Agent-Facing Universal Desktop
(see chart below)
The unified computer interface used by contact center agents must be clear and easy to understand, but the market itself is a different story. Acquisitions have now merged three of the top contenders into one, but positions have changed and the ratings are closer than ever. The good news is, this won't be the case for next year's awards; the bad news is, we have no idea how things will sort out. Who says agent-facing universal desktops (AFUDs) aren't exciting?
There's more to agent desktops than a screen pop, a fact that kept some otherwise promising vendors out of the running. John Ragsdale, vice president and research director at Forrester Research, says, "The user interface and controls for customization are obvious factors, but the integration framework is at least as important." This is especially true as service oriented architecture (SOA) gains more traction, simplifying the integration process and reducing the need for specialist applications.
Another issue in agent desktops is the growing trend toward on-demand applications. While the only vendors to make our list this year are primarily licensed software providers, next year may see more hosted options carve space in our awards. Ragsdale says the traditional players "are definitely the best in B2B settings, but in B2C we need to start considering e-service vendors like KANA." Frost & Sullivan's Jacobs concurs: "The hosted contact center will of course include an agent desktop. SAP sees it, but hasn't really acted yet. Salesforce.com sees it, but it may approach the desktop through partners and the AppExchange. There are some weak ones out there already."
The acquisition by Oracle is long since done with, but PeopleSoft retains a loyal following and enough distinction to merit its own entry in our awards. Ragsdale says PeopleSoft customers "feel well taken care of" when dealing with the business unit; Jacobs says that they have been "soothed and petted," and notes that the company's rating for customer satisfaction "might have been higher if it had remained independent." PeopleSoft surprised us by rating best in reputation for functional depth, displacing the weakened Siebel. "It's one of the strongest suites before we see [Oracle] Fusion," Jacobs says. Not surprisingly, PeopleSoft rated worst in company direction, since even our analysts can't agree on who's in control. Ragsdale believes PeopleSoft is still driving, but others are not as sure. Jacobs quips, "What direction? It's whatever Oracle decides." Says Martin Schneider, enterprise software analyst for The 451 Group, "You just don't know."
Siebel Systems got under the Oracle umbrella late in 2005, bringing CRM expertise to a company that had been lukewarm in that area. One of the reasons Oracle CEO Larry Ellison stated for the acquisition was Siebel's strength in applications that touch a user's customers; another was its work in SOA integration. That said, there's little surprise that the Siebel name continues to carry clout in areas like agent desktop, despite what Ragsdale characterizes as "a rough year, along with the leadership change. But Siebel and PeopleSoft still have the best vision." Schneider says Siebel's applications and strategy are "well tied together." Customer satisfaction was Siebel's weakest area, earning a mere 3.1 from our analysts--"You still hear the horror stories," Schneider says. Siebel CRM OnDemand made some waves with customers that didn't need excess functionality. "In the hosted area Siebel has done a good job targeting companies with lower demands," Jacobs says.
SAP clawed its way to the top of the AFUD heap this year, beating out rival Oracle and its adopted children Siebel and PeopleSoft. It managed this not by being overwhelmingly strong in any one category, but by not being weak where the other competitors faltered. With continuing uncertainty about Oracle's plans and ability to manage its growing product family, being steady is a quality of its own. Jacobs notes other areas where SAP has carved some space for itself. "SAP does well in surprising areas, like e-service," Jacobs says. "They're making progress with a hosted version, but they should have started with customer service."
"SAP is always adding functionality to its products," Schneider says. "With good execution in hosting, it could earn perfect marks." He also likes what SAP is doing with its NetWeaver platform, and says it "makes a lot of sense." Schneider explains that NetWeaver "allows for greater interoperability and general integration for SAP users. It can also, in time, allow for lower TCO, since the applications can be more centrally managed and data issues can be reduced." Customer satisfaction is relatively strong at 3.6; this is partly because SAP customers tend to self-select. "Those who come looking for SAP's strength in turning contact centers from money pits into profit makers are very happy," Jacobs says. Ragsdale opines, "The IT customers are satisfied, but there hasn't been one word in the past year for the business user."
