You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2012.

In all the years I have spent building contact centers and tracking this market, from both business and technology perspectives many things have not changed. Center managers are still under pressure to drive down costs, customers generally are not satisfied with the way their interactions are handled (perhaps less so), and organizations still aren’t making the most of customer interactions. However, as noted in my predictions for 2012, I am expecting more rapid change in the next couple of years than ever before with the advent of a collection of technologies that are already impacting business interactions with customer or by their actions.

What’s driving this change is the Internet. It is the power behind communication habits moving from conversational to electronic and incorporating mobility, which allows people to do things now even if they are on the move. The Internet also has fuelled the rise of social media and empowered people to publicly air their views, has enabled collaboration on a grand scale both inside and outside organizations, and has led to widespread acceptance and adoption of cloud-based systems. In addition the growth and volumes of customer information in what is now called big data and utilizing it through business analytics can empower better customer management. Taken together these changes are having a major impact on the contact center, and my research agenda for 2012 will reflect them.

Regarding the cloud, my benchmark research in 2011 shows that companies increasingly adopting cloud-based systems. First was CRM in the cloud, followed by communications in the cloud and then other business applications. Expecting this trend to continue, I will be tracking how companies use cloud-based systems to optimize customer-facing activities, including:

  • Enabling customer moments of truths across all channels
  • Using cloud-based systems to support virtualization of handling interactions
  • Adopting real-time operational intelligence to improve performance.

Amid the changes, an old phrase once popular has resurfaced, as many people are now pronouncing that the “customer is king.” But I question whether the outcomes of calls leave customers with this impression. In any case, this emphasis I believe is why customer relationship management is maturing into customer experience management, and I will be tracking organizations efforts to optimize the customer experience across all channels, including:

  • Improving processes and deploying systems to manage customer-facing activities
  • Embracing collaboration, mobility and social media to optimize the customer experience
  • Expanding the use of analytics and big data across structured and unstructured data, and events 
  • Using customer feedback and the voice of the customer to optimize the customer journey.

Some pundits are predicting that electronic communications and social media will kill off the contact center. One of my other 2011 benchmark research studies shows this is premature because although the rate of increase has dropped compared to other channels, the volume of inbound calls is still expected to rise in 2012. This means people will still be answering customer calls and their performance will continue to impact the overall customer experience. Therefore I will be tracking organizations’ efforts to improve the effectiveness of their entire workforce involved with customer-facing activities, including:

  • Improving the consistency of  information and responses at all touch points
  • Adopting cloud-based  and mobile systems to optimize customer-facing activities 
  • Using customer feedback and analytics to improve coaching and training
  • Improving agent effectiveness through quality monitoring and analytics.

This research agenda will lead us to produce some new benchmark research during the year. I just finished a benchmark on customer relationship maturity in 2012, so look for my report and presentation during the first quarter. That will be followed by research into use of customer feedback management, emerging technologies to improve the desktop for people involved in customer-facing activities, and a maturity assessment of how well organizations are doing at handling all forms of customer interactions. In addition the importance of more detail oriented analysis of vendors and products will be met with new Value Index research that I will be leading covering vendors and products in areas including: agent performance management, customer analytics, contact center in the cloud and customer feedback management. 

It is going to be a busy year trying to keep up with expected business changes, shifting customer behaviors and product improvements so follow our efforts to help you come out on top in the competition to gain, retain and profit from customers. To learn more, please come and collaborate with me further.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

A few months ago, evaluated Zeacom CommunicationsCenter (ZCC), which provides a multichannel contact center that is integrated closely with business process automation. This allows organizations to build a contact center tied to their interaction-handling processes and deliver any form of interaction to the person most qualified to handle it. At the time of my review, the product ran alongside products from the likes of Avaya, Cisco and NEC, and was resold and supported by the partner networks of these suppliers. There was also a beta test under way that supported integration with Microsoft Lync, which provides an alternative to using PBX products from these vendors.

Microsoft is not especially well-known in the contact center market, except perhaps with its CRM product,MicrosoftDynamics. Microsoft Lync is what most people term a unified communications platform. It provides integration of voice, instant messaging, audio and Web conferencing capabilities, all accessible through a single user interface. It also includes “presence,” which allows users to see who is available on the network so that they can collaborate on the resolution of interactions, and provides tight integration with Outlook so users can share email and calendars. This integration is key for organizations that choose to run ZCC for Lync, because its user interface resembles Office’s, and Office users therefore have a familiar experience.

Organizations that use ZCC for Lync can choose between two implementation modes: They can run in a hybrid environment alongside their existing PBX, or, because Lync effectively replace the PBX, they can run it stand-alone. The latter lets organizations obsolete existing equipment that has reached the end of its useful life or build a new center entirely based on software. This can be attractive to organizations with no more than 400 seats, but as with any new software, prospective purchasers should make sure that the system can deliver against their SLA requirements.

Recently Zeacom announced that the beta trial completed successfully, so the Lync product is generally available. Zeacom sells through indirect channels such as the Avaya, Cisco and NEC partners. The same is true for the Lync option; Zeacom is one of six partners that Microsoft works with in this space. As adoption of Lync grows, this partnership is likely to prove beneficial to Zeacom and give it more market presence.

As I said in my previous blogentry on ZCC, building a contact center used to be a complex task involving the integration of proprietary pieces of technology, followed by configuration to support specific interaction-handling processes. Products such as ZCC make this task a lot easier. ZCC should be one of the options organizations consider as they begin to build a new center or upgrade their existing ones.

Have you upgraded your center to support multiple channels of communications? If so, tell us how it went, and collaborate with me on this topic.

Regards,

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

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