At a meeting it held for Industry Analysts last week, Cisco’s Unified Customer Collaboration business unit showed how the growth of IP-based, Unified Communications (UC) software and infrastructure is fueling demand for new features, functions, software and capabilities in the contact center. Through a series of briefings by customers, channel partners and Cisco’s own executives – including Robert Lloyd, President of Development and Sales – Cisco made it clear that it considers contact center infrastructure to be the focal point for “The Internet of Everything,” a term that Cisco has coined to describe a $14.4 trillion market comprised of technologies that are “bringing together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before.”
This is a “Back to the Future” moment for contact center-based resources. The centrality, not to mention the very existence of contact centers has been called into question during the past decade as corporate spending gravitated toward e-commerce Web sites and mobile apps in recognition that each “customer’s journey” starts with a generic “Google search,” then lands on an enterprise’s Web site where a transaction may be consummated or deflected to a local retail store. Mobile devices, especially smartphones equipped with Web-browsers or e-commerce apps, have also taken their toll on traffic to and from contact centers. Thus IT execs were well-counseled to invest in UC servers, networking, middleware and software which, in turn, became the underpinning for presence-awareness, collaboration, multichannel and mobile communications throughout the company.
As investment gravitated toward UC, IT managers and other decisionmakers seem to have forgotten that “back in the day” (meaning the 1960s) voice and data first converged at a single point smack in the middle of an agent’s workstation. This precursor to UC enabled agents to carry out a voice conversation with a customer or prospect while simultaneously viewing pertinent information about the caller and the purpose of the call. Automated Call Directors (ACDs) and then electronic programmable branch exchanges (ePBXs) routed voice calls to agents, while ancillary computers, data switches and routers directed data traffic as required by the call center application. By the 1980s, these locked-down, rock solid systems validated the idea that voice and data could reside together at large scale, with high reliability (“five 9’s” meaning 99.999% uptime) and in real-time.
By the mid-1990s, the Internet and World Wide Web disrupted the patterns of everyday commerce in ways that are irreversible. The contact center managers who paid dearly for the daily care and feeding of contact center infrastructure were told to invest only in technologies that could continually control costs, while promoting ever-higher levels of agent productivity without sacrificing customer satisfaction. The contact center was an important termination point for inbound calls (especially in the wake of anti-telemarketing legislation and regulations). It’s efficiency was measured by cost control and closure. It had become an island and a fortress.
The Internet abhors islands and takes pleasure in smashing silos. Long ago, Cisco began to offer both its Customer Voice Portal (CVP) and its Unified Contact Center (UCC) platforms as components of its Unified Customer Collaboration suite. What’s more, as demonstrated by speakers from customers like Allianz Global Assistance and resellers like Presidio Networked Solutions, we’re witnessing “contact centers without borders.” Rather than serving as a termination point for inbound calls for support, it is a point of ingress and egress for communications of all kinds (voice, clickstreams, text, data) transpiring between and among other people, people and machines (like IVRs and Web servers), and machine-to-machine (E.g. the use of data about callers and their activity to support “precision routing” of calls, tweets, Facebook posts and the like). Agents can be anywhere. Supervisors can monitor them from their smartphones. Executives throughout the enterprise can be brought into a customer workflow to resolve an issue.
Whether you refer to it as the “Internet of Things” or the “Internet of Everything,” its adoption and growth is poised to bring new life and greater levels of activity to the contact center.
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