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The New 'UC Contact Center' - More Than A 'Use Case'

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The New 'UC Contact Center' - More Than A 'Use Case'

November 15, 2011
By Art Rosenberg

It is getting very apparent that the current shifting of communications technology to software and mobile, multimodal devices (smartphones, tablets) is also driving business communications towards greater flexibility in initiating and responding to business contacts between people and with automated business process “apps.”

Most importantly, with a flexible UC framework, business communications can now selectively accommodate all contact and informational access needs for individual end users both inside and outside an organization. Such flexibility will have a significant impact on the traditional, telephone-oriented “call center,” enabling its transition to a true, two-way, multi-modal “contact center” between people and business process applications.

Unified communications (UC) has been defined by the experts at UC Strategies as “Communications integrated to optimize business processes.” That definition seems to have held up well to cover both “communications” and “business processes,” but it leaves open the question of how and when UC capabilities can best be implemented.

Because voice telephony is moving to more flexible, efficient, and less expensive SIP-based IP networking, it is now being viewed as part of general UC capabilities. As such, all business telephony technologies have to be rethought in terms of UC flexibility, and one of the most important areas is the good old “call center.”

The name transitioned to “contact center” many years ago with the growth of the Web and consumer email usage, but one of the real benefits that can be offered to consumers/customers is to increase easy-to-use self-service applications for information access and basic business transactions. Not only do self-services, if done right, increase user satisfaction with immediate access and responsiveness, but they also reduce the labor costs involved with live assistance, which may not be necessary with online and mobile applications.

Outbound vs. Inbound Calls

“Call centers” were primarily designed to handle incoming calls from customers who didn’t want to speak to a specific person, just someone who could answer their questions and perform transactions, like make an appointment, change their service information, etc. However, outbound calls were also distributed to call center agents to deliver notifications, reminders, solicit new business, etc.

The problem with outbound calls is that there is no guarantee of the accessibility of the person being contacted, so automated outdialing technology was introduced to detect ring/no answer, busy lines, answering machines, etc, before assigning the live call to an agent. If the phone was answered by an answering machine, voice mail, or someone other than the specific person (callee) desired, the calling agent could only leave a message.

With the increasing use of mobile smartphones, not only can a customer be contacted for a phone connection more easily, but also personalized messages and notifications can be delivered quickly and easily in text or speech to their individual devices. This will be particularly important for time-sensitive notifications such as health care, financial services, and emergency situations.

To add further business benefits from mobile, multimodal smartphones, automated business process applications can initiate such outbound contacts, along with immediate access to self-service functions, without requiring a live agent. With UC capabilities, however, “click-to-contact” options will still allow the customer to access live assistance and expertise contextually from within the notification or self-service application. That minimizes labor costs while still enabling easy and selective access to live assistance for a better customer experience.  

The “UC Contact Center” For Internal User “Job Contacts”

When you mention the term “contact center,” the old image of dedicated agents handling calls to and from customers is triggered. However, as business users increasingly use mobile smartphones and can benefit from “dual persona” separation of “job contacts” from personal contacts, they too can benefit from timely notifications and on-demand access to live assistance within the organization.

“Job contacts” can include both traditional “person-to-person” contacts for collaborative activities, as well as contacts through Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP). Again, both person contacts and timely automated notifications can be efficiently utilized when the recipients are using multimodal smartphones. So, there will be many business “use cases” that can benefit from the combination of UC and the centralized, multimodal contact center.

Bottom Line For UC Planning

For this reason, legacy call centers have to be on the top of the list for UC migration planning. There will be implications for how contact center “agents” are trained, monitored, evaluated, etc. for maximum job performance in a multimodal, virtual telecommuting environment. Customer interactions will likewise be affected by CRM issues that will change because of dynamic mobile contacts, both inbound and outbound.

Now is the time to trial self-service applications for both customers and for internal users to insure that they will be most effective when deployed for general use. Such trials can be done more quickly and less expensively by exploiting CaaS (Communications as a Service) offerings, before finalizing procurement and implementation decisions.

Art Rosenberg, a veteran of the computer and communications industry, contributes his column, The Unified-View to TMCnet. To read more of Art’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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