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In-depth: the opportunity for unified comms in the call centre part II

Simon Quicke

In the second part of the Avaya roundtable looking at the reseller opportunities for unified communications in the call centre we ask the selected panel to outline where they think the technology will have an impact.


Who's who at the round table

  • Chris Barrow EMEA product marketing manager at Avaya
  • Gene Reynolds Senior consultant at Corporate Communications
  • Adam Faulkner Founding director at Sabio
  • Tony Corlett Product development director at Azzurri
  • Tony Parish Co-founder and MD at G3
  • Dave Glasgow Sales director at IP integration
  • Russell Attwood CEO at CCT
  • Dave du Toit Chief technical officer at Datapoint
  • Dan Harding Avaya Solutions Architect at Dimension Data
  • John Howard EMEA enterprise channel director at Avaya
  • Gordon Loader EMEA senior manager for solutions marketing at Avaya

As the world of web 2.0 starts to change the way that people communicate and share information the response in the call centre will also have to develop. The next generation of customers will expect a different experience as the resellers on the front line are already discovering.

Q. Is there any place for collaboration in the call centre?

AF: There is definitely a benefit calling in an expert.

AB: As a consumer if I called in and the agent said that they knew the right person that would work for me.

GR: Using IM in the call centre there has to be strong auditing because a call centre manager will want to know when and why the agents were using it. If an agent had a 20 minutes IM conversation with a customer the manager will want to know about it.

TP: It is going to take us two or three years to educate the buyers and they will understand it and the light bulb will go off above them and they will go with it.

Q. Will call centres be forced to change by the emergence of a generation that wants to communicate via the web?

JH: That's where remote working can work. If you are looking at certain industries, take online gambling, with web chats why would you have someone drive into London or to a call centre? You can have someone working from home and pay them a flat rate to deal with web queries and it can all be monitored with technology. There is even technology to tell when they have left the monitor. You have to look at the industries someone will break away, a big name, that will take share in the recession and others will follow. It will; happen because users will define if technologies will be adopted or not.

TP: people that are in jobs making decisions and recommenders in a recession are scared for their jobs. Because there is a lack of education around this and people see it as soft benefits rather than hard ROIs they might be more reluctant to put their name to it than they would be when it is not a recession.

AF: there is a risk that the whole UC debate will allow some people to make poor decisions about call centre applications. The advantages of UC saving costs are seen by IT directors who are making broader decisions about getting UC strategy sorted. When it comes to the call centre they will just bolt on the technology from the UC supplier and that is a risk to the call centre technology strategy if you are not at the table when UC is being discussed.

GL: We know that over time proprietary contact centre models will end and UC will be the next generation model that communications are built on. Now is the time to be starting these conversations if you want to be a major player in this market.

TC: We should not be complacent because another vendor could come in with a different model. I have always been very skeptical about hosted contact centres, they have limited functionality, but they do exist and we should not dismiss it.

GR: The paradigm change which will start to change the contact centre is the idea that people are starting to expect instant access to their friends and colleagues at work at any time. That's where it will start to change the model and IM will start to play more of an important role with contact centres.

DdT: The focus with UC right now is on the enterprise side because there are massive benefits. This is where the performance benefits are. This will eventually lead into the adoption of UC into the contact centre, which is already a rich communications environment.

GR: But we have to keep evangelising to the rank and file telling them this is where it is going and this is what you should be thinking of doing.

JH: Video will also be the next big thing and changing methods of communication are coming.

TP: it might be that we need to go back for more clear messages from the vendor. A couple of years ago it was do more for less but now with some products coming for free maybe it is around services.

JH: We can push and a brand can push but if you are going to be successful it is about the user saying that it is something that they can't live without.

Q: Can Avaya influence call centre managers influencing their views of the future?

JH: I think we are with the channel we are driving a technological and solutions conversation with the users. That's our job. Some resellers have high skills already but we are also supporting the wider number of partners and distributors, we are doing that work.

GR: Don't you worry that will be seen just as an Avaya story and not a think tanks view. I think we have to be careful where that message comes from. If a call centre manager heard that at a more independent forum it might have more impact on them. They need to walk the path a little bit on their own and realise that it is the future.

Q. Can giving away free bundles help break down the resistance and change the culture?

JH: That's one of the reasons we are doing it. We don't want to give away licences for nothing. The channel can decide whether they want to activate or not and add some services around that. As soon as someone starts using it becomes easier to scope it out to the rest of the organisation.

RA: We support the principle of try before you buy, it means you can start to build a business case and with that reference ability, which in turn creates its own momentum.

