Friday, February 13, 2009

Presence, Agent Availability and the practicalities of Contact Centre

I was very glad that my last post ("BBC Moneybox on Speech Recognition for banking ") was so interesting to so many readers. Thank you for the feedback and comments. It's very good to see so much happening in the speech market and I certainly wasn't aware of all the projects readers mentioned, especially those in Asia/ Pacific.

One of the other areas that has had a lot of interest lately is presence. Traditionally, presence has been a concept for intstant messaging and the contact centre has focused on agent state from the ACD. This distinction is now blurring and the big instant messaging vendors like IBM with Sametime and Microsoft with OCS are getting very interested in presence in the contact centre. It was something we saw at VoiceCon last year (see post: "VoiceCon 2008 - IBM, Microsoft & Aspect ") and I'm sure will develop further.

Aside from the technology, there are a lot of practical issues around how presence might be manged in a contact centre environment. There is a very good article on CRMxchange by Ross Daniels from the Cisco Contact Centre Business Unit setting some of the practical considerations and how you might look to use presence as practical function, not just a neat technology:

"For many people, "presence" means the little colored icons next to colleagues’ names on the buddy list of their Instant Messaging client. Is someone available? Do they prefer to not be disturbed? This is useful, and many modern business users would be at a loss without IM and its straightforward application of presence technology.
Since presence has proved its worth in facilitating communication between business users, how can it help improve interactions between businesses and customers? One obvious answer is to provide contact center agents with an IM client that allows them to chat with fellow agents or subject matter experts outside the contact center; this gives agents an opportunity to get answers to caller questions that are outside their areas of expertise.
There are a number of potential problems with this approach, however. Who should populate the agents' IM buddy lists? If agents do it, how do they know who the best experts are for answering specialized questions? What if five hundred agents add Bill from Engineering to their buddy lists, and then twelve of them try to IM poor Bill with questions simultaneously?

Consider also the usage challenges facing an agent armed with an IM client and a buddy list. When the agent is on the phone, do they really want to have to scroll through buddy lists to find the right expert to consult with? Presuming they find one or more available experts, how will they enlist their aid? IM them sequentially, or scatter ten IM’s to ten experts and go with whoever answers first? What if the best way to address the caller's problem is to have the expert join the live call? Finally, consider that a number of contact center administrators prefer that their agents don't use IM clients at all, since internal chat can be a distraction.

While it's true that there are ways to mitigate these kinds of issues, it's also true that presence technology can do much more for customer interactions ... if we broaden our thinking

You can read the rest of the article on here on CRMxchange, and I do recommend it.


Lance said...

presence is much like the average/below average callcentre poorly implemented.

It is entirely possible to have presence linked to support team groups, sales groups or knowledge specific groups.

I have seen wonderful examples of this where a contact request web form is parsed for key words and then an IM session via a web app to a member of a support team is established. I would love to see it gain more ground in call centres for financials etc.

It would be nice to have a direct contact in my IM client to my bank. I ask a question and someone answers, based on the content of my query.


Alex said...

Hi Lance,
Thanks for the comment, much appreciated.

I think you're right, that 'call' (or IM) routing by key phrase may well be the future. I suspect i will look something like the IM routing that you described, combined with co-browsing (where you want to screen share) and the ability to switch to voice at will. The last is quite important, as a lot of people aren't so comfortably doing a lot of typing for an IM interaction.

Best wishes,