O Say, Can UC in a Tough U.S. Economy

During these challenging times companies focus more attention on retaining and increasing the sales activities of current customers. In addition, they rank new solutions that improve profit, market and competitive positions with a high priority. This means customer relationship management systems based on unified communications architectures can jump to the top of the list.

UC-based CRM solutions allow enterprises to create “virtualized contact centers” and offer their customers a choice of multimedia interactions and self-service options. With these solutions enterprises are able to maximize the accessibility of their offerings and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of their customer sales/service representatives, while increasing their competitiveness and differentiation in the market place.

As a consultative solution provider, adding these solutions to your tool bag will open new doors where you can immediately add value to your clients. This value will address four key areas connected to your customers’ contact centers and CRM strategies:

  • Improving agent productivity and enterprise workflow
  • Winning the competitive game with personalization
  • Accelerating the sales cycle and increasing up selling
  • Quicker return on investments and asset utilization

Improving agent productivity and enterprise workflow. Traditionally a call center has been limited to the building, floor and four walls supported by the company’s TDM voice-based PBX/ACD system. With these technology limitations the call center had become a detached island in the enterprise.

In contrast, software-based UC CRM solutions, built on IP/SIP, are bringing the contact center back to the company’s mainland and creating presence-enabled virtualized contact centers without technology walls, network limitations or media boundaries. With UC-enabled presence and collaboration capabilities, contact center agents can work from different buildings, cities, even countries while acting as one entity. A UC-featured contact center solution in conjunction with an enterprise IT customer-workflow application can deliver functionality to home agents, remotely located agents, part-time agents and outsourced agents.

These new solutions not only bring contact centers back into the company, with significantly more flexibility, but also bring the total enterprise “online” to help drive CRM strategies. With presence — the desktop ability to see who is available to help — agents can find experts or other CSR agents in any department or city, contact center agents and experts with the skills required now to support the “virtual” contact center and the call for help from anywhere in the enterprise. When this is done in real-time, at the time the customer is engaging the center, a higher percentage of “first contact resolution” can be reached. First contact resolution, a critical part of any company’s CRM strategy, can be measured and has been proven to reduce operating costs, achieve new levels of efficiency and clearly improve customer satisfaction.

A UC-featured contact center solution enables and empowers front-line agents to meet a customer’s requirements in first contact to the enterprise and avoid the time consuming multiple transfers, voice mails or call backs that lead to failing grades and lost revenue.

Winning the competitive game with personalization. The competitive challenge for companies today begins and ends with impressing the customer. Consumers are looking for companies that provide mobile and multimedia interaction choices that fit their lifestyles. They expect companies and organizations to allow them to initialize contact whenever, however and wherever it is convenient with the media option they prefer — telephone, mobile phone, iPhone, PDA, e-mail, IM or Web. The consumer’s only requirement is that the services provided are uniform, consistent, convenient and personalized, independent of which medium is chosen.

Yesterday’s hardware-based ACD technologies were designed to distribute a single medium at a time (predominately voice). This meant agent-customer interactions were restricted, limiting communication effectiveness and most importantly, customer options and personalization.

In contrast, today’s UC-based CRM solutions built on IP/SIP frameworks provide enterprises the right foundation, across all media, to build personalized consumer strategies. With blended multimedia routing, queuing and reporting engines, these UC-enabled CRM solutions ensure customers are processed consistently apart from the media chosen and within personalized service level targets.

Accelerating the sales cycle and increasing up selling. The honored and tested statement, “time is money” has never been truer than right now. Enterprise companies, your customers, are interested in hearing about ways to accelerate their contact center’s “sales cycle” immediately and directly. They will also pay for consulting, professional services and solutions that increase “up selling and add-on sales” in sales and services contact centers. The goal is to see improvements to their top line without increasing headcount but dramatically impacting the bottom line.

UC-based CRM solutions allow enterprise to reduce sales cycles through online options, automation and greater agent availability. Online media such as e-mail and Web collaboration can play an important role in maximizing an organization’s accessibility and availability to consumers, while helping to lower the cost per interaction. New multimedia options, voice activated self-service options and intelligent-automated routing methods for customer interactions reduce human layers and speed up sales processes while freeing human resources for more complex sales/service responsibilities.

Some of the new UC-based contact center suites have virtual routing engines that can adjust routing parameters and workflows in response to real-time information about the call center operating conditions, agents’ available skills or specific customer data. Take, for example, the scenario of a call center for an insurance company based in the Northeast, where 600 agents are equally divided to service homeowner’s insurance, auto insurance and health insurance customers. If a snowstorm hits the region and the volume of auto claims calls increases, the system can automatically divert calls to health insurance agents who have some cross-training in handling auto-related inquiries. This functionality allows the enterprise to continue achieving critical service-level commitments as events occur in real-time. Contact center suites, using this intelligent virtual routing, have seen a 20 to 30 percent improvement in contact volume capacity with the same number of agents.

Because next-generation UC-based CRM solutions provide higher levels of scalability and customization, they can support 10 to tens of thousands of agents as one virtual contact center. These solutions can deploy IP/SIP agents where needed, independent of physical location, while providing the highest level economy of scale and agent availability constantly optimizing the enterprises’ sales and service cycles.

UC-based contact center solutions also provide the right foundation for increasing up-selling and add-on sales. Because they are based on software oriented architectures (SOA) and open standards frameworks, these solutions can be integrated into a wide variety of vertical and horizontal IT business applications enabling integration into business workflow processes and policies. These IT applications, when integrated with the UC-based CRM solution, automatically will provide the contact center agents with scripts and product offerings specific to the customer’s profile to drive additional sales.

Quicker return on investments and asset utilization. CIOs and CEOs are saying, “show me the money” for any solution that requires even minimal capital expenditures. For any new solution recommendations the key questions are: where is the return on investment (ROI), the reduction in the total cost of ownership (TCO) and does this solution optimize the current assets and the operational efficiency of call centers? VARs that become consultative solution providers of UC solutions, focused on CRM strategies, will be able to provide detail and specific areas of cost elimination, process/productivity improvements and new revenue attainment.

These solutions focus on improving the sales and service revenue engine that is driving a substantial part of your customer’s business — the contact center. This is the one place where there is ample data for real hard-dollar improvements analysis. You also will find most of the vendors providing solutions for UC-based contact centers also have reference customers, case studies, business case ROI models and vertical specific deployment models. By focusing on UC-based CRM solutions, your “value add” will rise in your customers’ eyes and on your income statement.

Al Baker is a global vice president for Siemens Enterprise Communications Inc., with international responsibilities focused on Siemens’ UC-based CRM solutions business and more than 10 years of experience running product management and product marketing departments.

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