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Is Avaya in Mitel's Cross Hairs?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that "Avaya Weighing Bankruptcy Filing, Sale of Call-Center Software Unit" and speculated they would file for Chapter 11 protection as soon as next month. For those of us in the industry, Avaya's ills are well known and that it would only be a matter of time of when Avaya would file.

Who would be interested in acquiring contact center-less remnants of Avaya?

Here is what I think the profile of what a successful acquirer would look like:

  1. They would have to be in the telecommunications business now, have a global footprint, used to managing a reseller network and already have their own contact center offering.
  2. They would have to have a management team trusted by Wall Street and Private Equity to advance the large sum required.
  3. They would have to be audacious; this will be a big, bold move.

Mitel hits all of these marks. Obviously, they are already in the business and in some countries, Mitel is the largest telecommunications provider. Mitel has a well-established dealer channel, experience in managing national accounts, and has a proven track record of effective working relationships with a variety of customers and channel partners. With their own Contact Center product offering, Mitel would not be adversely affected by the contact center portion of Avaya going to a third party, especially since there is the possibility of a synergistic relationship with that third party.

Mitel has made a number of successful acquisitions and the deal to acquire Polycom only fell through because a higher bidder emerged. The Street trusts Mitel CEO Rich McBee, and was already prepared to help finance the $2B acquisition of Polycom, not too far off from the guesstimate of what Avaya is worth. Also attractive are the numerous synergies as redundancies are optimized. Mitel sees themselves as industry consolidators. A Mitel-Avaya combination would be a powerful alternative to Microsoft and Cisco, and be welcome development in the telecommunications industry.

When it comes to audacious in telecommunications, few can top Mitel co-founder and major shareholder, Sir Terrence (Terry) Matthews. He once greeted a conference audience with, "Let me tell you how I made my first billion dollars." Terry has made billions, lost billions, and founded dozens of companies. A combined Mitel-Avaya would be a great way to cap his already outrageously successful career.

Noted industry expert Zeus Kerravala recently interviewed Rich McBee in No Jitter about Mitel's future acquisition plans. Zeus concluded with "McBee, what's your next move? You have an industry waiting to see."

My bet is on Avaya.

 

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What's the real value behind UC? - A Mitel Guide

What’s the real value behind UC?

Whatever communications and collaboration systems you already have in place; if you can put them in perfect harmony, you stand to reap tangible bottom line benefits as well as a far richer and more intuitive user experience. That’s the promise of Unified Communications (UC), to combine and enhance communications capabilities via a single platform.

Unified Communications is the most up-to-date industry term we’ve got for what business has always needed. But if you asked 10 IT Directors for their definition of UC, you’d probably get 10 different answers. So for the purposes of this paper we’ll simplify it: An easy way to work together via voice, video, online collaboration and mobile devices.

This paper explores the most popular reasons for committing to a UC future, and how different
organisations have gained real value out of UC strategies.

Five challenges for UC to overcome

Market analysts all point to significant current and projected growth in the UC market as enterprises of all sizes embrace the rewards of this technology. Common business objectives for UC include achieving noticeable improvements in customer service delivery, greater competitive differentiation, lower running costs and less drain on scarce management resources. However, analysis of a large body of real organizations points to the following core drivers for success.

Productivity - Enabling better ways for people to get more done together

Continuity - Ensuring the business is always available to do business

Mobility - Supporting a connected workforce demanding 24/7 access from anywhere, using any kind of mobile device

Integration - Leveraging, rather than stranding, existing and potential IT investments

Future Proofing - Being ready for uncertain future challenges.

According to a recent survey among 355 IT decision makers by telecom analysts MZA, 85% of organizations* that have rolled out UC have seen tangible benefits. The remainder of this guide will use real organizations to illustrate each of these top five concerns, and explore the evidence for real value achieved through UC adoption.

Productivity

Does UC improve collaborative working practices and get more work done?

Saving on travel expenses aside, the real productivity value from UC comes through greater collaboration reducing the time it takes to reach a decision, solve a problem or complete an action.

At luxury travel adventure company Abercrombie & Kent, implementing a uniform UC platform for its 48 offices around the world proved a far more positive alternative to its previous variety of locally sourced telephony solutions. The result boosted productivity as well as heralding a significant leap forward in this market leader’s ability to deliver superior personal service to customers, as IT Director Philip Napleton explains. “Our staff are constantly sharing information about destinations and experiences, and the Mitel system allows them to do that far more easily and cost effectively. Thanks to the IP applications that layer seamlessly on our platform, we now ensure customers are recognized and able to speak to a well informed
representative every time they call.”

Even the automated set up and initiation of audio and web conference saves time, which ultimately saves money. Revolution Tea has only 50 employees but believes it saved around 16,500€ a year bringing collaboration, audio and web conferencing in-house. It also believes it closes multiple additional sales each quarter thanks to the UC capabilities, resulting in 2-5% extra revenue without adding more staff. “At the end of the month, you can’t wait 24 hours to get approvals to get the sale completed,” says IT Manager Paul Whiting. “Using Mitel’s suite of UC and collaboration solutions, we can close about 10-15 sales a day at the end of the month, and can get the money into the bank account faster.”

Using Mitel’s suite of UC and collaboration solutions, we can close about 10-15 sales a day at the end of the month, and can get the money into the bank account faster.

Continuity

Does UC benefit the need for continuity of business operations and processes, ensuring maximum communications uptime and availability?

Using UC capabilities such as presence, IM, conferencing, collaboration, single number reach
etc., businesses eliminate the delays and latencies that negatively impact results. In addition, the use of virtualization in the deployment of UC assures business continuity in the event of a network failure or other unforeseen outage.

Spalding University, which accommodates over 2,400 students and 175 faculty members, deployed its virtualization Mitel solution in a separate data center to provide a secure, plug and play method of connecting remote users. When Spalding suddenly experienced power outages and lightening strikes, the virtualization system switching to another platform seamlessly without any disruption. In addition, workers were immediately able to work from home if desired.

Mark Barnes & Associates is a typical small to medium sized legal firm that manages to function as a single tight-knit team, available 24/7 rather than just nine-to-five, despite being in different cities, countries – even continents.

“With Mitel, not only can I direct dial Terri in Germany just as if she were in Washington, I can instantly connect and collaborate with her or any other colleague as if they were just two doors down the hall. The advantage is that people can more naturally conduct their workflow.”

With Mitel, not only can I direct dial Terri in Germany just as if she were in Washington, I can instantly connect and collaborate with her or any other colleague as if they were just two doors down the hall.

Mobility

How does UC support a mobile-empowered workforce demanding 24/7 access from anywhere?

Embracing UC makes users more effective when they’re away from the office, while reducing costs. Using presence tools, users can avoid wasted calls and shift many communications sessions to IM, replacing many short phone calls. Single number reach lets customers and colleagues reach a user wherever they are and on whichever device is nearest to hand. Additionally, supporting each user’s own device (BYOD), configured with UC software, means the organization can save thousands on purchasing its own devices.

Online accommodation wholesaler Hotelbeds operates from 132 offices around the world, with 1,700 of its users capitalizing on UC to improve operational efficiency and easier management. One of the benefits arising from Hotelbeds’ introduction of Mitel technology has been a mobility solution that allows both managers and staff alike the same communication services as those available at corporate headquarters. This guarantees productivity, even when employees are away on business or traveling away from the office.

