My research into Contact Centers has led me to develop a model for the systems needed to build and operate a strategic framework for contact centers (see “Customer Performance Management”). They broadly fall into 6 categories: core technology to handle the delivery of multi-channel customer interactions, systems to manage the people (agent) side of running a contact center, traditional CRM, systems to proactively manage the customer experience at every touch point, managing customer information from integration to usage and customer and contact center analytics and metrics.
Until very recently I saw Cisco as being very firmly in the first category – the delivery of customer interactions through its range of Unified Contact Center Products. These really came about as Cisco built its reputation as the number one supplier of systems to create IP-based networks that are enabled by Cisco Unified Communications, and were in many ways a natural extension to take these capabilities into the contact center world. The products enabled companies to build an IP-based infrastructure to route calls to the right agent and integrate with the agent’s desktop so that for example caller details can be automatically popped on the agent screen, These could be deployed in an IP-only environment or built alongside, and integrated with existing traditional telephony based infrastructure. Further extensions mean the products now support multi-media interactions and can be deployed across multiple sites to create a distributed contact center, including agent home-offices.
Having established a leading position with these products, it is not surprising that Cisco has now ventured into the Unified Communications (See: “Unified Communications: Simpler and Eventually Cheaper Customer Interactions“) market and the application of it to the contact center, or more correctly the handling of customer interactions. My research shows that companies still have difficulty improving the percentage of interactions they resolve during the first contact; either agents don’t have the information to resolve the customer issue or they simply don’t have the authority to do so. This is where Unified Communications comes into play. By using functionality such as presence, agents are able to identify who is available with the skills/authority to resolve the customer’s issue and so through the use of collaboration tools they can either get immediate expert help to close more interactions or they can pass the interaction off to another party – both of which are more likely to increase first contact resolution rates.
One of the weaknesses of these solutions was the reporting capabilities. Cisco addressed this during 2007 when it purchased a boutique software company called Latigent. They had a much stronger reporting and analytics suite of products that was able to extract data from Cisco infrastructure and produce more usable and business related information. This has now metamorphosed into the Cisco Unified Intelligence Suite; all though it has to be said Cisco keeps this potential winner hidden under a bushel.
In its latest announcement by Cisco, it seems that by announcing a partnership with Salesforce.com, Cisco wants to raise its presence in the contact center space. From a technical point of view the partnership is not much more than a special connector that integrates Cisco Unified Contact Center with Service Cloud, the latest offering from salesforce.com (see “Salesforce.com Advances Customer Service in the Clouds”). In practice it means the “contact center in the cloud” takes another step towards reality, so that companies can have the technical platform to manage the delivery of interactions and the functionality to support agents resolving those interactions, all in the cloud. The joint solution is aimed at what is the bulk end of the market i.e. small to medium sized contact centers with up to 300 seats, which in effect means small to medium size businesses can now implement a contact center without the cost, risk and hassle normally associated with creating a contact center. I believe this will dramatically change the market as Cisco and their efforts with salesforce.com will simplify how organizations get customer service technology for their business and available via the cloud.
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Richard Snow - VP & Research Director