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In Contact Centers, WFO's Star Is on the Rise
A host of innovations are adding new dimensions.
For the rest of the July 2012 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Contact center workforce optimization (WFO) continues to be one of the top technology sectors in the contact center market. Vendors large and small simply get it. They continue to deliver functionally rich solutions that satisfy the needs of their customers. Market projections for WFO suites are good, and sales of some of the 10 modules that comprise these solutions are even stronger. Sales of the two core components of these suites—recording and quality assurance—are experiencing a resurgence. Leading WFO vendors have started to invest in their recording platforms in order to differentiate their core capabilities. For several years, on the quality assurance (QA) side, vendors have been investing in enhancing their solutions by adding analytical capabilities. The end result is that enterprises now have the option to buy new QA/recording offerings that are more dependable and deliver greater benefits.

There are more than 45 competitors in the WFO market, not counting the dozens of stand-alone recording providers. A vast majority of these are profitable, as has been the case for years. The market consists of two leaders—NICE and Verint—and about 43 contenders. A surprising number of WFO vendors are making substantial research and development investments in their solutions in order to deliver differentiated offerings. The enhancements fall into many categories, including system architecture, functionality, ease of use, user interface, reporting, and, very importantly, ongoing vendor support and ease of doing business.

Analytics Takes Center Stage

Analytics is going to play an essential role in the future of all service organizations, including contact centers. Today, WFO vendors, the primary providers of analytics to contact centers, are offering many analytics applications, including speech analytics, text analytics, desktop analytics, and performance management. But these are just a few of the analytical capabilities expected to emerge. Predictive analytics has been talked about for years, but is just now attracting investment dollars and starting to be delivered in product packages. Capabilities such as next-best action and real-time guidance use business rules and, increasingly, predictive capabilities to help contact center agents consistently take the right actions to address customers' needs.

Speech analytics crossed into the mainstream in 2011, driven by the adoption of emerging best practices. This market is still new, but there are now enough success stories that many of the holdouts, at least those with a budget, are willing to consider it. Even more exciting is the entrance of real-time speech analytics into the market. While this functionality is new and is hindered by the classic challenges of any new technology, its potential is stunning. Consider the possibility of combining predictive analytics with real-time speech analytics. Once it works, and it will within the next two to three years, everyone wins—enterprises, customers, and, of course, the vendors that sell the solutions.

Desktop analytics (DA) is one of the newest and most compelling applications to be included in WFO suites. It's been around for more than six years, but is not yet fully understood. Part of the challenge is that DA is not a stand-alone application, but a grouping of capabilities that greatly enhance the performance of other applications. Unfortunately, WFO vendors continue to struggle to figure out how to package and sell DA, and the stand-alone providers just don''t have the financial strength to build the sector. It will take a few more years, but DA will catch on, as it's too valuable not to.

Infrastructure Vendors and Cloud-Based Solutions Are Strong Contenders

It has taken years, but a number of contact center infrastructure vendors have finally become serious about delivering WFO suites. With the traditional automatic call distributor market stagnant, these vendors are looking at WFO as a highly profitable add-on to their core contact center technology. A growing number of vendors, including Aspect, Avaya, Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, inContact, and Interactive Intelligence, have either built their own WFO offering or have white-labeled some WFO capabilities. All contact center infrastructure vendors partner with WFO vendors, but now these vendors are taking a more active role in this segment and are getting better at integrating WFO into their contact center infrastructure solutions. The winners are end users, who have more choices than ever before. End users should use this to their advantage and aggressively negotiate both prices and terms.

Also on the rise is the demand for cloud-based WFO capabilities, by companies big and small. In some cases, the desire to purchase a cloud-based offering is driven by the classic benefits—no capital investment, low start-up costs, ongoing technology refresh, short-term commitments, etc. In other cases, new competitors are offering compelling cloud-based solutions. Again, end users have more options than ever before and are positioned to negotiate a favorable deal.

Workforce Management Is Waking Up

The workforce management (WFM) sector has been slow-moving for too many years. The U.S.-based market leaders, Aspect and NICE, have dominated this relatively sleepy sector for over two decades. Workforce management solutions are perceived as being very complex, and this has discouraged new entrants in the past.

Well, all of this has changed. New market entrants from all over the world are now competing for an increasing number of deals. There are a growing number of options for contact center managers who are willing to make some trade-offs between ease of use and functionality. Also, a growing number of WFO vendors are building their own WFM solutions. It will take years for them to catch up with some of the capabilities in leading solutions, if they ever do, but the fact that they are making these investments reflects the market's disappointment with the leading solutions.

DMG expects to see continued investments and the emergence of more WFM solutions during the next few years, giving end users a growing selection from which to choose.

Social Media, Mobile, and Maybe Even Video

The two leading WFO vendors, NICE and Verint, have recently purchased surveying vendors, also known as voice of the customer providers. The acquisitions are compelling and give buyers some potentially high-value capabilities, including some social media functionality. What is not known is when end user organizations will start to make serious attempts to build out their social media customer service functions; it is inevitable, but the market is being surprisingly tentative. DMG expects that it will take another three years before we see significant investments in this area.

There is also a great deal of noise in the market about mobile and video applications. DMG sees mobile and video as compelling technologies that have the potential to improve the performance of contact center applications and benefit users. With the exception of WFM, we are not seeing significant adoption of mobile applications for contact centers, and few organizations are thrilled with the thought of using video to connect agents and customers, except for very specific uses, such as in the healthcare arena. However, investments are being made in both mobile and video technologies, and end users who are interested should push their WFO and contact center infrastructure vendors to deliver the functionality that they want.

The WFO market continues to outperform most other contact center IT sectors because vendors large and small are delivering compelling and innovative solutions. End-user organizations have more choices than ever before, and need to give serious consideration to both long-standing and new competitors. It is a given that this is a buyer's market for prospects willing to consider vendors of all sizes and who have the time and patience to negotiate a favorable deal.

For more information about leading and contending workforce optimization solutions, see "DMG's 2011–2012 Quality Management/Liability Recording (Workforce Optimization) Product and Market Report."


Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting.


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