the cloud to find ways to reduce capital expenditures, minimize IT requirements, increase flexibility and deploy solutions faster. In 2011, Interactive Intelligence saw triple digit increases in its CaaS revenue over 2010.
TMC: What is the biggest challenge facing your customers today and how is your company helping address that challenge?
TP: Today, contact center supervisors have more information at their fingertips than ever before, namely real time dashboards, updated reports with drill-down capabilities and more statistics than they know what to do with. With so much information, supervisors are having a hard time determining what needs their attention and when. To address this we launched Interaction Analyzer™, which enables supervisors to set key words and phrases that they want to monitor then alert them, in real time, when customers or agents say them. This gives supervisors unparalleled visibility into what is happening so that they can interject themselves into conversations to prevent lost business and improve the customer experience.
TMC: How has the cloud impacted your business? How has it impacted your customers?
TP: As mentioned before, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the adoption of our cloud-based contact center solutions. As a result, we’ve opened a network operations center (NOC (News - Alert)), which provides 24/7 CaaS support and services. We’re also adding global data centers, which now span locations throughout the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, and Japan. We’ll continue investing in cloud-based resources across the board as long as we see customer demand.
An interesting trend we’ve seen among contact center customers is that, while initially they looked to our CaaS solutions to reduce costs, now they’re more often driven by the need to quickly expand – both size-wise and from an applications perspective – and also the desire to focus more on their core business.
TMC: Will cloud-based communications expedite the end of the premises-based PBX market?
TP: We aren’t seeing that. There is still a much larger demand for premise-based communications solutions than for cloud-based solutions. Probably the most common reason we hear customers give for selecting premise over the cloud is the benefit of greater control, though many other factors come into play, such as culture, existing infrastructure, etc. Our approach enables customers to choose between whichever model works best for them, and even migrate from cloud to premise without any loss or re-write of applications.
TMC: What approach has your business taken to social media? If you have implemented a social media program, have you been able to evaluate your program’s success?
TP: With the multitude of social media platforms giving voice to an astounding volume of interactions every day, it’s no wonder that the topic of social media monitoring tools is top of mind among contact centers. As a result, we’ve integrated our all-in-one IP communications software suite, Customer Interaction Center™ (CIC), to several major social media monitoring solutions. This integration enables contact centers to route and queue social media interactions based on the same business rules they use to route calls and emails. And because we perform the routing of the social media mentions, we can also record, track, and report on how the organization responds to such mentions.
TMC: Does every business need a social media presence? Why or why not?
TP: Yes, every organization needs a social media presence, but not every organization needs the same degree of presence. Social media is a large animal and it can be used in so many different ways. Some organizations only need it for marketing purposes – to push out messages and promotions or to build brand awareness. Others need it for customer service to respond to requests for assistance or troubles with products or services. And still others need it for internal collaboration between employees. But in all cases, today’s business demands some sort of connection to a social network.
TMC: With Microsoft (News - Alert) touting tight integration between its mobile and desktop OS, can it become a major competitor in the enterprise mobile market?
TP: It certainly seems so, but it has much work to do in order to catch up to the mobile OS market leaders of Apple (News - Alert) and Google.
TMC: What can attendees expect from your company at ITEXPO?
TP: This year at ITEXPO, visitors to our booth can learn more about our latest release of Customer Interaction Center™ (CIC), version 4.0, which includes our exciting new real time word and phrase spotting application, Interaction Analyzer™. Additionally, for those interested in moving to the cloud, we’ll be demonstrating QuickSpin, a risk-free program that gives potential customers a free trial of our cloud-based contact center solution with set-up time in under 15 minutes!
TMC: Make one technology prediction for 2012 and consider its impact.
TP: Customers have always wanted to communicate with businesses when and where they need to. With the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and other “anywhere access” devices, we’ll see new solutions that enable contact centers to provide more streamlined customer service via mobile applications. These will give customers real time, dynamic menu choices that have been tailored to their personal needs based on social network authentication. From a single application running on their mobile device, customers will be able to view information about their account, purchase history, order, or claim status. They’ll also be able to communicate with contact centers via voice, text, chat, or video – live or by scheduling it at their convenience. This is the future of customer service.
To find out more about Interactive Intelligence, visit the company at ITEXPO East 2012, being held Jan. 31- Feb. 3 at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami, Fla. ITEXPO is the world’s premier IP communications event. Visit Interactive Intelligence in booth #606. For more information on ITEXPO registration click here.
Erin Harrison is Executive Editor, Strategic Initiatives, for TMC, where she oversees the company's strategic editorial initiatives, including the launch of several new print and online initiatives. She plays an active role in the print publications and TMCnet, covering IP communications, information technology and other related topics. To read more of Erin's articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Rich Steeves