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Two years ago I wrote about communications in the cloud taking over the annual U.K. contact center event Call Centre Expo. Now that dominance is almost complete. At one point at this year’s event I was standing at the center of the show floor and without taking a step I spotted 11 vendors all offering some form of communications in the cloud. This term includes all the systems that manage the various communication vr_inin_types_of_interactions_in_contact_centerchannels companies now support for managing customer interactions: telephone, email, fax, postal mail, corporate websites, chat, mobile text messaging, video and social media. Not long ago these channels would have been bundled into the contact center infrastructure and typically managed by disparate, on-premises, often proprietary systems. Now, as these systems reach the ends of their lives, companies are looking for more cost-effective and integrated ways to support multiple communication channels and increasingly are moving to cloud-based systems, which my last benchmark research on the contact center in the cloud identified as the third-most common response to the challenges of interaction-handling.

As part of that research, I looked at the extent of adoption of cloud-based vr_inin_actions_to_improve_customer_interactioncommunications, applications and analytics supporting contact centers and their likely adoption rates for the next two years. At the time CRM was most widely deployed and had the highest likely adoption rate as well. Communications in the cloud was still relatively new, but it also had a high predicted rate of adoption. Consumers now demand more choices of channels through which they can interact with companies, and if my findings at the Call Centre Expo are anything to go by, vendors are responding. That is not to say that all the exhibitors offer exactly the same capabilities. Each has its own set of features, and many include other core contact center applications such as workforce optimization, an agent desktop and analytics as part of their portfolio. Those that have such capabilities include Altitude Software, Aspect, C3, Ctalk, Enghouse Interactive, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, Kana, LiveOps, Mitel, Mplsystems, NewVoiceMediaNoble Systems, Ultra Communications, Vocalcom and VoltDelta. It’s amazing how many vendors were exhibiting products within sight of each other.

I cannot review all of these products in this space, but if you are looking to support multiple channels of communication, these options are worth considering. With so many options available, it is not as easy as many vendors would have you believe to select the one that best fits your requirements. As in any software category, most of the products have many of the same capabilities, so the trick is to find the one that matches your special needs.  And it is not just about choosing features and functions. Ventana Research has developed a process we call the Value Index that compares vendors across seven categories. I recommend you take a similar approach using these criteria:

  • Capability – How many channels does the system support? What other contact center applications does it support? Does the system fully support single-queue interaction routing?  How are the channels and any other applications surfaced on the agent’s desktop?
  • Usability – How easy is the product to use for different types of users?
  • Manageability – How easy is the service to set up from both IT’s and business users’ perspectives? What security capabilities does it support for users, applications and data?
  • Reliability – What performance guarantees does the vendor provide for user, data and server performance? How scalable is the product from the perspectives of user, server and data?
  • Adaptability – How easy is the product to configure for different users? Does the vendor support customization to individual company requirements? How does the system support your existing processes? Is it easy to integrate into your business and technical architecture?
  • TCO and ROI – What services and cases does the vendor provide to show total cost of ownership, return on investment and likely business benefits?
  • Validation – Does the vendor have success stories and a roadmap for future development? What services does it provide before and after the sale, including trials and training?

Our research shows the above criteria typically are important to all companies, with each category weighted in the order listed. In following this process of evaluation, you are likely to find the product and vendor best suited to your requirements.

At Call Centre Expo it was easy to be overwhelmed by the number of vendors in one space, but I did take away one other important observation: Unlike in previous years none of the big workforce optimization (WFO) vendors was present at the show, and although some of the companies I noted above include WFO as part of their product portfolios, there was far less focus on WFO than on multichannel communications. This is not a good trend, as my research into next-generation workforce optimization shows. many companies are still struggling with managing the workforce that handles their customer interactions, so it would have been nice to see more vendors that provide such systems.

My research shows that the number of communication channels a company has to support is still growing, and high customer expectations require them to manage all of these channels in an integrated manner. Otherwise customers will hop across channels until they get the answers they are looking for, and that’s not good for the customer experience nor for holding down operational costs. Taking everything into account, I believe the only way to achieve this objective is to use communications in the cloud. In the near future I will produce a Value Index to help you identify the top vendors in what has become a highly competitive market. Meanwhile, there are many solutions out there, so I wish you well in your efforts to find the one that best fits your needs.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Our benchmark research into the contact center in the cloud shows that almost all companies now support multiple communication channels to engage with customers. Most of them also involve multiple business units in handling inbound and outbound interactions. More companies now support at-home agents, and contact centers are becoming more distributed. These scenarios are a good fit for cloud-based systems, and the research finds that the top three ways organizations said they can meet these challenges, and thus improve the way interactions are handled, are to improve training and coaching, adopt applications in the cloud and adopt communications in the cloud. It also shows that organizations have high expectations of cloud-based systems, expecting them to require less capital expenditure, facilitate innovation in interaction handling, lessen demand on in-house resources, including IT and better support home-based agents.

The research shows as well that organizations have reservations about adopting cloud-based systems, among them likely responses times, overall performance, security of access and scalability. Because cloud-based contact centers are relatively new, there aren’t many examples of success to help allay these fears.

In this context I was pleased to see an announcement from Echopass that one of its customers has reaped  multiple benefits by adopting a contact center in the cloud. Echopass was one of the first vendors to offer such a service, and it now offers services based on its Symmetry Architecture. As I recently wrote, Echopass has an interesting mix of third-party systems and in-house developments that it has combined to provide multimedia interaction handling in the cloud, and some elements of workforce optimization.

A number of business benefits cited by the customer in this case study concur with the primary benefits the research shows that companies expect by moving to the cloud, and the Echopass customer asserts that after using the services for five years it continues to realize these benefits. Closer examination of the case study indicates the company has achieved considerable cost savings and has seen its net promoter score rise dramatically. A part from pure savings in total cost of ownership in infrastructure and support costs, the company notes these:

  • Average speed of answering calls has decreased, saving money and improving customer satisfaction.
  • Average call-handling times have decreased. (Our research into contact center analytics shows this is the top priority for most contact center managers.)
  • Targeted service levels have been exceeded.
  • Agent productivity has improved, resulting in reduced head count.
  • Call abandonment rates have lessened, improving customer satisfaction.
  • Net promoter scores have improved because calls are being answered more quickly.
  • The new quality monitoring systems and dashboard enable the company to focus agent training better.

One of the less tangible benefits is shown in this quote: “The Echopass solution allows us to focus a lot more on our customers and not worry about the technology or have it get in the way.” Customers are what business is all about, and too often processes and systems get in the way of a true customer focus. This success story shows that a cloud-based system can take away many of the operational issues companies struggle with on a day-to-day basis and allow them to innovative with the customer as the focus. With that comes business success.

Our research shows that over the next few years more organizations will adopt cloud-based systems to meet pressing business and budget issues. They remain firmly on our research agenda. Keep following my blog and I will keep you abreast of new developments and similar success stories as they emerge.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

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