Market Spotlight: Contact Centers

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In 2004, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) became widely available without an excess of problems. As is wont to happen, it took a good two more years before adoption began to take off.

But when it did, enterprises suddenly found that their voice channels, now running on IP, could align with their IP-based applications. In today’s world of social networking, workforce mobility, and constant connectivity, it makes sense that call centers, once seen by enterprises as the moat keeping customers at bay, have become the drawbridge welcoming them in.

"Enterprises today care about the customer experience," says John Gengarella, CEO of Voxify. He describes the solution his company implemented for pharmaceutical retailer Rite-Aid, which proactively calls customers if a prescription needs refilling. Customers can, over the phone, refill that prescription and have it mailed out. "These are proactive outbound communications that are revenue-generating."

This is possible because contact centers are now harnessing the ability to reach across applications within the enterprise, with the goal of optimizing the customer experience and taking advantage of opportunities to up-sell relevant products or opportunities by noting a customer’s call patterns and history with a specific vendor.

"[There’s] no better time to sell to you than when they’re on the phone with you," says Tim Kraskey, Calabrio’s vice president of business development. "The easiest customer to sell to is the customer you already have."

Part of Voice Object’s core technology, for instance, is a server working with IVRs on the voice channel that runs dynamically generated dialogues—individual prompts and cross-sells.

But to deliver that personalized customer service, it needs to be richly ingrained with the enterprise. "It’s all about what the Internet calls mashup capabilities, where you can get services wherever you need them, even across areas in an enterprise," says Alan Pan, SpeechCycle’s vice president of product marketing. For instance, that might include allowing the call center to reach into sales systems, billing systems, and even diagnostic systems.

SpeechCycle has seen the most uptake in the normally insular cable market. Part of the spur toward better customer interactions, according to Pan, is the competition cable companies are getting from DSL and offerings like Verizon FiOS Triple Play.

"I can tell you in our experience of rich phone applications, even within the contact center, we’re mashing up connectivity from multiple systems," Pan says. For instance, a cable company has IT departments, coordination departments, and teams delivering cable service at the plant itself. If a customer calls in with a complaint, SpeechCycle’s contact center reaches across those systems simultaneously and identifies where the problem is—for instance, if there’s a blackout somewhere in the country—and what action the customer should subsequently take.

"We not only reach out into account systems, we’re reaching out into systems that are in the dispatch area, where they actually control the agents," Pan explains. "We reach into the plant, which is the delivery system within the cable market. We’re there monitoring the health of the cable plant that delivers the feed."

Gengarella is particularly proud of the relationship his company has formed with Continental Airlines. Voxify developed and worked jointly with the airline to define not only how each solution should work, but also the best opportunities to deploy them. "We started out as a technology vendor for an enterprise, and [Continental] said we’re a true partner," Gengarella says. "We’ve helped evolve their strategic self-service strategy."

Some enterprise customers still balk at what seems to be a huge overhaul. "Enterprises buy low-risk, high-upside solutions," Gengarella notes. "Nobody buying on the business side wants to take a risk with a solution."

Pan acknowledges that one of the biggest hurdles still is that speech is not within the core competency of most enterprise IT departments. Additionally, the start-up costs for incorporating speech capabilities can be prohibitive. Consequently, many vendors deliver their speech solutions via an on-demand model, offering secure capabilities to access applications across the enterprise while minimizing overhead costs.

Contact centers are no longer built as standalone solutions but as true connection points, delivering applications within and occasionally outside the enterprise to better tend to customer needs. Consequently, enterprises facing stiffer competition are now viewing their contact centers in a different light. "It’s moving away from a traditional cost model," Kraskey says. "You can’t take that view of just being a call center; you need to be a profit center."

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