Publishing company Llewellyn Worldwide wanted more flexibility and mobility, particularly for its sales and marketing personnel as well as on-call IT staff. These and other employees are now able to make and receive calls securely from any workstation - on-site or off. “If I’m away from my desk, I can have my calls forwarded to my cell phone,” explains MIS Manager Daryl Connell. “If I’m on a call and have to leave to attend a meeting, I can seamlessly transfer from my desk phone to my cell. And if I’m in the server room or leaving my car, I can transfer just as easily to my desk phone. The person I’m talking with doesn’t know and isn’t affected in any way.” If I’m on a call and have to leave to attend a meeting, I can seamlessly transfer from my desk phone to my cell... The person I’m talking with doesn’t know and isn’t affected in any way.

Integration

A major driver for UC adoption is integration, but is this genuinely achievable?

Recent research by telecom analysts MZA found a large discrepancy between what potential adopters fear about UC (89% anticipate problems with rollout) and what adopters actually experience in relation to migration and integration (only 5% experienced any IT-related
challenges).

Hotelbeds IT Infrastructure Manager Adi Merzbach clearly believes that the ends justified the means:

“The integration of the telephony system with Outlook and other Microsoft applications makes it easier to make calls to colleagues, customers and suppliers directly from the employee’s computer. It’s the sole access point for all communications and represents an improvement in our productivity.”

Six Payment Services is a global provider of bankcard payment processing services that has moved to a single, integrated communications system based on a virtualization communications infrastructure. According to IT Director, Benoît Collet, not all UC-enabling solutions are made alike:

“What Mitel provides us - and what others couldn’t - was significant value add in terms of additional applications that we could run across our virtualization voice infrastructure to give us more manageability, flexibility and more sophisticated and adaptable report generation potential.”

What Mitel provides us - and what others couldn’t - was significant value add in terms of additional applications that we could run across our virtualization voice infrastructure to give us more manageability, flexibility and more sophisticated and adaptable report generation potential.

Today, the Mitel solution can grow along with the evolution of the services offered by Veritas, allowing receipt and management of new operational procedures as soon as they are needed.

Future Proofing

How well future-proofed are UC adopters?

Vital to the calculation of any UC business case are the improvements that will keep on delivering returns on investment year in, year out. Reviewing the experiences of UC adopters, it’s clear that wherever their initial objectives led the investment decision, the results invariably provided a stable platform for future development as well as immediate benefits. By comparison, many see continuing with legacy approaches to their communications as an inhibitor to future success, if not a direct threat. A good example of this is at Niko Group, where the primary motivators for change were reduced cost and improved customer service. By turning away from the narrow constraints offered by their legacy technology, Niko discovered they could reap the benefits of advancing technology, as ICT Director Robrecht Paridaens explains:

“It’s a solution that we can manage ourselves without any problems. Thanks to the scalability of Mitel’s IP telephony system, Niko Group will be able to effortlessly add new IP phones to the system in the coming years.”

It’s a similar story at Veritas – the environmental and water services authority for the Veneto region of Italy – which has to handle frequent movement of staff and entire organizational structures to cope with demand, yet manages to adapt its communications capabilities seamlessly. “Our solution has resulted in a drastic decrease in activity of IMAC (install-move-add-change),” said Christian Chiusso, Telecommunications Manager.

“Today, the Mitel solution can grow along with the evolution of the services offered by Veritas, allowing receipt and management of new operational procedures as soon as they are needed.”

Future proofing is not simply about planning for long-term strategy. The mark of any future-proofed UC solution is its ability to contend with unforeseen integration

© Copyright 2015, Mitel Networks Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Mitel word and logo are trademarks of Mitel Networks Corporation. Any reference to third party trademarks are for reference only and Mitel makes no representation of ownership of these marks. 38419-38420-565907-R1505-EN

About Mitel
Powering more than 2 billion connections every day, Mitel (NASDAQ: MITL; TSX: MNW) helps
businesses connect, collaborate and take care of their customers. That includes more than 33 million cloud connections daily, making Mitel the world’s fastest growing provider of cloud communications. Our business communications experts serve more than 60 million users with over 2500 channel partners in more than 100 countries. We have #1 market share in EMEA and have been identified by top industry analyst firms as a business communications leader. For more information, go to www.mitel.com and follow us on Twitter @Mitel
 

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Seamless Communications and Collaborations

Leverage business applications, embedded real-time communications and collaboration to create the connected mobile enterprise

A Mitel Whitepaper

Employees leverage information and analysis that bring relevance to communications with the goal of removing waste, working more efficiently, and bringing the full weight of their company to every customer engagement.

The connected mobile enterprise can bring a high degree of contextual information to communications and decision-making. Organizations search for a full understanding of their customers:

  • Customer’s name
  • Customer’s company
  • Customer’s contact information
  • When the company last served the customer
  • What products the customer previously purchased
  • What the customer’s current problem is
  • What the company’s potential solutions are
  • What previous contact the company has had with the customer
  • Who last talked to the customer
  • How to contact the customer, and with which channels

Real-time business deserves real-time connections While all this information is captured within CRM and various other applications, the company’s employees have the ability to reach their customers with that knowledge and context in the palms of their hands. They communicate in real-time through a single framework, drawing upon business application content that encompasses mobile, office and business communications media. They leverage a simple-to-use framework available to every employee—from the service worker in the field to the administration staff in the office.

Seamless communications and collaboration for the connected mobile enterprise

In a world of seamless communications and collaboration, the connected mobile enterprise has the full context of its business processes with fluid and natural communications that permeate the entire workplace.

The connected mobile enterprise brings a powerful business proposition to the market. An enterprise with this capability can save time per customer-facing employee, create enhanced satisfaction by delighting customers and generate productivity through incremental work or additional demand from the market.

An employee of the connected mobile enterprise does not spend the majority of his
time preparing to talk to clients. He is immersed in customer context and spends most of his
time engaging customers and generating business. The connected mobile enterprise
employee is delighted with the ability to be primarily mobile, while able to use whichever
business communications device (mobile, tablet, desk phone, conference phone) is best
for a given situation. He has access to customer contextual information and an easy-to-use
real-time communications interface. The employee also has the ability to leverage the
full power of every business application and the ability to communicate natively and seamlessly from within those applications.

For the field service worker, this delight is doubly strong. Long gone are the days of having to jump from the field services mobile application to the mobile dialer, to a messaging application, to the mobile video player, and then back to the mobile app to record the details of his business activity. He would simply “tap to connect” and contact his colleagues and customers, record the interaction, and finish his business, right in the mobile app—all in real-time, simultaneously and naturally. He then simply gets on with working
more efficiently, being more productive and generating more business.

Real-time business deserves real-time connections

While all this information is captured within CRM and various other applications, the company’s employees have the ability to reach their customers with that knowledge and context in the palms of their hands. They communicate in real-time through a single framework, drawing upon business application content that encompasses mobile, office and business communications media. They leverage a simple-to-use framework available to every employee—from the service worker in the field to the administration staff in the office.

There has been tremendous advancement in the communications ecosystems in recent
years. Mobile penetration is well over 90 percent in the U.S. and mobile is now the preferred
communications medium. But surprisingly, 85 percent of enterprises have not adopted a mobile enterprise strategy (Webtorials October, 2015).

Unified communications (UC) has delivered on some of the promise of unifying traditional voice communications with video, messaging and (to some extent) contact center. However, most of the UC solutions in the market primarily target the knowledge worker, leaving the service worker underserved.

In addition, with our appetite for detailed contextual information, business applications like
CRM and field service management has evolved and advanced into the mobile space. Over 50
mobile application companies are currently competing in the field service management space
and Gartner has assessed that only 25 percent of field service companies have adopted field
service management tools. This points to future advancement in tools and technology for the
service worker and the field service management market looks ripe for growth.

But with all this advancement in communications, the scope still has been siloed and the number of communications mediums in the enterprise is growing: business phone systems, business collaboration messaging systems, messaging inboxes, email and business application-based collaboration.  As a result, the business user continues to traverse, coordinate, correlate and translate between these independent tools. These difficulties prevent companies from getting the full benefit of the communications media needed to deliver on the vision of seamless communications and collaboration.

