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Making i-Contact

September 1, 2006

5 Min Read
Making i-Contact

By Tara Seals


with contact centers is growing as consumers increasingly want to use e-mail, self-service portals and other options for customer care. The trend is driving complexity and cost for businesses a boon for hosted contact center solutions that offer turnkey approaches for enabling, tracking and managing the various flavors of customer interaction with little upfront costs or maintenance.

Theres a lot of movement to multimedia contact centers and thats driving more hosting, says Nortel Networks Ltd.s Nick George, leader of hosted contact center solutions. E-mail has been adopted almost universally, but were slow to get to Web chat or self-service as an integrated functionality. Many also have VoIP in there, too, running on a separate server. So right now there are disparate technologies that companies are using, and while they are starting to mature and integrate into a full skills-based multimedia approach, the fact is, its very complex. So rather than retrain the IT department and consolidate all the silos and so on, many companies just want to give it all to someone else to do.

As the options grow, an emerging requirement is giving call center agents the ability to track customer interactions across two or more media, for an integrated view of the customer. Companies spend millions of dollars on the promotion and protection of their consumer brands, says Lori Batterton, marketing manager at Astute Solutions, which sells through VARs and systems integrators. But one bad service experience regardless of the interaction channel can invalidate years of brand building. These realities are hardly new developments, but when coupled with escalating consumer expectations, the proliferation of Web self-service/multichannel interactions and the immediate need for exceptional service on a dime, they are creating an unprecedented urgency to address the real and immediate needs of consumers. And this is furthering industry growth.

Astute Solutions hosted ePowerCenter Direct targets B2C industries such as consumer products manufacturers, retail, grocery, airlines, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and financial services. It gives a Web browser to an agent to access customer and information databases from anywhere, and delivers configurable reporting features on call information, which the system collects in real time. The application automatically captures, tracks and routes all communications with consumers, regardless of channel, through a single interface and unified interaction database, providing agents with a complete view of consumers and their interaction histories, enabling more personalized service. A centralized knowledge base can access multiple systems, offering agents immediate access to any product and company information.

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Aptelas UI provides a call room that shows what calls agents are connected to (multiple if in a conference call) and allows them to fully manage calls; transfer, record, take notes or flip from one phone to another seamlessly. It offers easy access to all messages, quick dial, address book and ACD queue.

Companies also are asking for the ability to customize their multichannel systems. Many organizations are looking to hosted contact center providers to give them a fully integrated package of solutions that enables them to pick and choose what they need to do to meet their contact center objectives, says Serge Hyppolite, director of product management for the unified IP contact center at Aspect Software. Aspect offers Aspect EnsemblePro, which unites inbound, outbound and blended multichannel contact (voice, e-mail, Web and fax) with queuing, routing and reporting. It provides the solution on an ASP basis to outsourcers, service providers and distributor/VAR partners to offer their end users. So the latest technology for hosted contact center solutions incorporates the full suite of capabilities into a single product offering. This enables companies to take advantage of blended functionality inbound and outbound, voice self-service, and multichannel voice, e-mail and Web chat in an all-in-one package.

Some channels are still nascent, but the industry should prepare for them, experts say. For instance, e-mail, Internet portal-originated communications, fax, VoIP and mobile communications all have gained widespread acceptance in the call center; Web chat still is limited in deployment. Theres not too much demand yet for chat as a service tool yet; its more of a sales tool to engage Web site visitors, says Howard Friedman, Aptela Inc.s CEO. Aptela offers multiple channels within its hosted offer, available through referral partners and agents, with Web chat on the road map. In theory, you could have two or three windows going at once. But I think it needs a little more bake time.

Aspects Hyppolite agrees. Web chat is lagging a bit in terms of uptake by the market, he says. The main area of use for that technology right now is in the retail sector. For now, he says, adoption of e-mail and Internet portal contact has particularly begun to take off and those looking to hosted contact center providers expect them to be able to provide an integration of data and voice capabilities.

Video also may emerge as an option in the multimedia contact center. There are benefits to using video communication in contact centers for some applications, says Bernard Elliot, an analyst with Gartner Inc. For instance, it can be useful where live demonstrations or personalized interaction is helpful. Proprietary protocols and technical complexity have limited deployment to consumer environments; however, increased adoption of Web cams may increase adoption of this form of interaction. He warns not to buy into early hype surrounding the functionality, however, labeling the customer interaction method as embryonic.

Multichannel technology is essential given that todays consumers are increasingly sophisticated, says Batterton. They wish to contact businesses in the manner they prefer phone, e-mail, chat, fax, letter or self-service while ensuring a consistent experience across all agents, contact centers and channels of communication.

This will continue to push evolution in the contact center, a trend toward hosting and plenty of opportunities for agents and VARs to find new sales, Friedman adds.


Aptela Inc. www.aptela.com
Aspect Software Inc. www.aspect.com
Astute Solutions www.astutesolutions.com
Gartner Inc. www.gartner.com
Nortel Networks Ltd. www.nortel.com

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