Thursday, October 18, 2007

Call Centre to Contact Centre... or why worry about e-mail when the phone's ringing?

In terms of hype, the move from call centre (deals with telephony) to contact centre (deals with all remote contacts, telephony, e-mail, etc...) is probably one of the most hyped things in the industry.

Gartner's hype cycle research paper ("Hype Cycle for CRM Customer Service and Field Service, 2007") is one place where the tends are dissected, but I'm not sure I agree with all their conclusions. My main objection is that Gartner are looking at technologies like e-service suites and IP-based contact centres and pronouncing them 'in the trough of disillusionment and stating that it will be 2 -5 years before they mature. I think they are underestimating the pressure from consumers that will come onto organisations to adopt these technologies.

The two big factors I see driving this are the increasing sophistication and pervasiveness of mobile devices and the increasing speed of broadband into the home. Both of these things mean that consumers will find it increasingly easy to contact organisations by e-mail, SMS, instant messaging, etc... and will expect to be able to do so. You only need look at the demographics for things like Facebook and IM users to see that these are what today's youth and tomorrow's consumers are adopting rapidly.

That said, at the moment many of the organisations I work with want to improve their telephony service, and they view multi-media capability as something they need to build into their telephony improvement plan. The view I've often encountered is that while they only need to enable 10% of agents for e-mail now, they need to be able to change that fast and have built an environment that can support any change.

In this context the choice is to look at an IP based contact centre that integrates multi-media or to look at a hybrid integration option. There is a third possibility, but I'm not convinced anyone worried about multi-media would look at TDM for their telephony.

Obviously, as someone who works at Cisco, I believe that IP is the way forward. Putting as much of the intelligence at the network level as possible seems highly desirable in the call centre. The alternative architectural approaches (putting the intelligence at the application layer or splitting it between application and network layer) seem to me to add an unnecessarily level of complexity. Of course, complexity equals cost and when I worked on a couple of Genesys and Kana integrations, and it was the cost of doing all this at the application layer (especially the cost of professional services) that could cause problems. I don't pretend that the IP based approach removes the need for services, but it does reduce the complexity of some aspects of the project, and it can make future functionality extensions easier. As an illustration, it is worth looking at the capabilities of the Cisco ICM (Intelligent Contact Management) product to see just how much enterprise-wide routing can be done at the network level.

In this context, I think Gartner are underestimating how quickly organisations might move to IP and how much this is driven by a need to be ready for multi-media in the contact centre, even if all that functionality is not being implemented today.

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