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The contact center market continues to shift focus from handling customer calls as efficiently as possible to providing superior customer engagement across multiple touch points. The latest advancement is an joint announcement from IBM and Genesys who have signed a partnership agreement to provide “smarter customer engagement”. The agreement includes a technology partnership and a joint marketing plan, and brings together IBM’s Watson Engagement Advisor and Genesys’ Customer Experience Platform.

IBM Watson first became known by beating expert human contestants on the TV show Jeopardy! Since then it has impacted the medical industry by advising doctors on medical care, and more recently IBM created a smart mobile app that is able to advise and resolve customer issues. IBM Watson is an cognitive computing platform that uses machine learning to provide responses to questions through its natural language question based search interface that can process large volumes of information including a knowledge base of history and trained responses to find the most relevant and probabilistic response. Its machine learning can refine its responses from previous interactions, thus making the outcomes increasingly relevant. In the mobile app it can capture text entered into the app, search data from in-house and publicly available information sources and return information most closely related to the request. For example Watson can capture a customer’s request for an insurance quote, search all available insurance information based on the person’s extended customer profile and return information on the most appropriate policy for that customer and circumstances and refine it based on the individual unique requirements. The IBM Watson technology received the Ventana Research Technology Innovation Award for its ability to change how companies operate in taking actions and making decisions.

vr_NGCE_Research_08_all_channels_for_customer_engagementGenesys was an early developer of customer/telephony integration (CTI) and call routing. Over time management has combined acquisitions and internal development efforts to create a contact center in the cloud product set that is available in the cloud. Its original product set has thus been extended to include management of multiple channels of communication, single-queue routing regardless of type of interaction, workforce optimization, an agent desktop and analytics. Nearly half of companies in my benchmark research into the contact center in the cloud are considering such systems to improve customer engagement.

Several research studies including next generation customer engagement show that companies are deploying more channels of interaction to meet customer expectations; on average companies now support more than seven channels with seventeen possible. These are a combination of what are commonly called assisted channels, in which a person responds to the customer, and self-service where the customer interacts solely with technology, such as an interactive voice response (IVR) system. The research shows that both approaches create issues. Assisted service depends on the skills of the people who handle interactions and their abilities to access the right systems and information. The agent’s desktop is a major determinant of whether this is hard or easy. Self-service depends on how well companies have set up the technology and how closely it fits customer expectations. In this respect my research shows that companies have not done a very good job; for example, nearly two-thirds of IVR interactions and Web-based self-service attempts end up with the customer taking the option to speak with an agent.

In simple terms these systems are not smart enough. The IBM/Genesys partnership is intended to address this. Genesys has built interfaces from its agent desktop and self-service channels to pass data to IBM Watson, which applies its cognitive computing capabilities and returns with specific information to the questions asked. The results can be passed to the agent through the desktop to suggest the best action or delivered to the customer through the self-service channel. In either cases the customer gets relevant information, which contributes to a better experience, and the company may get a better business outcome. If you want to understand more about cognitive computing, our educational overview will help and my colleagues recent analysis of IBM billion dollar investment into IBM Watson.

vr_NGCE_Research_01_impetus_for_improving_engagementMy research has led me to insist that the customer experience is now the primary business differentiator and is the top driver for improving customer engagement in three quarters (74%) of organizations according to our customer engagement research. It has almost become impossible to compete solely on product, service or price; how customers feel during and after interactions is what counts and what determines the actions they take. This new partnership has the potential to deliver better responses to customer inquiries and requests and should thus improve the experience. It also provides a competitive advantage for Genesys to differentiate its offering to others in providing truly a smarter agent desktop and customer self-service. The alliance of these two major vendors will be worth watching for companies striving to improve internal business processes and better meet customer expectation for relevant and timely responses to their questions.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director – Customer Engagement

Ventana Research has just released its 2013 Value Index for Agent Desktop Management, in which we evaluate the competency and maturity of vendors and products that support the management of the AD_VentanaResearchValueIndex_2013desktop systems that agents use to handle customer interactions. Our firm has researched this software category for many years, and our benchmark research into customer service and the agent desktop shows the impact the agent desktop has on agent satisfaction and efficiency and the business outcome of such interactions. Because of its increasing importance, we have taken agent desktop management out of our Customer Experience Value Index and created a separate category for it.

I am excited to provide research and education on this critical software. It is essential in every contact center and industry, but its importance is often not recognized by businesses or other analyst firms. Our research on organizations using this software not only uncovered best practices and trends but also highlighted what businesses can do to improve competencies across their workforce and processes. The new Value Index for Agent Desktop Management assesses vendors and their products and whether they meet companies’ needs, based on what participants in our agent desktop benchmark research told us was important to them.

