UC Making its Way into the Contact Center

What’s hot in contact centers? Unified Communications, or UC, judging by a report from Aberdeen Research.

Of 190 companies surveyed, 23% have implemented some form of UC in their contact center and 50% will be evaluating new UC options over the next 18 months.

“Organizations have clearly indicated that they expect unified communications to play an important role in increasing revenue from the contact center by providing them with the access they need to not only resolve customer issues and drive down costs, but also to fulfill their unmet needs to drive revenue,” authors Stephen Lawrence and David Boulanger wrote in the report, which was underwritten in part by contact center software/systems makers Avaya and Aspect.

Of the firms polled, 45% expected that UC would enhance their customer interactions; 35% sought an increase in revenue; and 30% hoped it would make their customer service a competitive differentiator.

While there is no official definition of UC, it involves taking technologies like instant messaging, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and e-mail and “unifying” them across a single communications platform. Although this can be achieved using software only, most UC systems tend to rely heavily on hardware and require an additional server which ties together all of the applications and delivers them to users via a single interface.

The goal of UC is to give each user in an organization freedom to communicate via their preferred mode of contact – whether it is phone, e-mail or chat – in “on demand” fashion. The main distinction is that each type of communication can be launched from the same common interface – and the interface can be delivered to any endpoint, including wireless endpoints.

That means users can contact others via their preferred mode of contact whether they’re on a BlackBerry, laptop or office PC, without purposely having to switch applications.

For the most part, UC systems are permissions-based, meaning each user only has access to the applications they need, based on their position/responsibilities in the organization. In this sense, they have some similarities to access control systems, in that they only give users access to the resources they need to do their jobs.

There are numerous advantages of bringing UC to the contact center, such as the ability for agents to quickly locate knowledge workers within the organization, based on their presence, and quickly hand-off customer inquiries to them in near-seamless fashion. Organizations that give their customers the freedom to choose their preferred mode of contact and which use “universal agents” for handling those contacts now view UC as essential in order to remain competitive.

The Aberdeen study stresses that UC is best suited to organizations that have decent reporting policies and procedures in place. Smaller companies that don’t have clear lines of reporting or that lack policies on communications aren’t good candidates for the technology because they won’t be able to use it successfully.

The report recommends that these companies first invest in workflow or business process management software, so that they can better position themselves to take advantage of what UC has to offer. Obviously, companies need to have a strategy in place as to how they’re going to use UC before they invest in it. They need to identify which areas/functions are best suited to UC and then do a thorough cost analysis to guarantee return on investment.

“Obstacles must be overcome in order to effectively and efficiently implement UC,” the report states. “Aberdeen data reveals that 46% of companies that have implemented a UC architecture in the contact center suffered improper and misaligned policies and procedures.”

The report continues: “Unified communications goes well beyond a unified desktop or unified messaging. For example, unified communications works in the background to integrate IM, e-mail, web conferencing, voice mail, desktop applications, VoIP, and presence among other technologies.

“It also unifies data (customer, product, and employee) in real-time or near real-time across different technologies, as well as locations—regardless of whether they are physical sites or virtual ones with distributed agents around the globe.”

For this reason the report recommends that companies contemplating UC for their contact center establish a governance board to help establish policies and procedures for its use.

“The governance board must make sure that the right people have the right access at the right time to the right information and expert resources,” the report states. “It has the best business perspective on how the unified communications architecture should be designed for the contact center due to its understanding of past governance decisions as well as future ones.”

The report outlines specific required actions which “laggard,” “industry average,” and “best-in-class” companies need to take in order to benefit from an investment in UC technology.

“Companies should not rush in to attain the benefits of UC at the expense of clearly defining and aligning policies and procedures related to UC implementation,” it states. “The added costs in terms of time and money to fix this problem can result in lower customer satisfaction and retention, and frustration among agents because they won’t have access to the right data or people at the right time; the opposite effects expected from implementing a UC architecture.”

“Before implementation of a unified communications architecture in the contact center begins, companies must conduct self-evaluations to determine the reason for implementing UC,” the report concludes. “They must determine not
only the benefits they seek, but also the challenges they expect.”

To get a copy of the report, click here.

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