I have spent the last two days at the U.K.’s largest contact center trade show, which this year moved to London Olympia from the NEC in Birmingham. While the overall number of visitors seemed to be down, some exhibitors told me there were more high-level attendees with serious intent to purchase.

At the show I detected three major themes: support for managing multichannel (including social media) customer interactions, “the contact center in the cloud” and analytics. Regarding the first, Ventana Research’s benchmark research into the use of technology in contact centers shows that companies must support multiple channels through which customers can interact with them or risk that certain segments of customers won’t do business with them. A colleague recently summed it up nicely: A multichannel customer service strategy is not an “or” strategy but an “and” strategy; that is, no one channel, even social media, will replace any other channel, and therefore you need them all. Supporting this viewpoint were a number of vendors whose integrated products support multiple channels; these includeAltitude SoftwarecTalk LtdEnghouse interactiveGenesysmplsystems,NobleSystems and ShoreTel

One of the challenges in handling multiple forms of customer interactions is that it adds to the complexity of the desktop agents use. This is already complex because of the number and variety of applications agents need to access to resolve interactions. The combination of multiple interaction types and multiple applications is increasing the need for a “smart” agent desktop. Altitude and mplsystems include that as a component of their products, while others have specialist products, such as sword-ciboodle and (although the company won’t thank me for describing it this way) Salesforce.com.

As for the contact center in the cloud, Salesforce would claim it provides this, and as I noted it does provide a key part in the smart desktop that brings together all customer information so agents can handle customer interactions more efficiently. But Salesforce doesn’t provide a technology platform to manage inbound interactions and route them to the most appropriate person to handle them. This capability is provided in the cloud by some of the multichannel management vendors whose systems can be based on-premises or on a hosted (in the cloud) basis. Three vendors at the show that specialize in this are Interactive Intelligence, NewVoiceMedia and SAP – the last might surprise people as it is better known as an ERP and CRM provider.

Interactive Intelligence’s CIC provides a technology platform and interaction management, plus other applications to support multichannel customer interaction management in the cloud. NewVoiceMedia’s main product,ContactWorld, also provides interaction management in the cloud and can route interactions to the most qualified person regardless of location. It also launched its Trust site which takes performance monitoring to a new level. Whereas most cloud vendors provide availability and reliability statistics, NewVoiceMedia automates tasks agents carry out, runs these tasks every five minutes, measures the results and publishes the outcomes, thereby allowing managers to see the level of performance their agents receive from the product. This monitoring also allows NewVoiceMedia to spot issues before users see any impact and take corrective action. Possibly the most surprising vendor in this space is SAP, with its BCM products, which include a cloud-based service that supports management of multiple communication channels. All three of these vendors support the growing trend to distribute interaction-handling to dispersed “agents” who can be in different physical centers, home-based, mobile, working in other business units or even working for a third-party outsourcing company.

The other major theme running through the show and in presentations was analytics. Ventana Research advocates wider adoption of analytics in the contact center and elsewhere, so it was interesting to see a variety of analytic products. Most of the vendors have some form of analytics built in to their systems, but a number of specialist vendors offer particular types of analytics: Attensity was featuring its customer-focused analytics; Aurix was featuring its speech analytics; CallCopy was featuring its process and speech analytics products which work with its other products to support improved agent performance; Enkata was featuring a range of products that support operational and agent-focused performance analysis; and Nexidia was featuring its customer-focused analytics that can analyze interactions from multiple channels. I didn’t hear as much as I expected about social media analytics, so it may be that vendors are still evaluating how social media is impacting business.

I describe the adoption of analytics as moving beyond the early-adopter stage and approaching the mainstream. I believe the main issue holding back adoption, which was highlighted in our benchmark research into the use of analytics, is that companies have difficulty interpreting the outputs from analytics and thus getting real business benefits. Our research shows that business units such as Finance are supported by business analysts who essentially interpret the results and show management the impact of different decisions and activities. In the contact center, such responsibility sits with the operational team so they need more support before they can realize the full benefits of speech, text and social media analytics.

Overall the show confirmed that there is an impressive variety of technology available to support companies in their efforts to improve the way they interact with customers. Two absences I noted this year were Cisco andVerint. More technology, applications and analytics are becoming available in the cloud, making it easier and more affordable to try. I have only been able to touch on a few vendors in this piece, so I urge you to take more time to find out what is available and let us know what issues you come across by collaborating with me.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director