The Ventana Research methodology utilizes a request for proposal and assessment based approach looking more closely at the software than just a vendor’s vision or ability to sell software. Each Value Index takes six months to complete; unlike other analyst firms, we look at the product details that have the most importance in terms of successful use and benefits. We evaluate agent desktop vendors on seven categories that are essential for achieving expected benefits: usability, reliability, manageability, adaptability and capability of the products, as well as the customer assurance areas of validation and TCO and ROI. We assign weight to each category according to its priority to buyers, and total the results to 100 percent for scoring purposes. In the process, we identify best and worst practices to further refine how we assess technology vendors in each category. For instance, this year we placed a heavier emphasis on usability, a factor that organizations in our 2013 benchmark research indicated is becoming more important to the value of software used. You can read the details on our methodology and process in the 2013 Agent Desktop Management Value Index market report.

Our Value Index analysis for agent desktop management looks at a range of needs across industries and across companies and contact centers of all sizes. The Value Index examines requirements by job role, including management, contact center managers, supervisors and agents, and IT groups that support contact center systems. We also examine whether a system provides in-depth capabilities and features such as easy-to-use interfaces to optimize desktop use; workflow alerts and triggers to align operations; access to multiple channels of communication; the ability to find customer information easily so agents can provide personalized responses and complete after-call tasks; agent access to training information and dashboards; optimization of back-office processes; data capture and analysis; integration with communication systems and other business applications; analysis of interaction handling performance; and administrative capabilities to help create agent-specific desktops and manage use of the software.

Our analysis this year rates eight vendors Hot, which, as the highest value level, demonstrates product maturity. Upstream Works ranks at the top, followed by Cicero, OpenSpan, Jacada, salesforce.com, Cincom, AD_Weighted_OverallAltitude Software and KANA. Upstream Works retains the top position it achieved last year, while Altitude Software significantly improves its position and KANA enters as a Hot vendor. NICE Systems enters as a Warm vendor with a product that focuses more on optimizing agent performance and less on supporting multiple communication channels and integration with other systems. Genesys remains a Warm vendor, as its product focuses on telephony and  lacks sophisticated integration capabilities. SmartPoint and RiverStar dropped out of the analysis, declining to participate.

In line with the increasing importance of the agent desktop and its impact on the agent and overall customer experiences, the agent desktop management market has become highly competitive. Much has changed since companies such as Jacada and Genesys released their early systems, which focused on telephony and, in the case of Jacada, hid all systems from the user behind a replacement user interface. Today’s most advanced systems allow companies to choose the style of interface they want, support more channels of communication, guide users on the next best action, offer point-and-click capabilities to support ease of integration with other systems, and support more advanced analysis and presentation of performance information. All of the Hot vendors have released updated versions of their products in an effort to keep up with these requirements. As we note in the report, Upstream Works has released a new product, based on Cisco’s new offering, that changes the user interface and mode of operation, and Enghouse Interactive has entered the market with a system that focuses on optimizing access to multiple communication channels. The agent desktop management category thus is maturing rapidly, with new vendors entering the market and new capabilities to support emerging requirements, such as social customer service and mobility. This Value Index offers a guide to which vendors are in the market and their products’ maturity levels, providing a good starting point as companies evaluate how to improve customer interaction performance.

We take pride in our Value Index, and we believe it’s cool to be a Hot vendor. Unlike other analyst firms, we recognize the impact the agent desktop has on agent satisfaction and thus the customer experience. If you look at our research or talk to contact center managers, you will see that the agent desktop is becoming more complex as agents need to access more channels of communication and applications. Today’s desktop systems can therefore play a part in not only making processes easier and more efficient, but also ensuring that more agents follow best practices and achieve the best outcomes. To different degrees, our Hot vendors demonstrate capabilities that support these objectives, and each should be recognized for its efforts.

Congratulations to the vendors that stood up to our detailed assessment processes and granular analysis, which represent how organizations assess and select vendors. We’re proud of our objective and in-depth analysis, which we publish without review or editing by the technology vendors, unlike other analyst firms. While some vendors may object to the results, our independence provides the basis for the most trusted research in the industry. If you want further information, please download the executive summary and let us know if you need help selecting the right vendor for your agent desktop needs. We look forward to continuing to offer guidance to buyers in this critical application category, and to helping business and IT professionals who need to run the most efficient, results-oriented and profitable organizations.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

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