Thursday, September 24, 2009

Contact Centre Expo 2009 - Day Two

I meant to get this post published yesterday, when it really was the end of Day Two of Contact Centre Expo. Sadly, the lack of a wireless connection on Virgin Trains meant that it has had to wait until now for me to get the post up onto the blog.

In my previous post ("Contact Centre Expo 2009 - Day One"), I raised the question as to whether there was much innovation to be seen at this years CC Expo. I was very please to have my question taken up by Plantronics (see the comments to Day One's post) on stand D17, who suggested that if I was interested in innovation I should come and have a look at their stand.

I'll admit that I was slightly unsure, as while I was sure that headsets could be improved from the days when I was an agent (back in the late '90s), I just didn't know what was possible. In fact, an awful lot is possible, and 'headsets' was a totally misleading concept.

Two of Plantronics products showed innovation that got me very interested:

Plantronics IP40 Audio Processor - The name is all a bit deceptive. What Plantronics are really talking about here is a SIP endpoint that gives all the benefits of a phone handset to an agent without the cost (and space) of having to buy each contact centre agent a traditional phone handset. After all, a contact centre agent usually drives their telephony environment through the CTI user interface on their desktop computer and so doesn't use most of the buttons that a phone provides. This rather neat little device gives the agent all the controls they need while saving on space, power and cost. The use of SIP was, I thought, particularly intriguing as the this opens up a lot of software to device options that could stretch beyond the traditional contact centre. It's potentially a very disruptive technology as it attacks those contact centre manufacturers who have relied on high-priced handsets to subsidise the cost of their core software technology. It's potentially very interesting and for a little device it may be much more disruptive than it looks.

Plantronics Savi Office - I've encountered wireless headsets in the past, but generally these had been unsuitable for the contact centre as they'd run Bluetooth. I was much more taken with the DECT based options that I saw on the Plantronics stand. These headsets were reliable enough for proper contact centre use, but allowed the agent to move away from their computer for an extended period. I wouldn't see this as suitable for the majority of agents, where the agent handles so many short duration calls that they need to be close to the screen and a cable makes little difference over wireless, but for higher end agents (such as financial planners), I could see this working well. This type of agent that has longer duration, very high value calls may well need to move around or get information that's away from their desk and this sort of headset is definitely the way forward for that type of role.

Other stands that caught my eye were:

  • CCC - Another interesting outsourcer, this time focused on Germany and Central Europe. The CCC stands for Competence Call Centre and they had some interesting ideas around BPO and how to add value when running contact centres in a high cost country.
  • Eptica - An interesting company focused on the web and e-mail parts of multi-channel customer service. What was interesting for me was that being European, they instinctively understood the need to manage channels in multiple languages, something that the more US-centric start-ups sometimes forget.
All in all, a good show (at least for me) and I think perhaps more valuable for me than last year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Contact Centre Expo 2009 - Day One

It's that time of the year again, when most of the UK Contact Centre industry gathers in Birmingham for the Contact Centre Expo.

I covered the Expo last year (see the posts "UK Call Centre Expo" and "UK Contact Centre Expo Day 2") and was interested in the feedback I got as both comments and as e-mails. In the feedback, there was a solid body of opinion that the 2008 Expo lacked much innovation from the vendors. This needed to be weighed against a smaller set of feedback arguing that the show did offer new and valuable ideas, but nonetheless, there was a strong view that the exhibitors needed to raise their game.

I understand where the first group are coming from, but I still find the Expo very useful just because it has so many vendors and customers gathered in the same place and I find innovation a bonus on top of that. There are interesting ideas out in the exhibitor hall (as well as a few rather tired ones) and it's worth going round the Expo to see what is genuinely new.

So the stands that worked for me in the exhibitor hall, in no particular order, were:

