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Commentary
5/1/2006
12:00 AM
Melanie Turek
Melanie Turek
Commentary
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Enabling Collaboration With The Contact Center

One area in which Nemertes see enormous value for real-time applications is in the contact center. Many IT executives say their contact-center agents are already using real-time communications. Although 43% of participants' companies don't have a contact center, among those that do, nearly half report the use of real-time communications within them.

Although some companies are enabling Web chat between agents and customers, more are deploying IM use among agents and experts as a back-channel communications tool, to quickly distribute information and answer questions in real-time, which avoids keeping customers on hold or transferring them to other parties, and helps agents resolve issues more quickly and effectively.
Other companies say they are interested in leveraging the use of IM in the contact center to essentially extend their expert network into the enterprise itself—that is, they'd like to use IM to let agents reach out to experts in the company as a whole (rather than experts specifically tasked with supporting the contact center) and get information directly from them. The idea is, if I can get my answer from the person who, say, developed the product, why not do so?

Of course, contact centers have been using presence information for years via their automatic call distributor (ACD) systems, which route incoming phone calls to the most appropriate, available agent. These applications track agents’ skills and expertise, monitor their presence (whether they’re on a call, on a break, out of the office or available for instance) and then route incoming calls accordingly.

This use of presence and data analysis is limited to two-person phone calls and does not tap other forms of presence information (such as the online presence that drives IM), but its value is clear. Enterprises can leverage it in two ways: Use it as a model for deploying presence throughout the enterprise, so that knowledge workers and others can access experts within the organization (essentially “routing” their questions to them). And build on it within the contact center, so that agents are also able to see one another’s presence and then reach out to available help via chat or telephone, depending on the recipient’s status.

Traditional contact center vendors and telephony vendors with robust contact center applications are evaluating the use of presence in the contact center—but the telephony vendors have a leg up in this race. They’re already embedding and leveraging presence in their enterprise-class soft phones and real-time communications dashboards; and they are already evaluating how to leverage that presence in their contact center applications. Many pure-play contact center vendors aren’t focusing on this area today, although several have told us they have plans to do so over the next 12-24 months. Many enterprises that want to use IM to support their own agents are doing so with whatever IM client or service they use enterprise-wide—often a public IM service such as AOL AIM or Yahoo Messenger.

But they don’t have to, thanks to new applications. Take Nortel’s Expert Anywhere contact center solution, which leverages the vendor’s real-time communications—most notably, its MCS 5100 real-time communications dashboard application—to help contact center agents find experts and information right when they need them. By showing the online and telephony presence of “experts” in the center, the system allows agents to reach out to the right people to get information, even as they’re on the phone with a customer. As soon as the agent answers a call and sees help is needed, he can contact an expert via phone, IM or e-mail—or even share his screen or conference the expert into the call itself. The whole thing is enabled by Nortel’s SIP Contact Center and Converged Agent Desktop.

What’s more, the application also lets companies extend the contact center into the enterprise—and beyond. So, for instance, a home-improvement store could use the technology to bring its store employees into the contact center fold: A call comes into the contact center, and the agent who answers it looks at a list of on-floor store employees around the country to see who is available to answer product questions. Since each employee is carrying a PDA loaded with the same contact center software as the agent, he or she can set availability status on the fly; if he’s stocking shelves, he may be available, but if he’s working with a customer in the store, he’s not. The agent then contacts an available employee, who can literally look at the product in question to get answers, or help with how-to or other advice—all from anywhere, all outside the contact center itself.

Similarly, the presence and collaboration tools in Siemens’ newly announced HiPath ProCenter Enterprise 7.0 include Team List and Team Bar features that let agents see the real-time, telephony and online availability of peers, experts and general employees. They can then click to chat, transfer calls, or conference in another agent.

One caveat: Companies can’t afford to turn all their knowledge workers into on-call contact-center experts; those workers still have day jobs, after all. So it’s critical to develop a clear, coherent process for letting contact-center agents access and engage enterprise employees. But do that, and the customer service potential is enormous.

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