What stands in the way of communicating and collaborating seamlessly?

So let’s look at some of the elemental problems with enterprise communications today

Native voice, email and mobile messaging are rarely delivered with complete context. These broadly-used communications media have roots in the consumer market. But now, they’re also becoming mainstream in mobile business communications. Unfortunately, they’re delivered in every instance without context and with limited ability for context to be easily captured and stored within business applications.

Business applications and mobile business applications themselves create multiple channels of context. Business applications, like field service management applications and customer relationship management applications, have evolved tremendously to deliver an improved depth of understanding and context. While the value of each of these applications is undeniable and each stands on its own merit, they each represent another individual domain of information to navigate and manage. Occasionally, some applications have embedded communications within their mobile applications. While this is a step in delivering contextual communications, these advancements have been made primarily within each separate application, independent of other communication forms.

Workstream collaboration applications deliver partially on the vision. With the goal of solving the aggregation of business communications activity, a growing number of workstream collaboration application options have emerged in the market. While these applications succeed in aggregating communications into a channelized workflow, this aggregation comes at a cost. They do not replicate all the capabilities of other applications, and intentionally remove selected capabilities. Users of these workstream collaboration applications often resort to using the native applications outside the workstream channel, leaving the employee in a quandary as to where and what applications or channels to use for which types of communications.

As applications multiply, they amplify the problem. The number of new mobile business process applications is expanding and only going to grow with the increased specialization and entrepreneurial spirit within the mobile applications SaaS provider space. With real-time communications capabilities, more of these applications will support communications-enabled functionality. Each delivers yet another channel of communications to monitor and to manage. The average employee will have to monitor and track email, mobile messaging, social media channels, CRM, business apps, etc. The growth and fragmentation of business communication channels results in imprecise communications, less connected context and ultimately the loss of business productivity and customer focus.

Communications fragmentation in today’s enterprise customer engagement journey

There are numerous opportunities to improve upon the customer journey in the field services example. Consider the following example service flow:

At the end of the process, the customer is relieved that their issue resolved, is less than satisfied, but is happy that they will not be forced to pay for service until the next month. This is obviously not the best outcome for the service company. The current process has many opportunities for improvement. Numerous communications are received without context. Each step, the company has to start over to determine the customer situation to make the next step. While some context is captured across CRM, field service management and accounting systems, this context is isolated to the system of record and disconnected from the communications of the company representatives. As a result, the service duration is extended, customer service is marginal and the job steps are repeated, given the inefficiencies of this typical process.

  • A customer’s initial request into a service company is typically via phone or for the more technically astute company, via a web-based request form or web chat. Typically customer information has to be manually connected, manually input into CRM and manually copied to the field service management application, if one exists. The process is slow and relies on significant human input and manual entry that is prone to transposing errors and inconsistencies.
  • Dispatchers receive input of the new order. Through knowledge of their business and dispatch records, they assess where their field staff will be and assign the job. They call back the client and give them a four hour window when the field tech is available to be at the location.
  • The dispatcher puts the job on the field tech’s schedule for the next available time (often the next day) within the field service management system.
  • Within the course of the day of the job, the tech’s previous jobs run long and the field tech arrives at the customer in the last 30 minutes of the four-hour window. The customer is less than impressed and is in the middle of a meeting and surprised when the field tech arrives.
  • Once the field tech investigates the issue at hand, he is unsure as to the procedure to complete the work. He tries to call the office main number using his personal mobile to ask questions, but after waiting 20 mins without response, decides to give up and return to the office for reinforcements.
  • He returns to the office because he did not have the supplies needed to complete the job.
  • He returns the next day to resolve the issue and completes the job.
  • Once the work is complete, the field tech writes out a paper record and informs the customer that invoice will be sent in the mail.
  • At the end of the week, the field tech turns in his paperwork to the accounting department to mail the invoice, 30 days net receipt.

Our seamless communications and collaboration for the connected mobile enterprise

We begin to deliver upon the vision of seamless communications and collaboration for the connected mobile enterprise with our initial launch of Embedded Communications with FieldAware, a leading field service management mobile application. The solution integrates contact center, CRM, field service management, real-time communications and mobile messaging technologies.

Consider a manufacturing company that experiences an outage in its production line due to a
malfunction of a critical piece of heavy machinery. The operations manager contacts the equipment manufacturer for service. Imagine the service level delivered to this customer if:

  • The initial request via phone, web chat or mobile messaging immediately identifies the customer, matches records and identifies the initial sale of the equipment within the equipment company’s CRM system.
  • Instantaneously, the field service management system has the details of the outage and need of service through integration of the CRM system and the field service Management application.
  • Within minutes, an available and qualified field service technician can be notified of the outage, the location and the potential supply list needed for repair.
  • The location of the field technician is intersected with traffic conditions to notify the operations manager via mobile messaging of the field tech’s name, when to expect him on site and a second notification is received when the tech arrives on site.
  • The field tech has the capability to roam from mobile network to Wi-Fi network coverage to use the field service management application and communications capabilities on a mobile or tablet.
  • The field tech finds available experts within their company, communicates with them, shares video of the problem, and resolves difficulties when conducting repair, so the job is accomplished first time, every time.
  • Upon completion of the work, the field tech closes out the job with the operations manager. The act of closing out the job adds context to the customer’s account and previous work.
  • The equipment manufacturer has a record of all work and communications–whether voice, messaging or video. The company also has location and time stamped records attached to the customer’s file for post-service support or for the next service request.

Each Embedded Communications activity adds additional context to data captured from previous work conducted by the equipment manufacturer. The customer’s expectations are properly set at each stage of service. The field tech has the ability to solve the problem or seek advice with a high degree of information via mobile applications and communications right at the job site. In this example, there is potential for real-time service responsiveness, a better chance to complete the job the first time and greater potential for incrementing jobs into a field service worker’s day.

In summary, the field service tech, dispatcher and administration staff are able to better serve the customer with Mitel- and FieldAware-enabled seamless communications and collaboration because the company has become a field service connected mobile enterprise

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Omnichannel: Adding Dimension to the Contact Center

The 2014 holiday shopping season most likely is but a dim memory, but worth recalling is the Washington Post report noting something different about the retailer experience this time around: “The customers visiting their stores often started browsing long before they showed up, and for many, their actual purchase will happen long after.”

The customer journey, in other words, is starting earlier in the buying process. As the Corporate Executive Board found in its research, 57% of the buying process takes place prior to the first interaction with sales.

Throughout the stages of the customer journey, from the time customers become aware of a need and begin their research to the time they make a decision and take action, they interact across a wide breadth of touchpoints. Post purchase, customers continue to interact when they need service and when friends and associates seek their input as they embark on their own customer journeys. Turning customers into advocates who generate positive word of mouth, often via social media, is invaluable.

The goal of an omnichannel experience is to give consumers a single view of your brand across physical and online channels. Omnichannel is more than e-commerce. As Ariel Luedi, CEO of Hybris Software (now an SAP company), told InformationWeek, we shouldthink of customer transactions simply as commerce and not by technology silo -- i.e., digital transactions here and conventional transactions there. Customers should be able to start a transaction online, then place a call to the contact center without having to start from scratch. That promotional price quoted in an email offer should not be news to the store clerk or contact center service rep. And if a customer buys something online he should be able to return it at the store without a problem, Luedi told InformationWeek.

The importance of understanding the omnichannel experience began in retail because of the quantifiable and dramatic impact it can have getting online shoppers to click "buy." This is a huge issue, with the estimated shopping cart abandonment rate for 2014 at 68.07%, according to Baymard Institute. With stakes so large, retailers are developing strategies to address these demands and provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience whether shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick-and-mortar store.