  • Sword Ciboodle - In some ways, nothing radically new from what I used to know as Graham Technology. In other ways some interesting incremental improvements and a feeling that the market for process based CRM was probably one of the growth areas of CRM. I've felt for a while that the record-centric approach of Oracle/Siebel grown too big for many customers and too 'one size fits all', so it was interesting to see a CRM approach that was much more process-centric.
  • 60k - Presenting themselves as 'The Alternative BPO & Contact Centre Outsourcer', I was interested to see what 60k thought distinguished themselves from the many other outsourcers in the hall. Part of the answer was "Bulgaria", but the value proposition was much more than that. I've managed outsourced contact centres in a past job (we had European customers with customer service sites split between Europe and South Africa), and my experience is that outsourcing to far off locations can have real disadvantages when you try and manage the resulting operation. Nearshoring and so locating your centre within three hours flight time, but still with cheaper labour is very interesting. The crucial advantage of Bulgaria is that it is in the EU and the EU location is a big advantage over destinations like India when you think of the challenges with outsourcing and data movement compliance with the laws on exporting data outside the EU. What also interested me was the focus of 60k on higher value business process. I've long argued that this is where outsourcing needs to go (see past posts like "Offshore - why I would go for South Africa over India") and it was good to see 60k as a European outsourcer positioning things like 'Insurance Claims Processing' and 'Product Recall Management' that add real value to customers, rather than trying to sell cheap call centre seats.
  • Egypt - I am very interested in the Egyptian contact centre industry as it shows what growth can happen very quickly with government support. I had a good chat with Raya contact centres, who run the contact centre operations of a number of the big tech firms. I must confess a vested interest here, as I recently blogged on Cisco opening their 300 seat centre in Egypt (see "New offshore developments in the European Market") and it was very useful to hear the Egyptian perspective on this.

So all in all very useful (on top of being an exhibitor with a decent number of customer visits to our stand).

Tomorrow, things I'd like to do are:
  • Catch up with Redbox Recorders to understand what they are offering.
  • Have a look at the Nortel stand to understand how they are presenting things after last weeks acquisition by Avaya.
  • Talk to Aspect and better understand the relationship with Microsoft that is so prominent on their stand. (I'm guessing things have moved on since I covered posted on the tie-up announcements back in March last year "VoiceCon 2008 - IBM, Microsoft & Aspect")
As always, do let me have any suggestions for other areas that are getting attention.....

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cisco Contact Centre on Twitter - part two

One of the things with Web 2.0 is that it can be a little bit of a lottery as to which information sources you find.

So earlier this week, I blogged about Cisco CCBU getting onto Twitter. In fact, this is just one of the developers in the Cisco Contact Centre Business Unit setting up a Twitter account for his area of work which is the next generation reporting based around the Cisco CUIS product.

What I'd not known was that already on Twitter was the Cisco Contact Centre feed, run by the business unit and available at: . More generally, for those who want contact centre news as part of the wider Cisco Collaboration offerings, there is: , covering the wider Cisco collaboration portfolio.

There should be something for every level of interest in contact centre in there....

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cisco Contact Centre on Twitter

It's good to see that the Cisco Contact Centre Business Unit (CCBU) is up and running on Twitter at .

At the moment there's a focus on the CUIS product, which is Cisco's new and rather appealing web based reporting tool. There will (I understand) be coverage of Cisco Unified Contact Centre Enterprise and Cisco Unified Contact Centre Express, as well as such core individual products as ICM.

I like this use of twitter as although I'm not a big user, I do like to be notified of updates and 'hot off the press' updates. I find RSS is good for this if I have my laptop set up, but if I'm off on customer sites (not all of which provide guest access) then twitter works well for my mobile device.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

BT has problems returning contact centre jobs & workforce management

It was only in July that British Telecom announced that it was returning at least 2,000 contact centre jobs back to the UK. I covered it in the post "British Telecom brings back contact centre jobs to the UK" and thought it was excellent news.

Now it seems there are problems as The Times reports that British workers are unwilling to cover the shifts that the Indian employees worked. The union is arguing that it is difficult for some employees with family commitments to change work patterns. I have a feeling this story is perhaps subject to an element of 'PR spin'. The Communications Workers Union is (I suspect) negotiating hard for its members, as it should, and BT is haggling over how much it flexibility it can get from it staff. In short, both sides are doing exactly what they should, and it will tend to look ugly until they get to an agreement.

To a certain extent these issues with shift work and agent availability are relatively familiar and have long been addressed by the call centre industry.

Whether through agent skills, or personal reasons, or employment legislation there are always restrictions on which calls which agents can take. This is why there is a lucrative industry of contact centre workforce management (WFM) software and why these products are needed in most large call centres. I've gone into the subject in some depth in the post "Workforce Management - is it only for high end call centres?" back in 2007, but it may be worth a re-visit. The point is, that with this software it is possible for BT to automate the management of some elements of their call centre changes without great cost.