If anyone was to judge the state and priorities in the contact center market by the volume and type of vendors that were exhibiting at the recent Call Centre and Customer Management Expo then there would be no doubt that the core technologies that manage the infrastructure to support the handling of customer interactions are still top of the list. I counted at least 28 vendors that I would place in this category ranging from the big well know vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Aspect, Cisco, Genesys, Nortel, NTL and Toshiba to some lesser known vendors such as Altitude software, ASC Telecom, CIPTeX, CTalk, Interactive Intelligence, NewVoiceMedia, OPEX Hosting, Syntellect and Sytel. The messaging was fairly similar to previous years, revolving around the key tenant that customer want to communicate through multiple channels and as technology vendors we can support just about any channel you can think of. The main variation from previous years, especially dominate in the lesser known, new entrants, was that we have software solutions that can support all these channels and what is more in many cases these software-based solutions run “in the cloud”, thus reducing capital expense costs, software licence and maintenance fees, and the need for expert technical support staff. All of which adds up to a clear message that “the contact center in the cloud” is now a reality and this opens up the opportunity for more companies, especially at the smaller end of the market, to create and operate quite sophisticated centers without breaking the bank.
The second most popular type of vendors fell into what I call Agent Performance Management – call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, agent training and coaching, and agent performance reporting and analytics. Earlier this year I carried out benchmark research into the maturity of contact centers and in particularly what are the main drivers behind the actions of contact center managers. The clear winner was optimizing the performance of agents which led to my recent benchmark on Agent Performance Management. So not surprising there were several vendors offering applications to support this objective. Once again these fell into two categories i.e. the big well know vendors such as Aspect, Nice Systems and Verint to some lesser known, more niche vendors such as Business Systems UK, CyberTech International, GMT Europe, InVision, Pipkins, Q-Max, Red Box Recorders, ServiceTick, Teleopti, and XLScheduler. Typically the big vendors were advocating the use of integrated suite solutions so that all the functionality knits well together, whereas the smaller vendors were taking more of an approach that niche is best.
Given all the importance, including by me in my benchmark research on the topic, being placed on customer experience management, it was disappointing to find so few vendors exhibiting solutions in this space. In terms of smart desktop vendors, I only found Altitude Software with their integrated desktop and multi-channel support software and one specialty vendor, SmartPoint. I also put salesforce.com in this category because although service cloud does have at its core CRM and knowledge management, the full support for customer service brings this functionality and other integrated information together on a smart desktop that agents or anyone else for that matter can use to resolve customer interactions. I might also be doing some injustice to Sword Ciboodle that were showing its systems that can either support a smart desktop or web self-service. Given the importance now placed on web-based self-service there were a few vendors showing their products, such as Convergys, Eptica, and Parature. As to customer feed-back management, Nice and Verint had their solutions plus just one specialist vendor ServiceTick. Within CEM I include Pitney Bowes Business Insight who was showing its Customer Communications Management (CCM) products that enable companies to manage the content, format and production of text-based communications that can be delivered through multiple channels such as mail, e-mail or the web.
Possibly the biggest disappointment was the lack of specialist customer and contact center analytics and performance management vendors. Again the big three Aspect, Nice and Verint obviously had their integrated data and speech solutions but as far as standalone specialists there were only a very few, and they were in specialist areas. Nexidia was showing solutions its speech analytics solution and Aurix where there to say that as well as being the engine behind many other vendors solutions, they are now offering a standalone solution. As far as text analytics was concerned the only vendor I found as Empolis.
My last observation is that with the ever growing disillusionment with CRM, there were very few vendors on show - one or two consulting companies supporting Microsoft Dynamics, and FrontRange Solutions.
So my big three takeaways from the event are:
• Technology still rules the contact center market but agent performance management has come much further towards the forefront.
• The “contact center in the cloud” is a reality and is becoming even more so, creating the opportunity especially for SMB companies to create quite sophisticated contact centers and improve customer service.
• Although companies are crying out for a single, complete, 360-degree of customers and contact center performance, vendors are still hiding their wares under a bushel and companies are going to have to search quite hard to find some of the innovative solutions such as speech, text and social media analytics.
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Richard Snow - VP & Research Director