Thursday, March 22, 2007

SIP: Leading Contact Centers beyond VoIP

My earlier post Business of Customer Responsiveness was a teaser for the C-level. I hope it continues serving its purpose by propagating and keeping the core message alive.

Now I want to turn your attention to a key relevant topic in that teaser. Enter SIP. Session Initiation Protocol for the technically minded.

But I firmly believe that more importantly, it is really a Simpler IP!

When the art of "packetizing voice and moving the packets over IP networks" was perfected; the industry coined the term VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). You could take it or leave it alone.
By itself VoIP did nothing spectacular:

  • VoIP initially brought the toll costs down
  • when people used it to bypass the toll networks
  • they did so by establishing their own private IP links a.k.a. Leased Lines
  • and then this initial hype died...

  • ...when the long distance communications costs kept moving southwards, partly owing to the fact that Telecom carriers themselves deployed VoIP; and also with the new avatar of many Internet Service Providers donning the hat of Telephony providers.

    But the real power that got unleashed was beyond the "packets" in VoIP. The real power was in "infinitely extending the copper wire". The ability to add voice terminals wherever your IP network could reach. The ability to "convert" your PC's and Laptops into Telephones.

    Of course it came with its caveats, and imposed limits on:

  • round trip delays
  • packet loss
  • jitter
  • the fact that you could not 'resend', or 'send out of order' voice packets the same way as you could do for data packets

  • But as long as these limits were adhered to in the network, and Voice packets appropriately prioritized using Quality Of Service (QOS) techniques; a Communication application could be pretty much "virtualized" the way you wanted.

    You could deliver the Voice AND data packets without bothering about how to converge them. And these were real Applications benefits, that distinguished the "IP Telephony" from mere "VoIP"!
    And the Technocrats (even amongst the C-Levels) understood WHY IP Phones were beneficial, but more importantly WHERE they were not! e.g.: for a Single location Contact Center... where the copper wire itself does the job.

    I suspect something similar is going to be the case in the SIP era. There will be Organizations who are either developing "so called" SIP technologies, or thinking of deploying SIP; just because it seems to be the next wave. I'm afraid these Organizations will not reap any real benefits.

    The real power of SIP is in the Applications space again. Note a few:

  • Interoperability between different vendor applications
  • Ability to add Voice, CTI data, AND Video in a session
  • Ability to start off on one medium (say Instant Messaging a.k.a. Web Chat) and simply switch to; or subsequently ADD another (e.g. Voice channel)
  • Ability to report more comprehensively on the contacts, including the above "multi-media within the same contact"
  • Ability to identify (through Presence) resources with relevant skills to handle the Customers in queue
  • Ability to also additionally identify whether these resources are interruptible at the given moment
  • .. etc. etc.

  • As SIP pervades the Contact Center Applications space, the IP Telephony benefits are going to get greatly enhanced. What VoIP did to the Contact Center Infrastructure through IP Telephony; SIP is going to do for the Applications.

    What do you think?

    Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    Business of Customer Responsiveness

    Theme: Organizations boast of being responsive to their Customer, but does every part of their organization engage in Customer Responsiveness?

    I am aware that I am broaching a sensitive topic here. No CEO would ever admit that his/her organization is not customer responsive. Yet, when I scan the market; across industry verticals, across geographies, and even across varying business types; I find that the Contact Center is the only department in most organizations, that measures this responsiveness.

    There is no trend yet where organizations as a whole are being responsive to their customers. Metrics like Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Service Level (SL), First Time Right (FTR), Abandon rate, get measured and discussed only on the Contact Center floor.

    Why don't I see a trend where the entire organization answers to the customers?

    When it comes to the Enterprise communications infrastructure, I see two types of organizational communications strategies being initiated.

    • The "Cost Focused" business leaders

    - They believe in 'isolation' tactics

    - The Central office has state-of-the-art communication systems and applications

    - The branches and other parts of the organization have small Key Telephone Systems

    - It is presumed that that is all they require.

    • The "Visionary" C-level

    - They believe in having ONE integrated communication system

    - Offering the same rich functionality to all parts of their organization

    - They are right!

    - And they are reaping the benefits of being able to collaborate with intuitive applications

    Yet, neither the "Cost Focused", nor the "Visionaries" are even thinking of integrating their Contact Center with the Enterprise Communications systems. They continue to work as islands of information and connectivity. One for communicating with the customers; and another to communicate within themselves!

    The "Visionaries" have actually reached a stage where they are poised to leverage and unleash an enormous amount of collaborative energy working for the benefit of their customers. Yet, they are still as far from a true integrated communication system, as their "Cost focused" counterparts of the first type.

    Therein lies the huge opportunity! The opportunity of unleashing collaborated team of internal associates, external partners, as well as the customers. The opportunity of:

    • Making every individual associate capable of contributing to customer queries (Fulfilling the vision of a truly Customer Responsive organization)
    • Giving frontline Contact Center agents the ability to pull Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) right there in real time (increase the FTR ratio)
    • Greatly streamlining many complex processes required for customer fulfilment (Increasing organizational effectiveness)
    • Taking the human latency away from the entire Customer Responsiveness chain (Increasing customer satisfaction)
    • Optimizing enterprise resources (e.g: Tellers in the branch sharing the Contact Center call load, because the footfalls and customer calls peak at completely different times... etc..)
    • Creating the Customer Responsive organization

    A few years ago, these opportunities did not exist, because the underlying technology that makes this possible, has emerged only recently. The Contact Center agents did not know back then, which SME to look for. With a true Presence, agents will instantly know exactly who is available, interruptible, and on what device can they be reached - Desk Phone, Mobile Phone, Instant Messaging, or email.

    Today, I can think of at least one technology leader Avaya, who is ready with innovative solutions to deliver Presence across multi-vendor applications, Unified Communications, and rich Business Intelligence tools.

    But what I find disconcerting is the lack of "Visionary" leaders who are already prepared with their strategy to take advantage of this changed landscape. The precious few who are, are an exception. The good news is that they will be at the forefront of the trend when it comes, and consequently gain tremendous competitive advantage.

    I am now looking forward to that trend - that of organizations moving from their "intent" of being Customer Responsive; to "being" Customer Responsive and fulfilling their promise.