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Every once in a while a technology or application emerges that has the potential to disrupt the status quo. The Internet is an example. On the other hand, CRM has been a disappointment for many organizations, often generating more problems than value. While the Internet has significantly improved communications for everyone, CRM suites are geared only to benefit enterprises and their customers.
The technology now being heralded as the next disruptive force—unified communications (UC)—has actually been around for more than 15 years. UC, as its Wikipedia entry states, “is not a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types.” The entry goes on to define UC as “the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, IP telephony, video conferencing, call control and speech control with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, email, SMS and fax).”
Currently, the primary UC deliverable is a technology called presence. Presence is a feature of session initiation protocol (SIP) that allows an organization to know the “state” of its employees, regardless of their locations; the state provides information about someone’s availability and willingness to communicate. Once the employee’s state is known, other people in the enterprise—including contact center agents—can see if that person is available for a collaboration session or to take a phone call.
The primary benefit of UC/presence is that it can speed up many business processes. Instead of playing “phone tag,” you can look up a person’s presence status and, if available, reach out to her via instant message. This can eliminate delays in resolving business issues. (If the person isn’t available, the individual needing help can wait until she is, or find someone else who is ready and willing to help, avoiding the need for additional messages.)
Presence technology empowers a contact center agent to locate experts who can resolve customer inquiries that are beyond the agent’s knowledge. The idea is to increase the first-call resolution rate and thereby reduce contact center operating expenses (by reducing transfers and callbacks) while increasing customer satisfaction (by speeding resolution). The practical problem is that while contact centers favor instant access to enterprise experts for assistance with customer inquiries, managers of other departments may not want their employees interrupted throughout the day to answer questions. These managers have a legitimate argument: Interrupting can be very expensive and nonproductive for the company, as employees are often busy and their time is more expensive than contact center agents’. The feeling is that contact centers should have the expertise to deal with the great majority of inquiries without depending on other departments. As a result, most enterprises are not warming up to the UC concept, even though most business managers agree that there is great benefit in removing latency from business processes.
For years, enterprises’ senior managers have paid lip service to the importance of customer service. With UC/presence it will become clear which companies want to become more customer-focused. UC/presence may very well be a disruptive technology; with the right best practices it will make positive contributions to the enterprise and its customers. UC impacts how enterprises interact with customers and how employees interact with each other. The question is whether or not enterprises want this type of change.
Adoption of UC has been slow, partially due to the recession, which has put a major damper on all but the most essential and unavoidable technology investments. (To be fair, UC involves a major commitment, is not inexpensive, and needs its vendors to do a much better job of communicating its value proposition and related benefits.) What is clear is that UC is here and has the potential to change the landscape of internal and external communications, thereby altering the role and contributions of contact centers.
Donna Fluss (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, a leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting.
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