What to Look for in a Contact Center Solution when Deploying Lync for UC
One of the major UC trends in 2014 has been the continued momentum of Microsoft Lync, and UCStrategies has closely followed this on a few levels. Lync is disruptive by offering a telephony alternative that does not require an IP PBX, although it remains to be seen just how successful Microsoft will be in displacing the telecom vendors.
Another disruptive element is the fact that Lync is largely desktop-centric and software-centric, whereas most UC offerings are telephony-centric and/or network centric. While both of these have been almost entirely the domain of Microsoft for decades, the cloud adds a new layer of disruption, and it’s fair to say that domination is less certain to continue.
Regardless of these challenges, Microsoft’s ubiquitous installed base ensures that they will remain a major force in UC, especially given Lync’s inherent appeal. While Lync is not truly free, the economics are attractive enough to make this an easy choice for many organizations, especially for businesses that are very comfortable with their Microsoft operating environment.
While this presents an attractive path of entry for UC, Microsoft is missing a key piece any customer-focused business needs – a contact center solution that integrates seamlessly with Lync. When businesses decide to deploy Lync, they are moving towards a singular solution for collaboration, and inevitably the contact center needs to be under that umbrella.
Where to Begin?
The starting point for determining how best to integrate collaboration with contact center is to consider which partners are Lync-certified. Microsoft’s website shows that there are currently 20 qualified contact center applications. At face value, this suggests there are plenty of plug-and-play partners to choose from. Fair enough, but they are not all created equal, especially from a UC perspective.
First off, not every major contact center vendor is Lync-certified, so it could be dangerous to assume that you can just go with any of the leading brands for a seamless integration. More importantly, most of the qualified partners are focused specifically on operational aspects of the contact center. In that regard, they truly live up to the namesake of this category: “contact center applications”.
This is where you have to be careful, especially if your vision for Lync includes extending workplace collaboration capabilities into the contact center – and vice versa. As you likely know, UC is not an “application,” and it’s not a point solution. By integrating UC with contact center, organizations can extend a consistent collaboration experience across the entire organization, covering both office-based staff and customer-facing agents.
On that basis, Microsoft’s list of 20 qualified partners becomes a lot shorter. It’s possible that you may need or want to work with multiple Lync partners. For example, you may find you need a partner specifically for UC integration, but find that other partners with a niche contact center capability will provide value in other ways.
Of course, you can bypass this ecosystem altogether, and go with a non-certified Lync partner, but that puts the onus on you to do all the integration. That may or may not be simple, and in terms of having industry-based validation, if you do manage this integration, you may not get Microsoft’s blessings, making it harder for you to add new pieces to Lync.
Key Decision-Making Criteria
These distinctions are important for two reasons. Before addressing those, it should be noted that like other technology investments, choosing the right vendor is critical. Among the Lync-certified contact center vendors with a solid UC solution, some cater to large enterprises, and others focus more on the mid-tier market and/or below.
If you’re a mid-tier enterprise, don’t be surprised at being steered towards a top-tier vendor promising top-tier results. They certainly want your business, but their platforms may come with a large enterprise price tag, and may be overly complex to deploy for your needs. With that in mind, let’s come back to what’s really important when considering the right contact center partner when going with Lync.
1. It’s hard to do
UC on its own is almost always a challenge to deploy, and making it work at both ends – within Lync and in the contact center – adds another layer of difficulty. This is why being Lync-certified is so important, and you should not underestimate the pitfalls of operating outside Microsoft’s ecosystem.
Not only is UC hard to do for everyday workplace collaboration, but within the contact center the needs are even more complex. On a basic level, UC must support agents across a range of real-time modes when communicating with customers, but also has to integrate with business-level applications such as CRM and ERP to enable agents to address customer needs during one session.
2. Multichannel support
Assuming you are satisfied that Lync can handle your voice needs, this path provides office workers with an end-to-end UC solution. With presence embedded across the company directory, Lync makes it easy for employees to contact each other via whatever mode is available at that time. This is the multichannel side of UC, where employees can seamlessly switch from one mode to another during an internal collaboration session, such as going from a voice call to video.
Furthermore, UC can support concurrent modes, such as during a person-to-person video call, when one party then invites another coworker via IM, and the other may do the same via email. From there, a four way ad hoc conferencing session takes place – all without anyone having to open a new screen or download a plug-in.
Contact center agents need exactly these same capabilities for customer interactions, but they don’t have the luxury of knowing the presence status of customers to know which mode the customer is ready to engage with. In this regard, agents need flexibility to respond to whatever mode the customer dictates, which is what a contact center-oriented UC solution provides.
Of greater relevance is the additional need for agents to have this same ability to communicate with their colleagues across the organization. This is where UC truly earns its keep, as agents leverage the solution on two levels – at the same time. Consider a session where an agent is talking to a customer as well as sending a PDF via IM, but now needs expertise from a product specialist located at a branch office. Ideally, the agent should be able to identify that expert from CRM records, determine their availability via presence, contact the expert, get the required advice, and if necessary, patch that information into the customer session – all done on the fly without inconveniencing the customer.
What to Look for in a Contact Center Vendor
This is one way of delivering great customer service, and illustrates the power of collaboration when UC spans across Lync and the contact center. This is often harder than it looks, but is very doable if you partner with the right vendor.
As you can see from Microsoft’s approved partner site, there are 20 Lync-certified contact center providers. Each one has its virtues, but as noted earlier, only a few are truly UC solutions. If you believe that UC is just as valuable in the contact center as in the office – and that UC can seamlessly bridge the two – then that partner list becomes shorter. To determine which vendors make your final cut, here are four key considerations:
- Is the vendor the right size for your needs? While companies of all size can and do use Microsoft Lync, contact center vendors are more specialized, with some catering primarily to large enterprises, while others are smaller and more attuned to the needs of mid-sized businesses.
- How strong is their track record? As noted above, Lync integration is not a simple task, and clearly, only a handful of vendors are certified for contact center applications. If your preferred contact center vendor is not Lync-certified, then you bear a new layer of risk to stay with them, and you need to weigh that against choosing a vendor with a proven track record that will get this solution deployed effectively from the start.
- How flexible is their solution? Most contact center vendors offer variations of both cloud and premise-based solutions, but the range of expertise varies widely. If you only want one deployment model, this may not matter, but if you’re concerned that the cloud is not fully mature, a safer bet will be going with a vendor that can do both quite well, and can also migrate you back and forth if needed.
- Do they have a true UC solution? This may be the most important factor since you’ve already chosen Lync for internal collaboration. With many of the Lync-certified partners being point solutions for the contact center, the list of vendors that can do UC to the level you’re expecting with Lync is actually quite short.
While you ultimately have to do your own research and make your own decisions, if you are a mid-sized enterprise, Interactive Intelligence bears careful consideration. Aside from being a financially stable mid-sized company, they have a solid track record with Lync. With over 144 Lync implementations, Interactive Intelligence has arguably the strongest proof-of-concept in the industry. Furthermore, the company is well established as a leader in cloud-based contact center solutions, and the same can be said for their innovative focus on UC specifically for the contact center environment.
We certainly encourage you consider other contact center vendors as well, but to get the most out of your decision to make Lync the anchor for collaboration, your final choice should not come up short on any of the above considerations.
This paper is sponsored by Interactive Intelligence.