One to Watch
We may take some heat for our choice of One to Watch--if Oracle owns two of the category leaders and has well-respected agent desktop offerings of its own, one could argue it owns the space. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Oracle earns the One to Watch distinction for the second year in a row. Our analysts rated the company's native agent desktop products well behind the others in terms of both functionality and customer satisfaction. It makes sense that Oracle would acquire Siebel and PeopleSoft in this case, and also that they would outshine it as long as all three are rated separately. As Oracle merges and clarifies its product families, this issue will disappear. --Marshall Lager
With all the negative press on outsourcing--in particular, offshoring--it behooves outsourcers to work even harder to prove their worth. To do this, outsourcers over the past year have been focusing on automation technologies, different geographical markets, and M&As to grow their depth and breadth of services.
"Many of these companies are positioning themselves as a one-stop-shop for any BPO needs a firm, large or small, might have," says John Willmott, analyst at NelsonHall UK. "The holy grail for these guys in terms of customer care is that when a customer interaction does come in, they have enough customer information about that person so they know how to respond, counsel them, and upsell and cross-sell."
EDS continues to be one of the strongest call center outsourcing companies and most well rounded, with solid offerings in systems integration, network and systems operations, data center management, and customer care outsourcing. Within the last year, the company has built out its customer management platform to also support human resources services, and built out its speech-enabled and Web self-service offerings. All these services helped the company earn a 4.3 in reputation for depth of services, highest of the leaders, according to analysts polled. "EDS is a company that rather than competing on price alone, they're looking at how they can use customer interaction data and new services and technology so they can have a more intelligent conversation with the customer," Willmott says.
TeleTech continues to be a regular on the leaderboard and is the second largest teleservices provider in the United States (behind Convergys), with more than 65 call centers located in almost 20 countries. It continues to offer a variety of call-handling and customer management services, including support, customer acquisition and retention, and service provisioning for telecommunication providers. The company has always been strong in call-handling, direct marketing, and data management services for the automotive market, though analysts say this business is beginning to moderate as the company places more emphasis on financial services and healthcare companies. This new direction leads to a solid 4.1 in company direction; however, TeleTech received a lackluster customer satisfaction ratings of 3.7, the lowest among the leaders, according to analysts polled.
One outsourcing company on most enterprises' short list is Convergys, the category winner for two years in a row. It received the highest marks in customer satisfaction and company direction of all the leaders, and continues to be one of the most versatile BPO providers. Its Employee Care unit offers outsourcing of HR functions, while its Customer Care division--the largest teleservices business in the U.S.--provides both inbound and outbound call handling for sales, marketing, and support through more than 60 call centers. Convergys also offers bill processing services and provisioning software to telecommunications companies through its Information Management Group. Acquiring Deloitte's F&A BPO business in June 2005 only strengthened the company's well-rounded offerings.
"When you're looking for a name in outsourcing, Convergys is as blue chip as you're going to get," one analyst says. "They can build a strong HR and F&A business around all of their customer care stuff, which only helps them leverage customers better. They have an excellent reputation amongst their customers across many verticals."
One to Watch
Though Teleperformance has always been considered a powerhouse in Europe, analysts agree the company has made monumental gains in the U.S. With nearly 160 call centers in 35 countries covering 35 languages, the company has the largest global network of all the leaders. It also has one of the strongest South American outsourcing networks, which will help the company service the Hispanic market. Teleperformance handles inbound and outbound calls in customer acquisition and retention, upselling and cross-selling, and technical assistance. "They acquired a Canadian outsourcer and purchased an IVR solutions provider last year, which were both tremendous moves," Willmott says. "They have nowhere to go but up in the North American outsourcing market. They'll most definitely become one of the top-three market leaders in North America." --Colin Beasty
Please click The 2006 Service Leader Awards, Part 1 to read Part 1.