Beginning this month TMC 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.
Featured this month is Zeacom President of Americas Ernie Wallerstein (News - Alert) Jr.
1. What top trends do you see happening in both contact centers and in your industry and what is driving these trends?
The current economic situation is having a significant effect on the Unified Communications (News - Alert) (UC) and contact center (CC) marketplace (note: Zeacom’s perspective is that that CC is an essential component of an overall UC strategy).
Providing quantitative ROI for all aspects of any UC offering has become imperative. To date, ROI for UC has been relatively soft, which needs to change: and change quickly. The pressure on the traditional PBX vendors like Nortel (News - Alert) and Avaya is immense. While these conditions are, generally speaking, slowing down the industry, they are having a converse effect on positioning the application-lead solution vendors, like Zeacom (News - Alert), which are benefiting as enterprises move away from PBX-centric communications solutions.
2. 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?
Since its inception, Zeacom has always, and will continue to improve upon its Rich Presence solutions, as evidenced by recent technological developments. For example, by extending “presence” to the PDA, CC agents can quickly connect with other employees who may be critical to solving a customer issue, or to helping close a sale.
In addition, we have recently launched our Executive Mobile application, which extends presence from the desktop to the PDA. Executive Mobile makes life easier for today’s road warriors, empowering them with the tools to stay in touch with customers, and manage their communications as if they have never left the office. ZCC Executive Mobile brings the best in Unified Communications to the mobile phone.
Also of note is that Zeacom has added conferencing to its solution. This functionality allows users to quickly initiate or schedule a teleconference from the same interface they use to manage their CC communications.
Lastly, in Q3 of 2008, Zeacom purchased a call-recording application to round out our all-in-one UC offering. Our customers were asking for recording from Zeacom, instead of a third party, and we made that happen.
3. 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?
Zeacom markets its solutions through resellers only, which sell to small/midsized businesses (SMBs) that range from 30 to 4,000 employees. We can handle contact centers of up to 500 agents-per-location, and can provide UC to 4,000 employees per location (multiple locations can be networked).
By UC, we mean multimedia contact center, IVR, unified messaging, mobility applications, conferencing, and reporting all from one engine, with one administration point and one user interface. This ‘single solution’ concept is our key differentiator; other vendors sell all these solutions, but through 3, 4, or even 5 different applications.
Zeacom is profitable and well positioned economically. From a marketplace perspective, we expect to emerge from this economic downturn as one of the few remaining independent (not owned by a PBX manufacturer) UC application solution providers. Technically, we will continue to be at the forefront of UC by expanding our Presence engine even further into other enterprise applications, such as [Microsoft] OCS and Salesforcedotcom.
We view ourselves as a horizontal solutions provider. As such, we consider the entire SMB marketplace as our target market. However, we do expect to continue increasing our penetration in certain vertical markets, such as debt collection and sales force enablement.
4. 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?
UC is still not there. As an industry, we are clearly past the early adopter stage and the technology continues to mature. However, as I said before, quantifying documented ROI is perceived to be difficult. Given the global recessionary economy, coupled with the lingering disdain for ERP-like projects, communicating the ROI on UC is imperative.
Secondly, most companies provide UC via multiple platforms or applications, which do not work for the SMB marketplace. Singular points of administration are essential to resource constrained IT departments.
5. 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
This situation is problematic as an overall culture issue with many companies, and is something that collectively, we need to change. Getting back to core values like differentiation through customer services will be critical to organizations that want to survive in the current economy. The threat of not having a job is much greater than any period in recent memory, so we expect this culture to change and we expect solutions like Zeacom to help throughout that transition.
6. 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?
The barriers between the contact center and the rest of the organization will continue to come down like the Berlin Wall. We are all involved in customer service and we are all responsible for acquiring new customers. People who don’t believe that to be true need only look at AT&T (News - Alert), GM, Nortel and other monolithic companies which did not adapt to the modern world. Information is available by a single click, and competition is also available at a single click. If companies do not differentiate on the level of service they provide to customers and prospects, they will not survive.
In terms of growth markets until the downturn ends, credit/debt collection industries will be strong. We are also seeing a demand for sales force enablement and efficiency drivers. Following the economic recovery, most industries will begin to grow again. However, this growth will come from battletested companies that will demand hard ROI before making technological purchases.
Another interesting aspect of this economy is that only the strong, fiscally responsible solution providers will survive. There will be more than a few companies that don’t make it, but the Darwinian ones that do, will be legitimate, long-term players.
7. What best practices do you recommend in buying, installing, and getting the most value from your offerings?
This could be a long answer, but I will keep it short. We recommend that our new customers do not implement or buy every solution we offer from the onset. Spending the time to understand our customers’ most pressing needs allows us to deploy, install and educate (both our team and our customers’) on the aspects of our solution that map to those aforementioned needs. Over time, as the user community becomes more familiar with the full range of features and functionality available to them, we then re-engage and address what other areas in which we provide cost and/or time savings to our customer’s business.
Secondarily, as a company that sells through reseller and distribution channels, we have established a methodology that allows our partners to ramp up over time. In the interim, they can subcontract our services team to help manage installs or to simply fill their delivery gaps. Having our own services delivery team has been and will continue to be a major part of our value proposition.
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Tim Gray