Wednesday, May 26, 2010

UC and the Contact Center: The Real Approach to Success

Unified Communication (UC), as both concept and product, has been around for over 10 years. In fact, I remember working on my first UC client 15 years ago. So why has it taken so long for the idea to really take hold, or has it? Better yet, what is the attraction that UC holds to the contact center that has folks looking to give every agent a UC client on their desktop? Well, that all depends upon who you consider an “agent”.

Fifteen years ago, back in the stone age, there were only a handful of ways communications happened in the business world: telephone, fax, brick-sized cell phone, pager and e-mail. Compared to today, a very simple list of methods to reach out and touch someone. A “Unified Communication” client needed only to provide a singular interface to the telephone system and e-mail system as the other communication forms were largely reachable through various e-mail gateways. The hard work was the connection to the PBX as every PBX had a unique interface.

Those that deployed these early UC clients were able to improve the speed with which users dialed the phone, created conference calls and accessed unique PBX features that were hard to use. Phone numbers on web pages were dialable through a “Swipe & Dial” capability. Caller ID became useful through the link to one’s address book. In short, the early focus of UC clients was on making it easier to utilize voice services.

Fast forward to today. Voice calls still represent a large percentage of communication activity in the business world. E-mail is now accessed through smartphones as much as it is through our desktop applications. Microsoft Office has sweetened the pot by bringing “Smart Tags” to the full suite of applications. Smart Tags allow names and phone numbers found within any Office application to be linked to one’s Outlook address book thus the name of a colleague appearing in a document will have a drop-down box available via right-click that then displays all the available means of contacting the highlighted person. Add to this convenience the “always on” nature of smartphones with Internet access, text messaging ubiquity and the rise in Social Networks and the landscape of communication choices is the broadest it has ever been. Today’s UC clients need to provide connectivity to all these forms of communication in a seamless fashion including recipient status and one’s own status. In short, the business user with a fully functional UC client has access to some very powerful technology to help them be connected and stay connected to those people who matter.

So how does this apply to the contact center? Here is where the current UC model breaks down.

Today’s Unified Communication client, while a powerful application to enhance the communication tools utilized in the business, lacks a few key features to make it suitable for the contact center.

Contact centers are all about delivering service to customers. The service delivery model commonly involves communicating with customers using a variety of media. This service delivery model, when well designed, also requires that there be continuity between prior interactions and the current interaction. Here is where the UC client falls down; continuity.

While the common UC client is very adept and consolidating the wide variety of communication forms into a single desktop application, the tools are not designed to capture the detailed account of what brought about the latest interaction, the outcome of prior interactions and the follow-up dates for future contact with the customer. In short, the UC client is not a replacement for a quality CRM application. The UC clients being sold today are ideal tools for consolidating but are lousy for tracking and sharing customer interactions. Thus we get to the core reason UC clients are not a good choice for customer service agents.

A quality CRM application provides the means for capturing all aspects of each interaction between a customer and a service delivery resource. That service delivery resource may be an agent in a contact center or may be a product specialist in the back office or perhaps someone in the warehouse. Any resource that can be involved in the service delivery process needs an access method for updating the CRM system.

Does that mean every employee needs an expensive desktop license and associated training for the CRM application? No. What it does mean is that while the UC client is a useful tool for each and every employee, those who also interact with customers need to have a means for connecting the UC tools and the CRM tools together. In other words, the UC client can serve as the software interface used by non-agents provided there is a means for capturing a summary of the interaction into the existing CRM system. Such a design delivers all the needed functionality with a minimum amount of user training.

Thus we have the designated lines of demarcation. The dedicated contact center staff need a quality CRM application with the UC connectivity embedded into the desktop application. The ROI of such an investment is easy to calculate and justify. The Unified Communication client, suitable for the balance of the employees within a business, certainly delivers benefit to the organization though the ROI is a bit softer. Where the 2 worlds overlap, the UC client needs to be connected to the CRM system resulting in the best of both worlds.

If you are in the market for a Unified Communication client and looking to deploy the client within the service delivery realm, ask the vendors how their client connects to your existing CRM system. You may be surprised at the answer and grateful that you asked.

If you would like help insuring that your Unified Communication client does what it should, I am happy to help. Please call me and I will be happy to provide assistance: 602-492-1088.

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