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UCStrategies.com defines unified communications as “Communications integrated to optimize business processes.” The definition of unified communications narrows significantly when you can read and hear about real-world examples that other companies are implementing right now—and apply them to your situation.
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Customer service is separate events, daisy chained together. There is there the initial call where customers enter information and are given information in response. Then there could be a discussion with an agent and in the process, the agent may have to search for additional information in the customer database or update an order tracking system. The agent may even have to escalate the customer’s to another department or request assistance using an expert system. Moreover, servicing customers requires support from human resources, field services, sales, billing and accounts receivables, and executive managements. In short, it takes a corporation to support a customer and each group within the business has its own people, processes, and technology with large gaps between them.
I managed contact centers where the agents were the CTI application. Their desktops were a jumble of separate applications and to share data the agent cut and paste information from one application to another. Unfortunately, this is still the way many contact centers work. In the heat of a volume spike or even in contact centers with moderate volumes, it can be very trying for agents, slows the processing of customer requests, and is loaded with risks. Some contact centers do have integrations between applications on the desktop, but the interfaces are complex and not easy to modify. Even a simple look up like using the customer phone number can result in more than one record if more than one member of the family has accounts. It is no wonder that even today we have to provide our account number to both IVR and the agent.
I have heard “The Age of CTI is at an end” for some time now and being a naturally skeptical person I have been taking a wait and see approach. But, lately I am beginning to see changes in how contact centers bridge the processing silos. While contact center vendors have been employing webservices and open protocols for some time, their implementation and tool kits have become more sophisticated. Avaya’s Aura Contact Center is the latest solution that provides advanced silo spanning applications. From the foundations and the open standard it employs, through the contact center applications, and into the new professional services structure and vision, I feel guardedly optimistic that businesses may soon have the means to build holistic support environments.
Structuring Avaya’s contact center application on top of Aura Session Manager and ACE webservices foundations is a key to my guarded optimism. These foundations provide a flexible channel in which the contact center applications can share data between each other and with external systems. This construction is different from CTI structures of the past where there was a one-to-one in a many-to-many approach of data sharing. Avaya’s arrangement is more like a stream flowing between the elements of the contact center portfolio and at the same time out from the foundation into other applications and even to the customers. In that stream is carried the data needed to transact business.
An example of how Aura Contact Center can use the underlying foundations to bridge silos is in this hypothetical situation. Proactive Contact Manager, an automated interactive notification solution added to Aura Contact Center in this release, allows existing data to reach out to customers through the channel of the customer’s choice. Because the outreach event is narrow and targeted, it inherently spans several silos. Let us say an agent calls out sick. The supervisor updates Avaya Workforce Management (also new to this release) creating an opportunity for overtime. The WFM solution determines which agents have the appropriate skills and creates a calling list in Proactive Communications Manager. The application sends a text message to agents containing a link to the WFM agent portal, where the agent lets the workforce manager (a human) know he is available and is on his way. The manager updates the schedule and the schedule is optimized automatically. Now that is bridging silos. I am not certain if the solution can do all that but what a time saver that would be.
No matter how flexible any platform is, silos cannot be bridged without professional services and given the history of silo bridging, professional service must be employed differently than they have in the past. Avaya has made changes to its global services organization in order to take advantage of Aura Contact Center’s capability. The company has created an advisory services organization and according to Avaya, its Advisory Services will “identify and quantify business improvement communication strategies” and deliver recommendations, business cases, business requirements, and ROI analysis. This approach is not new and other vendors use the discovery phase of the sales process to spec-out and design interoperative processes. But, it is new to Avaya and enables the company to use its large and experienced professional services in a more effective way.
I am still somewhat skeptical because I have seen solutions come and go and I have lived through a lot of “next best things.” As they say, the proof will be in the pudding. However, I may see a distant glimmer of the light at the end of the customer service tunnel. With the addition of Avaya Aura Contact Center, I am more than a little hopeful that someday I will be able to enter my account number only once and have all processes, people, and technology with which I interface know who I am. Just maybe the customer service silos will be finally bridged.
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Communications Integrated to Optimize Business Processes.
UC integrates real-time and non-real time communications with business processes and requirements.
Uses presence capabilities for coordination, and presents a consistent unified user interface and experience across multiple devices and media types.
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