Is Unified Communications the Next “Disruptive” Customer Service Technology?
by Donna Fluss, founder and President of DMG Consulting LLC
Every once in a while a technology or application emerges that has the potential to “disrupt” the status quo. The Internet is a wonderfully disruptive technology that has changed and enhanced the lives of people and businesses everywhere. On the other hand, many customer relationship management (CRM) suites have been a disappointment. For many organizations CRM suites has proven to be more trouble than their worth. While the Internet has significantly improved communications for everyone, CRM suites are geared only to benefit enterprises and their customers.
Unified Communications Enters the World’s Business Stage
Unified Communications (UC) is a term that’s been around for more than 15 years. Now it’s being heralded as the next disruptive technology. UC is a technology framework that helps organizations provide a standardized user interface and user experience across multiple applications, devices and channels. It integrates real-time and non-real-time communications services. The real-time communications services include: Internet Protocol (IP) telephony, presence, call control, speech control, instant messaging (IM)/chat, and conferencing (voice and video). The non-real-time communications services include: voicemail, email, SMS and fax, also known as unified messaging.
The primary UC deliverable is a technology called presence. (With the exception of presence, UC does not introduce new applications or capabilities; instead, it provides a unified approach to accessing and interacting with technology.) Presence is a feature of session initiation protocol (SIP) that allows an organization to know the “state” of its employees, regardless of their location; 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 they are available for a collaboration session or to take a phone call.
The Benefits of UC
The primary benefit of UC/presence is that it can speed up many kinds of business processes. So, for example, instead of leaving a phone message and playing “phone tag,” a highly unproductive and often frustrating activity, employees can look up a person’s presence status and, if they are available, reach out to them via IM. This can eliminate delays in resolving business issues. (And if the person being contacted is not available, the individual needing help can wait until they are, or find someone else who is ready and willing to help, which also avoids the need to leave phone messages.)
Presence technology empowers contact center agents 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 call backs) while increasing customer satisfaction (by speeding up the resolution process). The practical problem is that while contact centers favor instant access to enterprise experts for assistance with customer inquiries, managers of other departments, such as application development, product management or risk management, may not want their employees interrupted throughout the day to answer questions. These managers have a legitimate argument; interrupting their staff can be very expensive and non-productive for the company, as their employees are often busy with other tasks 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.
What Does UC Mean for Enterprises?
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 and which ones do not. UC/presence may very well be a disruptive technology; with the right best practices it will make positive contributions to the enterprise and their customers.
To be fair, UC involves a major commitment, is not inexpensive and the vendors need to do a much better job of communicating its value proposition and related benefits. UC is a potential game changer – it 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. The worldwide economic slowdown has put a major damper on all but the most essential and unavoidable technology investments. So it’s not yet known what will happen with the adoption of UC once the economy recovers. 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.
For a more detailed review of Unified Communications and the vendor offerings, please see DMG Consulting’s Contact Center Unified Communications Market, Vendor and Product Guide.
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