With all the talk of telephony infrastructure migrating to IP networks that is going on these days, it’s hard to figure what effect it will have on business process applications. That will be especially important when it comes to customer interactions that are key to revenue generation and customer retention.
For those who just looked at “VoIP” as a cost saving way to handle traditional phone calls, nothing will really change until it is time to replace legacy systems. However, VoIP and IP telephony applications are finally being perceived as becoming part of “unified communications (UC),” which, in turn is being defined as a means of improving business processes through more flexible and efficient communications with people, and not just traditional phone calls. There are lots of “UC” definitions now being tossed around by technology developers in order to make their product and service offerings fit under that hot, new label. However, as I pointed out in a recent article on UC, because enterprise communications is all about business relationships with people, there are going to be several “flavors” of UC functionality.
“It Takes Two to Tango!” — Enterprise Staff and Customer Interactions
The traditional voice telephone has long been the mainstay of real-time communication contact between people. For business enterprises, it has also become the key technology for a variety of mission-critical interactions for customer-facing staff in traditional call center operations. However, when online customers started to use other disparate forms of contact initiation, i.e., e-mail, Web forms, and Instant Messaging, enterprise organizations scrambled to reorganize their technologies and staffing resources to handle such contacts in a responsive manner.
The first convergence challenge for the enterprise has been to enable its valuable staff resources to efficiently handle these different “channels” of customer contact. Not only does contact center staff have to be able to interact in the customer’s channel of choice, but, from a CRM perspective, the context of any “intelligent” interaction has to reflect all previous interactions, regardless of channel or modality.
Now that IP convergence is bringing telephony, IM, and asynchronous messaging UC functions into one networked “channel,” multimodal and transmodal customer contact flexibility is going to become more practical. This will benefit customer support staffing and infrastructure cost efficiencies, as well as satisfy the business process needs of customers through automated “self-service” applications whenever possible.
It’s Not Too Early To Plan For Coming “Consumer” UC
All aspects of traditional customer contact activities will have to converge to support both telephony and online interactions. That is driving enterprise UC migration planning teams to analyze their current call center activities and plan their future needs for consolidating multimodal customer contacts. Because most customers are still using traditional TDM telephony, along with increasing access to enterprise Web sites, there is a tendency for enterprise planners to simply treat all customer contacts as still originating from separate “silos,” i.e., using either a telephone or an online PC to initiate different contacts with the enterprise. Accordingly, “UC” technology products and services for customer contacts (“Customer” UC) are initially focused on contact convergence from the enterprise side, rather than from future perspective of the potential of UC for customers as well.
UC is in the process of evolving as a new set of services that will benefit consumers and all their communication contacts — family, friends, contacts with businesses, government, etc. (“Consumer” UC) Inasmuch as individual personalization is a highlight of UC communications, it will be a natural for consumers. Service providers and “carriers” are busily planning their migrations to IP and SIP protocols for both fixed and mobile networking (FMC). So, it is only a matter of time before the power of UC will become available to customers to actively exploit as consumers, not just as passive, limited beneficiaries of enterprise UC technologies.
Just as enterprise “Customer” UC will have to immediately support traditional telephone and PC-based customer-initiated contacts, it will also have to soon recognize and support customers who start using the power of “Consumer” UC services and new multimodal devices. This is an area that enterprise IP contact center planning must consider for “future-proofing” any near-term implementation decisions.
The Enterprise Customer Contact: “Son-in-Law” — “Consumer” UC
The enterprise has long dealt with their customer contact “daughter” — the telephone. Like the daughter in the family who is getting married, the enterprise is not losing their “daughter,” the telephone caller, but will be dealing with their new “son-in-law,” the multimodal customer, who will be exploiting new “Consumer” UC services to interact with the enterprise. The next generation of customers, who are growing up with PCs, the Internet, and multimodal, mobile communications, with be the driving force for tomorrow’s enterprise customer interactions, not just yesterday’s residential telephone callers. So, in planning for the migrating to IP customer contacts, it must not be only about traditional telephone call processing, but the needs of mobile and multimodal communication consumers.
New Resources for Understanding the “Flavors” of UC
Since technology and service providers are still defining and developing the various components of “UC,” it is difficult for enterprise organizations to keep up with the reality of today versus tomorrow’s needs. I have joined with a group of knowledgeable and objective industry experts who have pioneered the new concepts of “unified communications” technology. To learn what is happening with UC products and services, the impact on business processes, and how your organization can effectively migrate to the future, visit the Web site at: www.ucstrategies.com
What Do You Think?
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Some other customer contact insights:
Smarter Call Center IP Telephony Routing
Stop Guessing! The Five Real Reasons For Migrating Your Call Center to IP
Art Rosenberg is a veteran of the computer and communications industry and formed The Unified-View to provide strategic consulting to technology and service providers, as well as to enterprise organizations, in migrating towards converged wired and wireless unified communications.