Success Unified Communications is highly dependent on process and knowledge understanding of contact centres

Text: Gordon Loader, Senior Manager, Solutions Marketing EMEA at Avaya

Unified Communications seemed to be a hype for a long time. More and more companies start to realize that orchestrating communication and cooperation at different locations, times and channels can bring in big advantages. This is certainly the case for contact centres, where communication and cooperation are key activities. But many companies are not aware of the fact that they already use Unified Communications technology for their contact centres (no matter how small or big). An overview of the (im)possibilities, advantages and conditions of Unified Communications for contact centres.

Unified Communications bundle real-time and not-real-time applications for business communication. Examples of these applications are speech and video telephony, conferencing, cooperation, speech and video mail, instant messaging (IM), e-mail, agenda and contacts. Users can call upon these applications via different devices, like pc, telephone and PDA. Even though advanced technology is an important foundation for Unified Communications, the importance of it lies more in the possibility to communicate and cooperate more efficiently with this technology. Because employees, customers, partners and suppliers cooperate better via all possible channels, they benefit from different advantages – a better customer experience, more productivity, efficient cooperation and lower costs. This eventually leads to a competition benefit.

Massive communication
So far for the theory. But how does Unified Communications work in practise and more specific: in contact centres? In order to get an insight to that, first an outline of the current situation. The number of communication channels is very big these days. We call via our mobile telephone and fixed-line, we e-mail, chat, web and videoconference and send a lot of text messages. If someone cannot be reached via the fixed-line of mobile telephone, we leave a voicemail message. Almost everyone has multiple e-mail addresses, IM-names and phone numbers at the main office, at a different company location, at home and via the business and private mobile phone. This multitude of communication possibilities makes for more complexity. It is getting more difficult and time-consuming to communicate on a business level. This is of course not intended to happen in an era where the fast sharing of information and optimal customer service are more essential than ever.
Also contact centres can be reached in different ways and they communicate in different ways. Agents answer customer questions via telephone, e-mail and chat and they can consult colleagues via IM. This is already a form of Unified Communications. A lot of contact centres already combine the skills and expertise of an agent with his or her availability via Unified Communications technology. The caller is automatically routed to the agent who can answer the question in the best possible way.
First line solution
The possibilities of Unified Communications go farther. Via Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) it is for instance possible to smoothly switch between communication methods. While an agents is on the phone with a client, he can call upon a specialised colleague via IM to answer a complex question. Big advantage is that one immediately sees how the colleague can be reached (presence-functionality). Should the colleague not be able to answer the question, then it is also possible to set up a video conference call with another specialist. By using this method, companies stimulate one of the most important attention areas of contact centres: first line solution. Customers do not need to be transferred again and again before their question is answered. This gives customer satisfaction a big boost.

Unified Communications also offers extensive possibilities for up-selling en cross-selling. The integration of telephony and pc makes sure that agents always have insight in the needs, interests and order history of the customers. Because of this they are able to present tailored offers. A car insurer can for instance also offer a passenger insurance or another extra service. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is also part of Unified Communications. Via IVR customers can via self-service prolong an insurance or carry out another standard task over the phone. This increases agent productivity and makes agents available for conversations or questions. Customers do not need to wait very long.

Text messaging and chat
The possibilities of Unified Communications are thus countless. Still, a lot needs to happen in most contact centre environments in order to get the most out of the technology. Unified Communications also integrates communication channels like text messaging and chat. Customers use this in their private life and also want to communicate with their suppliers via these channels. Apart from that they expect an immediate – or at least fast – answer. The contact centre that knows to integrate these alternative communication channels in its operational management best, will distinguish itself from the competition.

The current generation of contact centres is more and more structured and managed. Via IVR and other technologies one first determines who calls and with which question. Then the caller is automatically routed to the right agent via technology. This is already a form of Unified Communications. In order to make the most of the full potential, companies with contact centres can best go over these steps:
1. Thoroughly look at what Unified Communications contains – multimedia, mobility, presence and integration of business processes.
2. Take a close look at contact centre processes and determine how they can be streamlined with Unified Communications.
3. Provide insight in knowledge and specialism. Which agent can answer what kind of questions?
4. Map out bottlenecks and investigate how they  can be solved with Unified Communications functionality.
5. Choose the right technology/functionality and find a partner who can implement this.

In which phase of Unified Communications a contact centre may find itself, companies need to realise that also in this case technology has a supporting role. The customer needs, agent roles and processes are always at the centre and form the basis for using technology. Only then will contact centres get the most out of Unified Communications.