Creating the technology architecture for a modern contact center is no easy task. To do so, companies typically have to integrate lots of technology: systems to manage their communication channels (voice, e-mail, postal mail, mobile, Web, IM, etc.), systems to route interactions to the best available resource to handle the interaction, be it human or automated (routing, IVR, CTI, etc.), applications to manage the workforce that is handling interactions (quality monitoring, workforce management, training, coaching, etc.), applications to manage business transactions resulting from the interactions (CRM, ERP, billing, etc.), and performance management systems (operational, business, speech, text, social media, desktop analytics). In my recent blog about the contact center technology revolution in 2011, I alluded to the fact that some vendors are making this task easier by making many of these systems available in the cloud and pre-integrating them.
Contactual is one such vendor, providing many of these systems “in the cloud” for centers with fewer than 500 seats. It offers a suite of cloud-hosted products that can be used by any authorized user who has access to the Internet and a browser. The suite focuses mainly on channel management and routing functions, with modules that include ACD/skill-based routing, call recording, IVR, multimedia (phone, e-mail, chat) management and CTI. But it also includes applications for collaboration, case and contact management, CRM integration, a knowledgebase and real-time monitoring and reporting. All these were developed by Contactual itself and so are easy to deploy in days or weeks rather than months. They can be scaled to start small and then grow to serve about 500 seats. And of course the in-house support requirements are minimal as Contactual takes care of the majority of the work.
Contactual has given its overall architecture a very fancy name: Advanced Virtual Tenant ArchitectureTM.In fact, though, all you have to know is that your version of the system can be run from anywhere, you can have as many instances as you need to support diverse operations, and everything is backed up so that if one instance goes down another can be kicked into operation.
One of best hidden benefits of this approach is that once the channel management systems have been set up and configured, users are in control of how and where interactions are routed: IVR scripts can easily be changed, routing rules can be changed to, for example, send calls to an agent’s home rather than his or her normal extension, and agent skills can be honed based on how they are performing – all from easy-to-use administration screens.
The user – the agent – has life even easier. What he or she sees is a very simple-to-use mini-window on the desktop. Using this the agent can change status, accept different types of inbound interactions, see relevant customer information, see how he or she is performing, collaborate with others to resolve interactions – all pretty much at the click of a button.
The system comes with a built-in case management system, enabling agents to work on existing cases or open new ones. It also comes with pre-built integration to a number of common CRM systems such as those from salesforce.com and NetSuite, so users can easily work with these as part of their desktop toolkit. Integration to more systems is promised for later this year, but if needed integration with specific applications can be built on a custom basis.
My research into agent performance management shows that the majority of companies still prefer to source their contact center systems as on-premises solutions. However, the current state of the economy is undoubtedly intensifying the pressure to reduce the cost of running a contact center, while at the same time customer expectations are forcing companies to make investments – in new channels of communication, for example. Cloud-based systems obviously deliver major financial benefits, but I urge companies to look more deeply. Their true value is that even small centers can afford advanced systems that include the functionality they need to improve interaction-handling. They also support capabilities such as rerouting calls at the click of a button – capabilities that back in the days when I built centers took days to achieve. The Contactual offerings may not include all the systems I view as necessary to operate a center (workforce management, for example), but they certainly have all the core systems that are required and from what I have seen they are very easy to use.
I believe that cloud-based contact centers are the way forward, and so I urge companies to take a serious look at how they might enhance or even replace their existing systems. Have you kept up-to-date about new developments in the contact center in the cloud?
Richard Snow – VP & Research Director