Microsoft Centralizes the Connection
Redmond has strengthened its contact center capabilities with the release of Microsoft Customer Care Framework (CCF) 2005, a software solution that takes the integration approach to unifying the agent desktop. Although Microsoft has offered CCF for about two-and-a-half years, the company wanted to wait until it had "critical momentum" before making the announcement, according to Vish Thirumurthy, group manager for Microsoft's communications sector. Today's unveiling marks Microsoft's second public general availability launch; its first CCF announcement was in May 2005.
CCF 2005 is integrated with Microsoft Office components and delivers consolidated data from applications like billing, CRM, and order management systems that are used by agents to handle customer queries, translating into gains in efficiency and effectiveness, according to the company. Agents "typically [use] five, 10, 15, 20 applications they're switching back and forth between," Thirumurthy says. "Now they have a single desktop to deal with, which gives them all the data [and] the ability to click through for more and more deeper detail."
Like its predecessor CCF 2005 also incorporates a service-oriented architecture, but this release adds more APIs. "At the end of the day, though, we do support non-SOA-based integration as well, so if the customer already has made a significant commitment to a non-SOA-based strategy...we can certainly support that," Thirumurthy says.
CCF also features self-service functionality that includes support for email, instant messaging, speech, and Web-chat channels, and supports integration between various customer touch points. "When you go into a portal--at that point, when you log in, they know who you are. When you decide to send an email [or initiate] an instant messaging session...typically what happens is, your information isn't passed on to one channel from another. You still have to type it all back in," Thirumurthy says. With CCF "that information flows with you as you move from one channel to another."
As part of CCF, the solution incorporates a new SharePoint-based self-service portal and IVR system that allows customers to access account and billing information, order new services, or resolve business problems. Customers also can launch a Web chat or email interaction with a CSR within the self-service portal, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft has a cluster of ISVs and system integrators that will offer CCF capabilities, including Accenture, CosmoCom, and Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories. "We leverage Microsoft products, as well as partner products, [so when] there are innovations in those products, such as Office or the Microsoft Server stack or the partner products, all those benefits also flow through to the end customer," Thirumurthy says. "We do understand that [companies] currently have investments in other technologies as well, so part of this...is being able to consume whatever heterogeneous platform they have and seamlessly integrate that using CCF."
Integration has been at the core of Microsoft's .NET strategy, according to Joe Wilcox, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, who contends that companies standardized end-to-end on Microsoft products will see the biggest benefits from CCF. "If companies are already using Microsoft software to begin with, it [makes] some sense to try to extend what they already have," he says. "Bottom line is, the best integration's going to be with Microsoft's own products or those products that support .NET and .NET framework."
"The contact center--the single most important point of contact for responding to customer needs--must become more agile, provide a consistent customer experience, and be optimized for improved performance," said Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager at Yankee Group, in a written statement. "The Microsoft Customer Care Framework helps break down the current barriers that exist."
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