E-commerce retailers also have found that by offering phone and Web chat they can boost customer confidence and provide assurance during the buying process. Adding these two channels of communications has directly resulted in reducing shopping cart abandonment. As organizations blend their contact center and e-commerce environments, they will need to develop full multichannel communications.

Even though omnichannel initiatives started with shopper targets, it's important to note that customer engagement affects all companies, not just retailers.

The key to delivering an optimal customer experience is having a highly integrated infrastructure platform like SAP’s Hybris. At the nucleus is a common database (master data) of customer and business data (ERP and CRM) that supports e-commerce and website interactions along with multichannel communications. The result?  Omnichannel communications.

The Holy Grail is when companies combine the output of these data streams in integrated reports that document the customer journey and give organizations proactive and actionable data to maximize the customer experience.

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Advanced Call Routing - The Hidden Gem in Voicemail Systems

Enterprises looking to deploy next-generation communications platforms like Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business sometimes find unwelcome surprises - key features that they have come to depend on and that they took for granted in their legacy systems, are not available in their new systems. A great example is advanced call routing, the capability enterprises use to empower inbound callers to self-direct and route their calls using multi-level menu options. Advanced call routing improves customer satisfaction and productivity as it provides the ability to rapidly route calls to the proper destination. This affects your business' bottom line with powerful economic benefits.

Why is this capability absent in a next-gen system?

Telecommunications and IT professionals have disparate perspectives in addressing communications. They have different backgrounds, education, and perceptions of users' and callers' needs. IT oriented next-gen products come to market with features and capabilities to address existing needs but may lack traditional features.

Advanced routing capabilities came into the marketplace initially as standalone Automated Attendant systems. Eventually call routing functionality was incorporated into voicemail systems. The new wave of productivity became more broadly known as "voicemail" but that obscured the value proposition which came from the increased productivity made possible.

Products from companies like Microsoft, whose roots are not in telecommunications, see voicemail systems as the default option, merely recording a message for future playback and ignoring call routing issues. Their focus was on improving overall business productivity and adding value to MS Exchange and the MS Office Suite. For them, adding communications capabilities to their solution is a byproduct, not a direction. Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business offers a variety of options to route data, but when it comes to voice, they largely ignored the needed requirement for complex call routing.

Microsoft deployments are now taking place, but gaps are emerging in what Microsoft can deliver to route calls. Fortunately, there is a solution. The Call Director advanced call routing capability found in Mitel NuPoint voice mail system, is an easily configured, powerful tool with a long history of solving an array of call routing problems.

When it comes to addressing call routing problems, look inside your voicemail system.

 

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Move Over Millenials

Forget about Millennials for a minute -- What will be the impact of the generation following them, the ones growing up with devices as babysitters?

No Jitter has numerous blogs, Eric Krapf’s recent article for example, speculating on the impact Millennials are having on the workplace. But there is a new generation, the one right behind the Millennials, who are impacting technology decisions.

They do not have their own smartphones yet -- they are too young. Maybe they will be known as the Watch generation, as in Apple Watch.

My wife and I were among the first to receive our Apple Watches. I confess to getting up at 2 AM to place our orders. A little crazy perhaps, but I was in need of a birthday gift for my software engineer wife and I wanted to play around with the new user interface. (I couldn’t just order one for her, could I?)

Since they’ve arrived to our wrists, we’ve been frequently approached by people wanting to talk about our Apple Watches. The biggest surprise has been the interest shown by children under 12. Case in point, we were recently attending a wedding when a child spotted our watches from across the table and came over with  his dad  in tow so he could question us about it. They were very good questions related to some of the features; he wanted to see how it worked. He was also very familiar with the prices. Meanwhile his father sat silently by, later confessing to being clueless about even the existence of the Watch.

The Lure of the Watch

It is common today to see couples dining out, their young child watching a movie or playing a game on an iPad. Combine great visuals with headphones and that child can be transported to their own virtual world -- just add some fries and maybe some chicken nuggets and the parents are home free to enjoy their meal.

Introduced to iPhone and iPad technology by their parents as playthings, this younger generation has grown up with these devices serving as electronic babysitters for car rides and restaurant outings. A generation a little older, the Millennial generation, was termed digital natives, a reference to growing up with digital technology. This younger generation has grown up with iPhones and iPads as handheld entertainment devices. For them, downloading and using apps is second nature. Parents holding out usage as a form of reward has only added to the mystique and prestige of using these devices. Adding to this dynamic is the state-of-the-art Apple commercials that are filled with compelling visual imagery and catchy music - not to mention the Apple Watch, a new, cool category of technology to join the pantheon of the beloved iPad and iPhone toys.

There is another factor that has this younger audience captivated with this technology. Industry analyst  Phil Edholm, founder and president of PKE Consulting, speculates that this is the first generation not trying to overcome the traditional concept of a watch. They see the people around them using phones to tell time, so they are not trying to reposition the concept of a watch.

Okay, so we’ve all heard that Millennials want mobile … yawn, so what? The rest of us want mobility, too. Members of this new, young generation are making their opinions known, and are already clamoring for their own iPhones and iPads. If they are not advising their parents to buy an Apple Watch, they want one for themselves. Despite not having a “budget,” this new generation is already influencing home technology purchasing decisions. So I have to wonder, what is going to be their impact as they get older? How will they impact the enterprise?

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Omni-channel and the Cloud - Lifting the Fog

The Cloud is a disruptive force, a tidal wave of change sweeping throughout Enterprise, including the Contact Center. Cloud technology is not just a new and different infrastructure, it is a highly targeted solution designed to meet the needs of the Line of Business (LoB) influence and deliver continuous upgrades and enhancements that keep them with the latest technology. Not all Cloud solutions are the same though.

Historically, the IT department was responsible for supporting all business technology. Goals included ensuring up-time, making sure diverse systems worked together, as well as meeting the needs of the business. The latter usually meant working with the business units, but the details and in-depth understanding of business requirements were typically left up to the business.  

The stage for change was set with organizations "right sizing" their IT staffs during the recession. IT staffs were able to support existing systems, but were shorthanded when it came to introducing innovation.

First Generation Cloud

First generation Cloud offerings, particularly CRM, offered targeted single applications that were easy to use and deploy, making them highly attractive to the Line-of business (Lob) and less dependent on IT. The Cloud benefits the LoB without placing additional financial and staffing burdens on the Enterprise, it provides:

  • Faster innovation and achieves results more quickly
  • The latest software releases and is able to take advantage of the latest innovations
  • Increased access to built-in best business practices resulting in streamline processes

Organizations were attracted to the benefits of the Cloud too. They hope to achieve cost reductions through lower Total Cost of Ownership, reduced capital costs of technology infrastructure (hardware, software and licenses), and the hope of achieving economies of scale with software integration – with the costs shifted to the software company. It is the latter, though not widely discussed, that holds perhaps the greatest promise for the future.

Meanwhile, the Cloud is becoming a very crowded place. Amazon and Google seem to be in a race with one another in providing continuous rounds of price reductions as they grab consumer Cloud market share. In the commercial world, the race is also intense. The growing importance of the Cloud can be seen in the selection of Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella. Prior, he was responsible for Microsoft's move into the Cloud with Xbox, Bing, and the MS Office Suite. These rapid changes led Industry Analyst, Blair Pleasant to predict that this year is "the year of the cloud shakeout".