TC: But you have to get it into the business because the IT department just see the problems with supporting it and it never leaves the IT team.

JH: The ROI models and TCO models are a bit more sophisticated but it does need to stack up and if the channel is not selling strong ROI models, and it looks like sub 12 months at the moment, and offer good op ex models then it is going to be challenge.

RA: There is a hell of a task in front of us getting UC onto the call centre manager agenda. It is a case of convincing them they already have the start of UC and they need to expand it appropriately. That being said as we have mentioned before contact centres have had visibility of presence for as long as contact centres have been in existence.

CB: If you went to a business manager and asked what their top ten priorities are they would not say I need IP telephony but they would say that they would like to get hold of staff and do remote working. UC can help with that but perhaps they don't know it. As I said right at the beginning, we HAVE to remove the technical language and jargon from the conversation.

TC: Most of the benefit for UC deployment is in the mobility area. Those aren't the contact centre agents so the relevance isn't as acute as it is in the enterprise.

GL: But it comes back to a UC layer that you would apply or not apply depending on their role in the business. But moving on it can be about applying UC to speed business functions up and that is where the channel partner can come in. For partners and vendors the discussions we need to be having is around business processes and how the technology could improve and help them.

DG: It is still an educational process and getting resellers to a level they can talk about it and have references is difficult.

JH: If you look back in recessions this is when number one players become number seven and die. Those that can invest in technology and exploit cost and enter a new market will be strong and ready to go. Some companies don't have a choice and will reduce the headcount and get ready to ride the next few months out. But resellers can help companies and become more consultative and that adds real value. Means other partners can't come in and offer 1% less and take that customer away.

Q. Where do you see this market going in the next five to ten years?

CB: Wouldn't it be great in a contact centre if you could eliminate words like "might" "try" & "hold on one second". When you phone a contact centre you could get someone telling you that they CAN get the answer for you right now and bring an expert on the call to resolve issues right there and then. For the consumer that would be a fabulous experience, why would they go elsewhere.

GR: There will be a much bigger world in social networking in contact centres. With the current dawn of IM and social networking people will not necessarily look at call centres to solve their problems but people. I think the killer apps will sit in that space and it is already happening today.

AF: From a UC perspective for the next five to ten years there will be an explosion in the enterprise. It is a massive opportunity in the enterprise but the risk to the call centre is the people making the decision about the UC layer will glaze over the other applications in the contact centre so we need to control the decision making at the UC layer.

TC: I can see how it will go as the next wave of employees hit the workforce as instant communication becomes second nature to them and contact centres cannot remain islands of technology. I just don't have the answer yet.

TP: The call centre will lag behind but as the enterprise shifts then people will start to expect it in the call centre and everyone will want to use it.

DG: The age of people and the choice of how they want to communicate will be driven by social networking. There is a real challenge in the reseller marketplace deploying and understanding these technologies to get it moving, presence in particular, but I think it is going to happen.

RA: I think the whole principle of first call resolution needs to be drawn out from the traditional public sector shared service centre environment to a more mainstream contact centre, UC gives you the tools to do that. The ability to bring in the right people to knock the enquiry dead first time is compelling. But, we have to turn to the vendors and the analysts for a clearer definition and to get them to preach the message because they have the ability to touch more of the greater public. But it is coming no doubt about it.

DdT: In five to ten years time the contact centre and the enterprise are going to merge together. I wonder if we are even going to talk of contact centres in five years time? You are going to start see the start of a single workflow through organisations. Although contact centres are predominately voice today there will be a major impact from the internet resulting in convergence between the website and voice. Mutli-modal is going to be the pinnacle of where collaboration is going, converging voice, text and video. This will result in a true virtualisation of the future workforce.

DH: UC is going to be intrinsic in every enterprise and people will be able to see what it happening at a partner and have a real-time conversation. UC will become more open standards so you can have one application that will cover multiple vendors back end systems. Until we can get our heads round what we can do with the contact centre in a real-time environment the UC bit there is a sticky piece but across everything else it will be the way to communicate.

JH: What do they say, some things change and then some things don't. There are a couple of drivers. Business could change post recession and green has gone on the   for now but that could change. We could be using Second Life and be making virtual calls. I think things will either change dramatically or they wont. The 15 years old will be 25 and they will want to interact differently compared to us today and people will be communicating differently in the future.

GL: UC will be become the standard model for communications within the enterprise and one of the key elements it brings is unifying all those channels. I see a drive to add more intelligence to the UC environment. Additional knowledge like a person's role, skills or knowledge will help make communications more productive and effective in business.

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