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Q&A with Siemens on UC in the Contact Center

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Q&A with Siemens on UC in the Contact Center

April 08, 2009
By Brendan B. Read
Senior Contributing Editor
TMCnet is publishing an ongoing 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 within their firms. They are also being asked for best practices in buying and obtaining maximum value from their solutions.

Featured in April is Unified Communications (News - Alert) (UC). Replying for Siemens Enterprise Communications is Elizabeth Klingseisen, contact center solutions marketing:
Q: What top trends do you see happening in both contact centers and in your industry and what is driving these trends?
A: The economy is playing an ever increasing role in the contact center environment with tightened spending due to recession concerns and focus on reducing opex and increasing productivity. This has led to an increase in deployments of technology applications in the contact center specifically, self-service IVR, outbound predictive dialing for proactive contact and presence and collaboration tools for First Contact Resolution (FCR). 
Green enterprise mandates are emerging and Siemens (News - Alert) is seeing an increase in ‘virtual contact center’ deployments and expansion of home-based agent programs as a result. To a large extent, presence and collaboration tools have enabled the ‘virtual contact center’ as they provide the necessary access to subject matter experts for the success of home-based agents.  
Speed and collaboration are essential to the enterprise and the contact center as the organizational conduit to the customer. In the communications environment, software-only solutions based on open standards, SIP (session initiation protocol) and SOA (service-oriented architecture) are leading the way.
Q: 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?
A: The software foundation for our rich, SIP-based contact center offerings is the OpenScape Unified Communications Server. This is an open standards-based software communications model that is highly flexible to deploy agents anywhere ‘on-demand’ through software in a virtual contact center environment and enables UC integration for OpenScape Contact Center.
Our OpenScape Contact Center suite is a complete ‘self-contained’ UC-enabled contact center solution that is available today and can be deployed in any communications environment. Our unique aggregated presence and collaboration tools that are integrated to the agent desktop drive first contact resolution. 
In our February release of OpenScape Contact Center Agile (News - Alert) and Enterprise V7R3 we have expanded our native presence integration feature to facilitate enterprise collaboration by providing a snapshot presence status for users returned from a directory search. The OpenScape Contact Center user can then collaborate with the enterprise user based on presence status that supports multi-media states. 
Q: 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?
A: Under new ownership since October 2008, Siemens Enterprise Communications Group incorporates Siemens Enterprise Communications, Enterasys (News - Alert) and SER Solutions. Our portfolio offering includes voice, unified communications, contact centers, networks and services.
Siemens is the only provider offering the choice of complete end-to-end, software-driven unified communications, based on open, secure interoperable standards. We deliver an open communications approach that is the easiest and most cost effective path to unified communications, protecting customer investments now and in the future. Our solutions are inherently secure and backed by the best global service and support there is.
Our key differentiators are:

--Open platform with no single-vendor lock-in or proprietary technology stacks
--End-to-end offering, a complete voice and UC software portfolio, robust mobility and wireless portfolio, complete networks and security portfolio all supported by our global services portfolio. This means we can integrate most of our applications into existing IT infrastructures, unlike most of our competitors
--Multi-vendor solution layered, OpenPath approach, which enables customers to migrate from proprietary telephony infrastructure to software-based UC on their agenda using a staged approach to first optimize, then enhance and finally transform the enterprise to a software-based UC. OpenPath ensures our customers choice, interoperability, investment protection and cost effectiveness
--Open communications solutions deliver business value through cost reduction, productivity and improved collaboration. Software-based communications and automation lowers TCO and increases agility. UC delivers hard savings and enhances mobility and collaboration. Applications offer operational savings and better asset utilization
Q: 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?
A: We see UC as mainstream technology in the communications environment. The problem is that too many vendors offering disjointed point solutions are confusing the market by calling everything unified communications even when nothing is unified. Examples of this are vendors offering VoIP, IM, UM and video conferencing that do not integrate with each other or with existing telephony and IT infrastructure, yet are still marketed as UC.
Additionally, there is an adoption continuum of enterprise readiness that starts with IP, software-based voice and moves through packaged UC and ultimately to the transformational value of highly customizable communications-enabled business processes (CEBP). CEBP results when truly unified UC capabilities are fully integrated into workflow applications used by highly-collaborative teams who then shave off significant time required for complex projects because collaboration happens sooner with less missed attempts. This is what we see as the ultimate vision of what UC can do for enterprises. Yet for the many organizations that are still wondering whether or not to adopt VoIP it’s a long journey to get there.
Q: 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
A: In our view, service delivery must remain the core competency of the contact center agent who is trained, measured and evaluated on their customer satisfaction indicators and first contact resolution. Subject matter experts, available via their presence indicators, provide collaborative assistance to the agent who is able to resolve the customer issue on the first contact. Transferring the contact or the responsibility for the customer to a subject matter expert defeats the purpose of collaboration tools and first contact resolution metrics in the contact center.
Firms must make use of reporting and contact center analytics are important tools to ensure they are implementing presence and collaboration tools appropriately.
Q: 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?
A: Contact centers will continue to invest in technologies that improve their productivity, reduce call volumes, and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, particularly in a challenging economy. 
We see growth markets in:

--Speech-enabled, self-service IVR, to reduce agent-handled call volume and improve customer access
--Agent-less proactive contact, to proactively reach out to customers to affect incoming call volumes, raise customer satisfaction and provide new revenue opportunity
--UC, presence and collaboration across the contact center and enterprise to facilitate first contact resolution and reduce total agent handle time
The ROI for UC in the contact center is in:
--FC: Every percentage improvement in FCR has a direct correlation to reduction in inbound call volumes, resulting in lower opex
--Reducing total handle time: Resolving customers’ issues while they are on the phones reduces wrap and total handle time
Post-downturn we see acceleration in the rate of adoption of UC and SIP-enabled contact centers.
Q: What best practices do you recommend in buying, installing, and getting the most value from your offerings?
A: Siemens OpenPath services approaches our customers’ needs through five distinct stages to maximize the value received from our offerings:
--Evaluate your situation and appropriate OpenPath strategy relative to stages of optimization, enhancement, and transformation
--Design your solution, OpenPath migration plan and business case
--Implement a smooth transition to your new Open Communications solution
--Operate and achieve cost effective, transparent service delivery and support
--Improve TCO and ROI through continual assessment and refinement

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

Edited by Patrick Barnard
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