 Second Generation Cloud 

The next generation of Cloud is emerging. Once a customer looks to the Cloud for services, if they have a good experience, they won’t just stop with one application, they will want more.  That has certainly been my personal experience in my company. I initially used Cloud HR (payroll and benefits), then Cloud Microsoft Exchange, and now I’m in the process of moving storage, communications, and ERP to the Cloud. The more applications you move to the Cloud, the more it is natural to want integrated solutions. As Customers’ needs evolve, they seek more functionality.  These are the same dynamics that once drove earlier ERP software consolidation in the data center.

First generation Cloud companies are scrambling to build an ecosystem with API's to allow integration with other applications. There are numerous challenges including making the LoB manage the multiple databases associated with multiple software products and integrating them is burdensome and complex. Oracle categorizes these first generation deployments as incomplete, isolated, and inflexible.  Sour grapes? Perhaps, but the limitations of single, stand-alone applications are significant, especially in the Contact Centers where numerous applications are running.

Next Generation Customer Engagement Platforms like SAP’s include Contact Center are CRM as part of a much bigger story.  In SAP’s case, it is an Omni-channel experience.  It is not so much a Contact Center and CRM as it is a completed Customer Service solution that communications enabling applications like CRM and ERP and ties tightly to mobility, social media, and predictive analytics. By having a fully integrated system, time can be spent with the LoB delivering business improvements instead of spending time getting disparate Cloud and/or Enterprise applications working together. 

  

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Will Your Next Voice Mail System Work With a Facebook PBX?

Customers today are being sold a bill of goods. To help counteract this, we have tried to present a resource of objective information on our CommuniTech Services web site.

Vast resources are being poured into delivering the message that Unified Communications is a Winner-Takes-All game.  Unless you buy everything, including your next voice mail system from a giant firm like Massive Dynamics* (Fringe, Fox), you will miss out on accruing all of the all-knowing and all-seeing benefits that can only be delivered from the wizard behind the curtain.
 
Let's dispel this nonsense up front. Ask yourself the following questions:
 

  • How likely is it that the solution you are looking at will work with any of the powerful Web 2.0 emerging technologies like Facebook, Twitter or Linked In?
  • Do the new “required” components work with anything else you already have? Do they work with your Avaya, NEC, Siemens or Nortel PBX's?  The voice mail systems we work with don't work with a Facebook PBX because it doesn't exist, but work with everything else.
  • How customer focused are these Massive Dynamics companies if their message to you and your senior management is to get rid of everything you have and start over with them?
  •  Whatever happened to evaluating each element of a solution and buying what you think is best of breed vs. vendor lock in?
  •  How future-proof is the Massive Dynamics product line anyway?

 
We are at an inflection point of a technology curve, but it is not the one that you are hearing about from armies of heavily financed sales and marketing teams. It is the threshold of the integration of Web 2.0 technologies on communications.
 
The early signs are already here.  Skype delivers large volumes of business traffic and the use of their IM technology is wide spread. With more and more employees working remote, other Web 2.0 products will be increasingly used by remote workers.
 
The movement towards the use of these technologies started with low cost communications like Skype and the instant messaging we saw our children using.  The next step was a more active use of social networking like Facebook (those kids again!) and the grown-up version we technology users more frequently deploy, LinkedIn.  Now it is Immersive Internet technologies like Second Life and the beginning of mini-blogger tools like Twitter (I still don't get that one).
 
In the face of these rapid and radical changes, shouldn't you value flexibility to be prepared to adjust to a rapidly changing market or should you double down your bets on Massive Dynamics?
 
* the fictional giant technology company featured on the popular TV show 'Fringe".

 

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What Would Ayn Rand Say about Customer Engagement?

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged fans are familiar with the mythic properties of Rearden Metal, a new metal alloy stronger and lighter than steel.

In the novel, the challenge was how do you fix a deteriorating bridge that needs new supports if something revolutionary like Rearden Metal is available? Do you leverage Rearden Metal's special properties and capabilities to build a new type of bridge that brings more value and a lower overall cost or do you use the new metal the old way and create a new version of the old bridge?  Those that were threatened by this revolutionary innovation tried a variety of means to thwart Rearden Metal's success knowing that they couldn't compete.

How does that apply to Customer Engagement? Improving Customer Engagement is an ongoing iterative process. Oft quoted statistician Dr. W. Edwards Deming said, "You can't manage what you can't measure." When it comes to your customers' experience with your company, you must understand what they are experiencing, so it can be managed and optimized.

All Contact Center providers can provide extensive data about what is taking place with multiple channels of communications. All kinds of reports can be generated but none of it relates to the business processes. The result, disparate information silos.  There is no cost effective way to access and utilize "Big Data".  Whatever analytics exist are limited to communications interactions. Consultant Marty Parker describes this predicament in NoJitter, "Where's the crisis? It's simple: the communications industry is not ready for big data and analytics...Big data and analytics are coming--there's no stopping them."

This is hard for Contact Center companies whose expertise, technology, and business channels have grown up in a separate, parallel universe from enterprise software companies. Adding to the difficulty is the complexity of combining different databases, technologies, and software.

Contrast this with an SAP Contact Center* that tightly integrates communications data with the Master customer data (ERP and CRM). This master customer data now includes communications, that makes this really "Big Data". A variety of Analytic and Predictive Analytic tools exist that can be used to drill down and create a vast array of reports.  The most important tool of all is blended analytics, which gives a 360-degree view of the customer.

This presents the challenge facing Contact Centers. Do you continue with your existing provider and deploy new versions of old solutions or do you take advantage of the latest state-of-the-art possibilities so that you can produce blended analytic reports?

Blended Analytics, like "Rearden Metal" is a game-changer.

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Customer Engagment, Do Take it Personally

The best way to create Customer Engagement is to have a personal experience with your customer and make sure that they know you care about them.

In the Customer Service world, Customer Engagement is a white-hot topic.  Everybody is talking about it, but there is a big difference between those who can "walk the walk and those who "talk the talk".  

I was surprised to hear comments at the Contact Center session at Enterprise Connect speculating on whether Customer Experience was a trend that would take off.  Perhaps that is reflection that most traditional contact centers cannot deliver what is needed to truly deliver Customer Engagement. As one person from a leading vendor on stage explained it, there is a lot of software in the Contact Center and no one can connect it all.  Well, we know you can!

Let’s go back to basics. The best way to create Customer Engagement is to have a personal experience with your customer and make sure that they know you care about them. It is possible to integrate your Contact Center with instant access to everything you know about your customer (both ERP and CRM data) is key. Agents are empowered with knowledge of the:

  • History of the customer relationship (and how valuable they are to your company)
  • Customer's buying history (including their credit and payment history)
  • Context of why the customer may be calling - what happened during their last transaction?

Simplifying information feeds with a single, centralized database for your Contact Center, ERP and CRM systems and presenting a single screen for agents eliminates the need to toggle between multiple screens of data, a costly waste of the customers time. Shorter transaction times and greater efficiency is key in delivering best-in-class performance.

The Aberdeen Group's Agent Desktop Optimization:  Agents Can Finally Focus on the Customer analyzed characteristics of the top 20% performers. In 43% of those, "...the building block of top performers’ agent desktop management initiatives focused on simplification and integration."  Too many agent screens is also a waste of money. 26% of agents’ time was spent looking for relevant data across different systems and the cost of each additional screen is $1,400 per agent, per year.

Recently we held a webinar, along with our partner Knack Systems which featured our customer Wacker Neuson.  Wacker Neuson explain how they used Personalized Customer Engagement as a strategic initiative. In this effort they leveraged the power of an ERP, HCM (HR), CRM and a Contact Center to deliver a strategic advantage to their organization. 

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The Death of the Contact Center...the Rise of the Relationship Center

Is your goal to “delight” your customers….really?

By putting them on hold and running them through an obstacle course of menus? Through speech recognition and “screen pops”? Maybe you think that fancy speech analytics will do the trick?

