IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk last week wrote about the still largely unrealized potential of unified communications. As Carl notes, the current economic conditions certainly won't help make UC's case in the enterprise. Another problem, he points out, is the amorphous nature of UC, which "clearly was struggling to create an identity before the economy soured."
In agreement with this point is Freeform Dynamics analyst Josie Sephton, who writes on IT Analysis that many enterprises simply don't see a compelling enough business case for UC. However, such a case exists in the contact center, an area in which UC could prove to be a so-called killer app.
To handle incoming inquiries, she points out, contact center agents often need to tap into expertise located in multiple, different parts of the company. And that's where UC comes in. Because UC senses "presence," an agent can quickly see which folks are available to help handle an inquiry. The agent can then use the phone, e-mail or instant messaging to connect with the chosen expert, and either quickly deliver information provided by the expert back to the customer or directly connect the customer with the expert.
This delivers two core benefits. From the point of view of the company, first call resolution -- that all important goal of contact centers -- is much easier to achieve. From the perspective of the person calling in, their interface with the company is much quicker and smoother, and much more likely to improve their overall perception of the company.
This is exactly the kind of scenario envisioned by Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar in his interview with Weinschenk back in June. He told Weinschenk that if retailers added UC to their contact centers, agents could route calls they couldn't answer directly to a store or other location. Financial services companies could make similarly good use of UC, said Lazar, by connecting customers trying to get a loan with the appropriate loan expert.
Sephton's latter point is important, considering that customers typically hold pretty low opinions of contact centers. What do they want most? Getting their problems resolved on a first call is customers' No 1 desire, CFI Group managing partner Sheri Teodoru told me when I interviewed her last January. Because customers can now resolve many common problems through self-service channels like the Web, the issues coming into contact centers are getting more complex and tougher for agents to solve, Teodoru said.
That's another reason that Sephton's opinion about UC in the contact center makes so much sense. Yet companies won't likely rush to istall UC, she writes. They are too used to thinking of contact centers only as cost centers, and so may resist the required investment. And even companies that decide to pony up the cash will need to modify their contact center processes to ensure that UC is used properly. Sephton writes:
Agents have to have clear guidelines about who they can contact, and what conditions exist around that contact. Similarly, nominated experts need to be fully au fait with their role, including how and when they make themselves available. In short, collaborative working practices within the enterprise need to be water-tight. Failure to do this can lead to mistakes being made in contact handling, which could be visible externally. This in turn can have a very negative impact on how the company is perceived by its customers and prospects.
As is so often the case with any kind of customer service, even the best technology won't do much good without solid underlying processes in place.