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Contact Centers As The UC Killer App

If you're looking for early-adopter scenarios of Unified Communications, your best bet is probably to watch what happens in enterprise contact centers (or call centers, as they used to be known). Contact centers are frequently at the cutting edge of communications technologies, as occurred with computer-telephony integration (CTI)--a comparison that understandly makes UC advocates a little nervous.With its screen pops and other features, CTI was a natural for the call centers of the past decade or so, but CTI never really grew outside this niche. There's good reason to believe UC will not repeat the CTI experience, but it also makes sense for the contact center to be the first place that UC makes a splash, for a reason I discussed earlier this week: ROI.

The contact center is a great place to build ROI cases because there are so many metrics that are easy to track and relate directly to either cost savings or increased revenue: Besides customer satisfaction measurements, there are pure service metrics like first call resolution, which tell you how well your contact center is doing what it's supposed to do, and what the impact on your top and bottom lines are.

The metric I just mentioned, first call resolution, is one of the hot metrics right now, and the article I linked offers an explanation of why it's so important. The belief is that Unified Communications functionality can improve first call resolution (among other contact center metrics).

Every new technology has its stock application that everybody talks about, and in the UC-enabled contact center, it's the idea of "expert everywhere." Under the high-level version of this scenario, UC-enabled contact center agents have a buddy list that includes subject matter experts who work within the enterprise, and aren't contact center agents. If a caller to the contact center needs help that is beyond the agent's sphere of knowledge, the agent reaches out to the relevant subject matter expert within the enterprise to get the information needed to resolve the call without the need for escalation or callback. The subject matter expert could be on the buddy list by name, but more likely would sit behind a job or skill designation, and the contact center agent's instant message would go to the "next available expert" within the enterprise.

There are any number of complications to realizing this scenario: Do you really want your non-contact center employees putting in time this way? What about legal/compliance issues when you start pulling people into contact center scenarios who aren't trained or scripted to deal with the public? Still, there are probably companies that can figure out a way to implement this in a way that makes sense.

What I actually find more intriguing and potentially more likely to make an impact are some new scenarios that contact center/UC vendors are starting to talk about. Lou D'Ambrosio, CEO of Avaya, used his keynote at VoiceCon Orlando to describe a concept that's essentially the reverse of the "expert everywhere:" Instead of the contact center reaching out into the enterprise, the enterprise reaches into the contact center to leverage its expertise.

The specific idea that D'Ambrosio discussed centered around a retail store where a customer was looking for more information about a product. Instead of hunting around the store for an employee who might or might not be able to answer the question, the customer could use a device Avaya has come up with that integrates bar-code scanning with a voice over WiFi phone with UC capabilities. The customer scans the bar code and can be connected with a customer service rep in a call center, where skills-based ACD routing can integrate with the bar code information to get the customer to the agent who knows about that product. Now that seems to me like a pretty slick application.

Avaya also showed a video during its keynote that depicted a variation on the retail application--a hospital that used off-site translators to help provide patient care to non-English speakers.

So how should you plan for UC in the contact center? One blogger at No Jitter recently offered up a post that demonstrated why it's important to factor UC, IP telephony and contact centers together when crafting a vision for the future of communications in your enterprise. Furthermore, contact center technology decision-makers should also be represented in the broader organizational vision that I discussed here earlier in the week.

Cynics like to bash UC as "CTI on steriods." In fact, UC is more than that. Because it's IP-based, it can be much more flexible and cost-effective. What's more, the world has changed a lot since the CTI days, most especially in the area of mobility. UC will likely find success in the contact center--and beyond.