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The Skype-Avaya Matchup May Transform The Call Center

Avaya and Skype have announced a joint integration that makes Skype services available on a variety of Avaya platforms. Under the terms of the relationship, Avaya customers in the US will be able to make global calls via Skype right from their Avaya communications system. This is good news for enterprises today because the partnership can help them cut costs. In the long term, it may be even better news for contact centers because it will provide greater opportunity for businesses to connect with customers via voice, video, IM and more.

The integration requires Skype Connect, the SIP-to-Skype add-on, to run on an Avaya platform, such as Avaya Aura Session Manager, Avaya Aura SIP Enablement Server, CS1000, Avaya IP Office, or BCM systems. Lots of employees already use Skype; by integrating it with a corporate telephony system, enterprises can ensure that appropriate security and compliance policies are met. The upshot of the integration means Avaya customers can integrate Skype calling with the rest of their business processes. Companies can put Skype Click & Call buttons on their Web sites, enabling visitors to make Skype calls into a call center or business. Skype Online Numbers will allow for  inbound calling from landline and mobile phones. Companies will also be able to route inbound calls from a Skype user to an extension phone within the enterprise. Calls are free between Skype users.

Avaya and Skype also have a more ambitious plan: to federate Avaya Aura and Skype communications platforms. This would allow an Avaya user and a Skype user to share presence information and interact via instant messaging, voice and video. Federation with Skype could very well transform the way companies engage with their customers. For instance, customers could use Skype video to show an agent the problem using their Web cam, or share a desktop to get help on a software issue, or engage in an IM chat. Instead of searching a company's Web site for support, customers could reach out to an agent directly from a buddy list.

Multi-modal contact centers aren't new, but such implementations have been limited. There hasn't been an easy way for agents to use all of the modalities - voice, video and chat - to engage with customer because there hasn't been an effective UC client on the consumer's desktop. Instead, customers have had to download an application or an applet. They certainly haven't been able to initiate a video session or IM chat directly with an agent. If the federation plan is implemented, customer service becomes easier, richer and more powerful precisely because users already have the most predominant unified communications client in the world-the Skype client.

Of course, questions remain. What integration, if any, will there be between Flare, Avaya's new unified communications tablet, and Skype? Presumably, the two should work well together. There's also a question about call quality. Skype calling quality is variable depending on the Internet congestion, the PC's capabilities and its application load. Consumers tolerate problems in call quality because of the promise of free calling. Whether businesses will be as tolerant, particularly in an area as sensitive as the call center, remains to be seen.