The reality is that customers dread calling in for assistance. Why?

The majority of so called customer “innovations” have been nothing more than cost cutting measures and are designed to support the needs of the enterprise, not the customer. New ways to automate routing, pushing customers to self-service and simply forcing customers to wait on hold until agents can cost-effectively handle them.  These technologies all share the same central premise, your “valued” customers need you, more than you need them. That the relationship is asymmetrical, that you can keep them waiting on hold and that your time is more valuable than theirs. That is like meeting someone at a cocktail party and only talking about yourself. Those are not long term, sustainable relationships. Bottom line, it is about the customer.

There is a bitter irony that the automated attendant technology once introduced to liberate customers and give them external control when calling an enterprise took a dark turn and became the very symbol of customers’ helplessness “voice mail jail”.  It has all the makings of many customers’ technology horror stories.

Meanwhile, enterprises are spending a great deal of money trying to reach and attract new customers as well as existing companies in a changing environment. Many of the long time channels like TV and print ads are either experiencing increased costs or decreasing effectiveness. The cost and efficiency of the channels like social media are untested. So, it is ironic that customers, the most valuable asset the organization has, who are in the need of seeking assistance are not taken care of better, especially since 51% (Accenture study) will go elsewhere if they are not treated the way they expect.

What is needed is a reboot, a resetting of the customer relationship that is reciprocal and puts the customer first. One of the initial steps that needs to be taken is to be prepared when the customer calls. How do you get prepared?

When a salesperson prepares to call on a customer or a prospect what do they do. They start with research and try to learn everything about them possible. They want to know what their background is and anticipate what kind of issues they are having so they can find some common ground to have a relationship. The same need to be properly prepared when speaking with a customer also applies to a contact center with the difference being the communications are inbound and there is no time for the agent to prepare. All relevant customer information needs to be immediately available because you don’t know what will be needed. You need the customer history so that you understand your customers experience with your organization. This includes what do they buy? When do they buy it? How often do they purchase?

The better prepared and the more accessible this information is for your agents, the better prepared they will be to address your customers’ needs.  One of the most important things is what occurred with their recent transaction, there is a strong likelihood that is why they are calling. Was their item in stock? Did it ship on time? Does this customer usually call in? Can you tell if an item has shipped, or left the warehouse, etc.? Immediate access to all relevant customer information immediately from all of your systems, Financial (ERP) and CRM.  If you really want to make customers happy, make this information immediately available so you can really speed up response times.

Another way to speed things up for your customers (which also lowers your staffing and network costs) is to tightly integrate your telephony systems with your CRM systems so you can eliminate or minimize the need to put customers into IVR queues. Route the calls automatically to your agents by reading the Automatic Number Identification (ANI) or other identifying information that travels with the call. Your customer relationship management data base should contain all of this information. When that is not possible, there is no reason a customer should every have to input information more than one time. All of your systems should be sufficiently integrated so this information can access all of your tools. 

It is possible to increase personalization and customization while offering self-service options. They key is to emphasize the design intent so that the focus is that it is there as an option for the customer to choose for their convenience, not something they are forced to use.  That way the relationship is front and center.

So if companies are all saying that they are focused on the customer experience, why is the level of customer satisfaction so low?  The answer lies in the history of the technologies that are found in todays’ contact centers.  Telephone contact centers have grown to including multi-channel capabilities external monitoring and reporting packages, social media, and CRM and ERP integrations. Many products, from many companies, with many migration paths. There is a lot of complexity and expense in tying these systems together. Issues of support, who takes responsibility, and testing all make for a lot of heavy lifting. If customers were happy this scenario would be acceptable…but it’s not, and customers are voting with their feet. It is time to take a fresh look.

Louis Sullivan, the legendary Chicago architect was quoted as saying, “Form follows function”. If the existing technology isn’t getting the job done, then it is time finding the means that can.

In a subsequent article I will address this in greater depth but for starters you would need….

  1. A commitment to focusing on your customers and that commitment driving all other decisions. Looking at the big picture, and your desired results, the only conclusion should be for you to be committed to a paradigm shift, to transforming your contact center into a true relationship center in order to satisfy today’s (and tomorrow’s) customers better.
  2. Provide your agents with all the tools possible to quickly and efficiently handle your customers’ inquiries. All relevant information from all of your systems needs to be at their fingertips.
  3. Be respectful of your customers’ time. Don’t keep them needlessly waiting and don’t ask them to repeat themselves. Just like our cocktail party analogy, you don’t want to look bored or disinterested.
  4. Platforms and vendors that can be part of your long-term strategy with products and services that are designed to work together so that you don’t have to spend the time and resources to do that. They also need to be financially viable so they can make a long-term commitment to you to continually invest in innovations that support your efforts to give your customers world-class service. 

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83% Say Customer Service is Being Transformed into a Strategic Differentiator

That was the results of our informal poll conducted on Monday during our webinar, “What Does Amazon’s ‘Mayday’ Button Mean to Your Customers and Your Contact Center?”

The question was “Is your company discussing how to transform customer service from a necessary function for resolving customer problems into a value-generating service that is a strategic differentiator in the market?”

Admittedly, this wasn’t a formal survey and those in the audience were those that already expressed an interest in disrupting the status quo in the contact center. Those polled wanted to know more about the potential impact of the Amazon Mayday button. So we already were starting out with respondents that were sensitive to the changing needs of increasingly savvy, hyper-connected customers with rising expectations.

Nonetheless, 83% is a staggering number.

How do you transform customer service into a strategic differentiator?  The panel that consisted of Analyst Jon Arnold, Consultant Dennis Goodhart and me unanimously agreed that a fundamental change is needed. A key is to leverage all of the customer data and internal systems and closely tie them to the contact center. In other words, the answer is Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP). It is communications enabling the underlying CRM and ERP (accounting, shipping, receivable, etc.) so that contact center agents have a 360 degree view of the incoming contact from the very start.

This is very different from the traditional way of looking at problems. Barb Grothe, telecommunications consultant, “we traditionally have started with the communications process first, but we need to start with the business processes first, and then through communicating with users figure out how we give them the communications capabilities to enhance their existing BP (Business Processes).”

Another interesting finding was the responses to the question, “What is the situation in your company regarding the integration of contact center and business systems (CRM, ERP, etc.)?”

  1. Already integrated, no further plans - 16.4%
  2. Partly integrated, planning to expand - 53.4%
  3. Not integrated, but planning to do so - 27.4%
  4. Not integrated and no plans to do so -  2.7%

On first glance, the results of this poll indicated that 70% of those polled already integrated or partially integrated business processes in their contact center. It is likely that the vast majority are interpreting this as to screen popping CRM.  This capability for improving customer service has been known and understood for some time, however there is so much more to CEBP than screen popping.

The possibility of combining the power of the contact center with ERP and CRM in a highly integrated and optimized fashion like Amazon appears to have done is not widely known. Making information instantly available to contact center employees is simply not possible with the vast majority of contact centers today.

Last Sunday Amazon ran numerous television commercials promoting the Kindle Mayday capabilities on NFL football games.  They obviously believe that this capability is a winner and a differentiator. Today Amazon is just using this type of next generation technology to promote a single product or more accurately, the kind of service response time you can expect when buying a Kindle Fire.

Focusing on a single product simplifies things by making it easier to eliminate the grossly unpopular IVR menus customers don’t like and gives them time to work out other kinks. It seems like it is just a question of time before other B2C companies seek to adopt this capability.  Given that Amazon competes with almost everyone in the B2C space other B2C companies should be paying careful attention. It also seems like it is just a question of time before this highly integrated approach finds it finds its way into the B2B market.

