• May 3, 2005
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Microsoft Streamlines the Call Center

Microsoft is reaching out to service providers of all stripes with Microsoft Customer Care Framework (CCF), a desktop environment that integrates the numerous applications customer agents need to accomplish their jobs. The new product gives a nod to service-oriented architecture, tying together companies' existing CRM, operations, and support software to streamline and correlate their use, automating certain tasks and reducing the complexity of others. The framework reduces costs and improves customer service through decreased call times, less task redundancy, and faster and more focused information delivery. According to Vish Thirumurthy, group product manager, communications sector, CCF allows operators to deploy quickly and "makes existing solutions work better under a single, unified desktop." He also points out that CCF isn't exactly new. "We've been offering Microsoft CCF for almost a year and a half," Thirumurthy says. "This new version is the first one we've publicly announced." Executives from Microsoft's communications sector, which is a vertical for service providers and media and entertainment operations with large customer service arms (such as publishing houses), decided the time was right to announce the product "as we now have critical customer momentum and evidence of CCF's effectiveness," Thirumurthy says. Existing customers have experienced a 20 percent reduction in call handing time and 20 percent faster time to market, he says. One of the expected selling points of Microsoft CCF is scalability. "The smallest installation I've seen so far has been for 250 to 270 agents," Thirumurthy says. "We also have a client with 8,000 agents that will be increasing to 15,000 shortly, and a major bank has deployed CCF to 25,000 agents integrating 17 or more applications." While clearly aimed at enterprise users, Thirumurthy says, the utility of CCF for an organization "depends more upon call volume and the complexity of transactions." In addition to selling CCF directly, Microsoft has agreements with a number of partners, including Accenture, CosmoCom, Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, and others, to adopt CCF as part of their own customer care capabilities. According to Sheryl Kingstone, program manager and industry analyst for Yankee Group, CCF was never announced before because it was something of a lab project with a series of one-off implementations. "It wasn't vapor, but it appears that Microsoft has productized what had been a custom tool," Kingstone says. The service-oriented-architecture approach is "a philosophy Microsoft started toward with its .NET framework, BizTalk, and other products some years ago, so CCF is an evolution of Microsoft's ability to integrate outside products," she says. Kingstone says CCF will likely find the most traction either "as an interim solution before implementing a full-blown suite, or in companies with a lot of legacy data and a large previous investment in spot solutions." Related articles: Is It Time for Real Time?
Recent debuts of real-time enterprise tools by Microsoft and AOL could help jump-start presence management in the contact center. The Way to Mendocino Microsoft and SAP's first joint product will link a new platform to Microsoft Office applications; analysts say it's nothing new. Maximizing Call Center Efficiency
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