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Melanie Turek
Melanie Turek

Ready For IM in the Contact Center?

Instant messaging can be a great tool for the contact center. Its built-in presence information lets managers and reps see who’s available for support, and it can help product experts support multiple agents at once. It recreates a live environment on the PC screen, allowing companies to staff virtual contact centers with remote employees and take advantage of their knowledge and skill sets no matter where they’re located. Some companies are even exploring the idea of leveraging ordinary employees in the contact center by enabling reps to contact subject-matter experts with questions as needed.

But until recently, it’s been tough to interact with customers via traditional IM clients. A new product from Zion Software could change that.

Web chat has been around for a while now, and it can be a great way for companies to deliver customer support on their sites. Instant Help, a cool new tool from Zion Software, may make the process easier. Instead of running a special program to deliver live chat help on a company’s Web site, reps can simply use their IM client; it connects via a routing engine to the ajax chat client site visitors see. Instant Help supports the public IM services and enterprise IM such as Lotus Sametime, Jabber and Microsoft Communicator. The routing and rules engine handles queuing and dispatches help requests to the appropriate reps at the appropriate time, based on expertise and availability

turek20060816.png What makes Instant Help different from other live Web chat is its integration with other IM applications, which means reps can interact with each other and other employees without leaving their standard IM application—there’s no need for a back-channel or out-of-band IM conversation between a rep and another person (say an engineer), since the rep can transfer the help session directly to the engineer rather than acting as a go-between. Any security a company may be running on said IM app will port over, and Instant Help logs and archives records of all exchanges, then lets managers produce reports on the data. The service is available hosted or in house on a concurrent user basis, depending on the number of visitors a company wants to be able to support at once.

The next logical step is for companies to offer support via traditional IM—that is, to allow customers to contact the company, and the company to contact customers, via any IM client, using a gateway to translate, secure and archive the conversations. I wouldn’t mind being able to keep a customer support interaction in the background while I work on other things, knowing the rep will ping me on IM when he needs to ask a question or convey a solution; it would be better than keeping the phone to my ear while on hold. What I don’t want, of course, is for that same company to keep my screen name on file and use it to contact me for marketing purposes. For now, at least, Instant Help promises to give me a reasonable facsimile of the first without the annoyance of the second, while letting the companies that use it to take full advantage of their existing IM systems.

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