Amazon is a disruptor, not a normal competitor. They started changing the book buying experience, ushered in a wave of e-readers that changed the definition of a “book”, changed the face of e-commerce and no pun intended, and wrote the “book” on the cloud. Ignore this initiative at your peril.

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Did Amazon Just Fire Another Shot Heard 'round the World?

On April 19, 1775 the Minute Men on the Lexington Battle Green fired “the shot heard ‘round the world” that began the American Revolution.  This week another shot was fired that may start another revolution.

That event related to Amazon’s announcement of their new Kindle.  A key new feature is the “Mayday Button”.  If you need assistance, press it and you will be connected to a video contact center agent within 15 seconds. Amazon has already set the standards for on-line shopping and for the creation of the E-book reading experience; have they just created a new benchmark for customer service?

How can they do this? Jeffrey Bezos says that the "hardest and coolest" services such as its "Mayday" service lie at the intersection of "customer delight" and "deep integration through the entire stack."  It starts with their commitment for delivering excellent customer service and their long standing commitment to having the infrastructure to support that.

When Bezos says deep integration through the entire stack he is referring to an enterprise commitment to leverage everything they know about their customers to ensure a great customer experience and long term profitability. This combines all types of customer data both experiential (CRM) and transactional (ERP) and delivers it to an Amazon employee instantly so that the customer who only need to press a button for help, has access to all of that information at their fingertips.

This shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to emulate. There is no reason that CRM and ERP data should be housed and accessed with two different processes. Some companies combine the two and refer to it as their Master Data. Nor should it be difficult to access this master data with communications technologies whether it is video and audio like Amazon or some other type of communications mediums. With the right infrastructure, this is what it means to communications enable your business processes.

Whether this is the start of another Revolution remains to be seen. Many important questions will be raised in the next few months, among them is how does your organization leverage valuable customer data, how does it provide for a great customer experience and how can it be accessed?

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The Future of the Contact Center

Many expect that the impact of emerging technologies will be most strongly felt in the contact center. This presents exciting opportunities for innovation and some believe one day everything will be on-line and that the combination of powerful software and social media will anticipate our every need. While this may ultimately happen, it won’t be in my lifetime.  What will happen is an increased awareness that customers appreciate and will reward companies that provide superior service.  80% of companies rate the customer experience as a top strategic objective. The future of the contact center is clear; it is providing the “face” of the organization to their customers and be the focal point in providing a world class experience with intimacy and personalized service.

So, what can Contact Centers do to offer world class experience? Contact Centers can go beyond just processing calls as quickly as possible and optimizing staffing levels, they can focus on providing the best services and taking care of customers needs, not just getting customers off the phone. The problem is that by focusing on narrow ROI measurements aimed at measuring the efficiency of how well a group of multimodal technologies are expediting an inquiry they may overlook customer satisfaction.  The true measurement of the customer experience should be based on how well the customers are being taken care of and how well their needs are met. The net result is happy customers recommend the company to others and generate additional revenue. Unhappy customers by contrast, damage a company’s reputation and diminish future business.

One of the most annoying things to a customer is how long it takes for them to accomplish what they called in for. The usual culprit, stand-alone contact center equipment not integrated to the rest of the organization’s processes. No matter how good the contact center itself is, what does it take for the agent to handle an order or answer an inquiry?  It takes time to toggle into other systems to address needs. Typically, employees need to access one or more databases to get the information needed to solve problems, check status, or make better decisions. The answers may lie in an accounting, CRM, ERP, client support, or inventory systems. The greater the number of applications, the more time consuming it is all of which hurt the chance for first call resolution. 

It is clear that in the future, the process of answering calls and inquiries in multiple mediums will be combined with true, end-to-end integrated solutions.  The contact center will be deeply integrated with CRM, ERP, and other personal productivity software (like MS Lync) to truly deliver Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP). 

Big Data and analytics are major initiatives in most industries. When Big Data is applied to CRM and ERP, massive amounts of data can be sifted through. This includes the history of all interactions, business transactions, and social media (Linked In, Facebook, Twitter and the like). Big Data combines information from multiple software and data programs so that a user can leverage the power of having all of the information available with better access so that they can improve decision making. Agents as the ‘face’ of the organization “hear” things that are different from what management “hears”. This results in a huge gap in knowledge.  Agents sometimes hear the same complaints and issues day in and day out, which many times don’t make it to the management level.  Analytics are an essential tool for management to close that gap and uncover those complaints and issues by mining the data and finding common words and phrases that as heard in multiple conversations.

Big Data and analytics combines the diverse inputs from multiple communications mediums and virtually all enterprise data real-time so that contact center agents are empowered to provide their customers the best service possible.  In fact, these capabilities are so powerful managers will have the tools and information to proactively address problems before they escalate. This echoes Steve Jobs lesson of solving problems that people didn’t even know they had.

Also new on the horizon is the emergence of Predictive Analytics. This capability uses Big Data to analyze everything that is known about the customer from all sources and make intelligent inferences about how to best meet their needs by guessing about what they are likely to be inquiring about. Analysis may also determine which agent that has the best personality and skill sets to optimally serve the customer and ensure the best outcome.  The agent can even be delivered customized scripts to assist them with the customers and those scripts can change on the fly to adjust to changing needs.

Today the raging new technology is social media, who knows what it will be tomorrow?  To incorporate other capabilities, contact center technology must to be software based and follow industry standards, otherwise projects that accommodate new capabilities become a terrifying science fair projects.

Lastly, the very notion of the contact center is changing. Whether the need is to contact subject matter experts or anyone else with special skills, the increasing power of contact center technology will allow customers to be served directly by the person within the enterprise that can best help with as little duplication as possible. For example, if a customer calls, twitters or puts on their Facebook that they are having a shipping problem does it really make sense to notify the contact center who will in turn contact shipping or does it make more sense to notify the shipping department directly?

For most of the existing contact center industry, all of these trends are threatening and will cause massive upheaval. Their products are simply not designed to embrace these changes. The good news though is that these capabilities are already becoming available and we are at the early stages of having tomorrow’s contact center solutions available today.

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The Telephone Cliff: What Happens When the Cost of Call Control Approaches Zero?

Question:  What do Skype, Lync, “free” cell phone minutes, virtualization, WebRTC and soft phones all have in common?

Answer:  They all drive down the cost of call control…way down.  What’s more, they also move communications away from being dependent upon the PBX.

Question:  Does that mean the PBX is going away?

Answer: No, it’s just losing its monopoly to telecommunications. Phil Edholm says that the PBX of today is analogous to dedicated Wang word processors from 30 years ago. A dedicated word processor may be a relic of the past, but that doesn’t mean word processing is obsolete, it just means that word processing is done differently today.  Tools like MS Word and Google Docs make word processing widely available, and possible on a variety of devices.

With a combination of services like Skype and cellular networks combined with personal productivity tools and BYOD, telephony is being liberated from the PBX. In order to remain relevant, the PBX has to offer value and Unified Communications has a mixed track record at best. The most logical way to do deliver value is to integrate with the other business processes and be part of Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) which has the potential to deliver enormous improvements. 

Question:  What does that mean for customers?

Answer:  Customers should be less concerned about simply upgrading systems from incumbent suppliers and more vigilant in exploring the best long-term solutions. Suppliers with financial problems are less likely to deliver on promised roadmaps.  It is inevitable that communications solutions that can integrate or interoperate with your enterprise databases and applications are going to become increasingly important. In addition, solutions that also incorporate non-voice communications modes (email, web/chat, text, social media, etc.), are a better fit, since this is the way that people and organizations also communicate.  Telecommunications capabilities are one thing, putting the building blocks in place to deliver communications enabled business solutions are another.

Question:  What impact is this having on the traditional telephony vendors?

Answer:  A lot, look at the financials of the traditional telecommunications supplies. If you are getting ready to make a new purchase or major upgrade it is imperative to understand the financial health of suppliers. At some point your management may have questions about whether you exercised appropriate due diligence? 

Question:  What is the bottom line?

Answer:  The landscape is changing and the traditional telecommunications pond is drying up. Phone systems that just deliver basic functionality will see continued price erosion that put increased pressure on manufacturers and resellers that are already under siege. Look for an increase in channel conflict as partners fight over prices, services and other items as they all cope with the shrinking pie. This is the time to start thinking about a long range strategy and to work with vendors who can help you in the long term.

 

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Will WebRTC and BYOD Open the Door to CEBP...to the Big SW Vendors?

Over the past 10 years, the UC industry has talked about the two facets of UC; the collaboration aspect for Knowledge Workers, and the business process integration (known as CEBP) for the rest of the company.  While products such as Lync, Jabber, and Flare are focused to the former, we have not seen the take-up in CEBP.  IN fact, many have said this is the bigger opportunity than collaboration, making companies processes more efficient through the introduction of just in time communications.  An interesting question is if WebRTC and BYOD will change the game by making users more comfortable with using other devices than the phone for business communications.

WebRTC is starting to get a lot of press and interest.  Essentially with WebRTC, your browser becomes your communications client, with the visual experience defined from a server through the HTML/HTML5 browser function and the real-time transmission and receipt of media streams through the WebRTC media engine built into the browser.  With WebRTC, two users with their browsers connected to the same server can have a real-time voice or video session established with the server controlling the actual communications.  And this can be done with about 40 lines of Java Script programming.  As we get used to having each communications event defined by the web server that we are connected to (and just like web sites, each reflects the unique nature of the site and the actual event), being comfortable with communications as an "add-on" to the web will change our view.

With WebRTC and BYOD, users are going to get increasingly more comfortable with doing their communications WIHTOUT the desk phone.  So now adding real-time into Oracle, SAP, or McKesson (Health Care) apps using web browsers becomes something that may be accepted.  While the UC vendors see CEBP as a great opportunity, if the SW vendors can integrate RTC using WebRTC, BYOD and other devices than the phone, they have a natural position to make it really work.  And this gets easier with some of the new audio devices.  For example, I use a Plantronics Savi 740 headset that enables allow connections to my phone, my PC with USB, my tablet and Mobile with BlueTooth.  I can answer a connection request that arrives on any of these in the same way.  As I use this device, my "awareness" of which device or channel/media a communications is coming in on has decreased.  Similarly users can have a single interface to all of their channels and stop thinking of the phone as the only way to interact.

I think we are on the edge of a major shift in real-time communications and CEBP.  It is going to move from the phone and the traditional telecomm vendors and expand into purpose specific real-time communications added to many applications and solutions.  What do you think?  Do you think Oracle or SAP will be managing many of your user interactions in 2014 without integration to your phone system?

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Toggle, Toggle, Toggle - What are Your User's Suffering Through?

If your users have to spend the day toggle in and out of multiple systems to do their jobs relief may now be in sight.

Most organizations use multiple software and data systems to address such needs as accounting, telecommunications, email, customer relationship management (CRM), client support, inventory and banking.  Typically, employees need to access multiple system databases to get the information they need to solve problems, check status or make better decisions. The greater the numbers of applications, the more challenging it becomes to access and manage all the disparate information.

Unified Data is the process of aggregating information from multiple software and data programs so that a user can leverage the power of having all of the information available with better access so that they can improve decision making.  The key therefore is to find a way to aggregates data from multiple business software applications and displays it with data into a uniform view for faster, more convenient access and usage.

By having the ability to get simultaneous access to all of the information you need through on your personalized a single user interface, or "dashboard."  Data is accessed in real time without having to copy or move it to another location.  And with customizable data and controls that precisely match each user's needs, your employees get the exact information, not too little and not too much, they need at the exact moment in  time they need it, right on their desktop dashboard.

Glue creates the foundation to help you automate and simplify your business processes.  By aggregating relevant data from existing systems and databases and providing access and control through a single dashboard, Glue can help every employee throughout your firm to do a better, more efficient job.  Benefits include:

  • Faster access to data across multiple systems and databases
  • Simple, single and easily customizable interface for multiple software programs and data sources
  • Easy for employees to use without lengthy training
  • Users get the functionality and data that they need without being inundated with unnecessary information and overly complex user interfaces of other systems
  • Individual users have the ability to customize many aspects of the Glue dashboard for themselves
  • No need for the data migration that is typically associated with upgrading to a new product
  • Eliminates the need to enter and methodically update enterprise-wide data into multiple systems and databases

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UC - Is it the Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

We are at the dawn of the era of Unified Communications.  How will we look back on this era in the future?

I think it will be much like Charles Dickens described his era in “A Tale of Two Cities”,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

What were the best of times? That is easy, the dramatic improvements possible by improving employee and business productivity.  Just like in medicine, some of the greatest benefits have come from some of the seemingly most innocuous advances. In medicine, the great leap forward was the advent of penicillin.  In our industry my favorite is mobility, getting voice and emails from my cell phone.  While the primary product we offer is typically called messaging the term itself is actually legacy and anachronism. What we offer is powerful routing capabilities and an integration of voice, email and fax and the ability to send that information anywhere.

What were the worst of times?  This is easy too, the endless hype and drivel surrounding UC, especially when it comes to how easy it is deploy, which it isn’t! There is also a lot of hyperventilating about the vast improvements that are about to unfold.  I have seen similar initiatives since I entered this industry in 1981.  When I started by career at Illinois Bell my initial group of customers still had cord boards which were actually very effective.   

Now even Microsoft is entering the fray claiming the advantages of software based model of communications and UC.  Mitel and Northern Telecom introduced software controlled phone systems 30+ years ago.  Most of the telecommunications industry consists of software based systems and off the shelf hardware (even though it is still usually bundled because there are still a lot of kinks to be worked out).

It will be interesting to see how long it takes Microsoft to really get such an ambitious project right. Their core expertise is in Operating Systems, XP was introduced in 2001 and it has been 8 years to introduce a new operating system that people want. One of the biggest problems in technology is in understanding what customers want.

One of the reasons that my old customers hated to get rid of their cord boards was that there was a light associated with the ringing of the phone. Call it a busy lamp field or MWI (message waiting indicators), people love their lights and don’t want to give them up. Microsoft is still trying to convince people that they don’t need MWI, good luck.

In Microsoft’s PC centered view of the universe the PC is the center of voice. Do users really want their voice mail messages played back through PC speakers in open cubicle environment?  Privacy issues, HIPAA, student confidentially and plain common sense are just some of the reason that this is just not realistic. One recent early adopter of Microsoft’s UC technology (one of their strategic partners) just had to go out and buy headsets so that employee could listen to their messages. I bet a line item of $50 to $150 for computer headsets never entered into the cost justification model.

We have a number of customers that have set up task forces to see what their users want from UC. The usual outcome has been that customers do not know what technology is capable, their needs are diverse, and that radically new technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, Second Life, Google, “the Cloud” and now even SAP appear at a dizzying rate.  Which ones will have a revolutionary impact?  If I was able to answer that I would have been long retired at this point. One thing is for sure. The only logical business strategy is to make sure that would ever you buy it is flexible and will interoperate with other vendors.

Even the promises of UC may not actually materialize. As noted industry analyst Alan Sulkin points out in a recent article, Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) held out similar promises as UC back in the early-mid 1990s. There were a plethora of tradeshows, magazines analysts and consultants that were all branded CTI but somehow it all just faded away. Microsoft was a player then too with the advent of Telephony Applications Programming Interface (TAPI). Is Microsoft too big to fail at something?

 

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