Richard Snow's Analyst Perspectives

All Analyst Perspectives

NewVoiceMedia Invests for Contact Center in the Cloud Success

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 17, 2017 7:42:17 AM

2017 has been a year of major changes in the contact center market: several significant acquisitions, vendors expanding their capabilities to support more channels of engagement, a continued trend to move products to the cloud and, as a result, more vendors expanding their global presence. One such vendor is NewVoiceMedia. When I last wrote about the company I pointed out that when it was founded in 2000 it was one of the first vendors to move telephony management to the cloud and offer contact center in the cloud services. At the time I wrote my perspective, it had just raised considerable funding to help it further develop the product and expand its presence around the globe.

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NICE Brings Employee Engagement to Enhance Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 6, 2017 5:52:46 AM

2017 has been a year of major changes in the contact center market. There have been more acquisitions than in any year I can remember. There have also been more partnerships announced, which have at least in part been enabled by the advance of cloud-based systems. The move to the cloud has continued apace, along with the addition of new capabilities that allow employees to access systems from mobile devices. Vendors have of course announced many updates to existing systems, as well as exciting new developments around technologies such as video, collaboration, artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analysis and bots. Moreover, several new vendors have popped out of the woodwork with innovative new products.

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Why All the Fuss about Customer Journey Maps?

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 20, 2017 9:23:13 AM

A few years ago, we carried out benchmark research into customer service best practices. A key element of the research was to compare the approaches of the nearly three-fifths (58%) of organizations that described themselves as very customer-focused and the remaining two-fifths (42%) that are not so focused on their customers.

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Zuora Maximizes Potential of Subscription Billing Portfolio

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 12, 2017 8:58:57 AM

At the recent Zuora Subscribed17 London event, Founder and CEO Tien Tzuo took about 10 minutes to demonstrate that over the last 12 months the subscription economy has grown considerably and assert that Zuora is committed to supporting organizations that make the transition to such a business model. The numbers Tzuo presented were impressive but more striking still was the understanding that emerged during the event and at a lunch for analysts of the nature of the transition companies are going through: software companies moving from on-premises to cloud-based models, a major industrial vehicles-for-hire company moving from renting out machines to providing subscription-based services so the organization hiring the vehicles knows exactly what the machines are up to and how to get best value out of them, a car manufacturer moving to renting cars on a subscription basis based on miles driven, a utility company increasingly automating people’s homes, and a real estate firm providing access to legal advice and mortgage experts as needed.

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Verint Desktop Provides Omnichannel Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 1, 2017 9:43:49 AM

A lot is being written and said about the omnichannel customer experience and the role contact center agents play in providing such experiences. From the customer’s perspective, I think it boils down to four things: that the interaction is easy, personal to them, within the context of the relationship and previous interactions, and consistent no matter with whom or what technology they interact. From the agent or user’s perspective, it should be easy to find the information needed to resolve the interaction to the customer’s satisfaction, and he or she must be empowered to resolve any issues that arise.

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Five9 Launches Global Engagement Center

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 3, 2017 10:00:54 AM

Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows the telephone is far from dead as a channel of customer engagement. Although the research shows other channels are likely to grow more quickly over the next two years, nearly half (46%) of organizations said they expect to see significant or some growth in the volume of calls they need to handle. So, as well as supporting additional digital channels of engagement, organizations must ensure the way they handle calls meets customer expectations. Primarily this means that there are no delays, voice quality is good and customers get consistent responses no matter who they engage with.

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NICE Integrates Cloud Platform for Customer Engagement

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 28, 2017 9:17:28 AM

Our benchmark research over the last couple of years confirms what we all instinctively know: Consumers engage with each other and organizations using an increasing number of engagement channels. Indeed, our latest research into the next-generation contact center in the cloud shows the average number of channels organizations now support has grown to almost eight. The same research confirms that organizations now realize the way to compete is to match or exceed customer expectations regarding how these interactions are handled. Summing these expectations up, customer engagement must be easy, personalized, in-context and above all consistent across all channels.

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Aspect Software Makes Progress with New Customer Engagement Center

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 2, 2017 8:56:10 AM

Not many years ago, building and running a contact center was a complex task. Organizations typically had to license all the systems they required (most of them proprietary and on-premises), customize them to meet their requirements and integrate them into a workable architecture. But beyond all the systems issues, the key to running the center was forecasting the right number of skilled agents that would be needed to handle expected interaction patterns and then routing calls to the most skilled agent for that specific interaction.

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RingCentral Integrates Contact Center and Unified Communications

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 2, 2017 8:40:08 AM

Customer engagement is undergoing its biggest transformation in decades. Consumers now use a significantly greater number and variety of channels to engage with organizations – everything from phone, email and the corporate website to social media, text messaging, chat, mobile apps and video. This is forcing organizations to change in order not to miss out on business opportunities.

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Amazon Web Services Introduces Turmoil to Contact Centers

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 26, 2017 10:01:23 AM

I have been involved in the call center market for around 30 years, first as a consultant building call centers for organizations and later as an analyst covering developments in organizations’ customer engagement best practices and vendor product developments. Looking back over the first 20, maybe even 25 years, it has been a slowly developing market. Early call centers essentially included an on-premises ACD or PBX, call routing software, computer telephony integration (CTI) software that could identify the caller and display a page from a selected system – typically CRM – on the screen of the agent handling the call. For the most part, agents were left to their own devices to handle the call, although some organizations developed scripts. Such centers were so successful, organizations began to see the true cost of handling all these interactions, so many started to deploy “call avoidance” systems such as IVR and FAQs on the corporate website to try and cut down costs.

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Verint Ups Its Game in Knowledge Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 21, 2017 7:36:10 AM

Customer engagement is nothing new – organizations have been engaging with customers in one way or another ever since business began. Over the years, however, the nature of this engagement has changed dramatically, from largely face-to-face encounters and the written word to telephone, email, fax and text messaging and now to text-based applications, social media, mobile apps and video. These changes prompted organizations to create call centers to centralize the handling of phone calls, then contact centers that handle multiple channels of engagement, more recently, self-service channels like IVR and web-based FAQs, to the latest customer engagement centers that embrace all aspects of engaging with customers. Responding to these changes, Verint, best known as a workforce optimization vendor, has extended its suite of products to include a customer engagement center suite.

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Genesys Doubles Down on Customer Experience Platform

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 17, 2017 12:54:38 AM

Today many conversations about contact centers and CRM focus on customer engagement and the customer experience. Customer engagement should be relatively straightforward, addressing how organizations interact with customers through different channels of engagement. However, when it comes to customer experience, I believe many miss the point. The key word is experience, which means it is ultimately about perceptions and emotions. Companies must consider how customers feel prior to, during and after interactions. A common example would be a customer who feels frustrated when he or she gets a bill and believes it is wrong, who then gets angry talking to an agent who can do nothing about it and, as a result, considers changing suppliers.

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Technology Improves Customer Experience: Does Yours?

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 29, 2017 10:11:46 AM

Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement finds that three-quarters (77%) of organizations participating in the research said  it is very important to improve the way they engage with customers. The two main drivers behind this are improving the customer experience (cited by 74%) and im­proving performance of the custo­mer service organization (70%). This is important because most companies said their customers have good experiences, but only one-third said that experience is excellent.

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Customer Expectations Remain a Business and Technology Challenge

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 14, 2017 1:41:45 AM

Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that companies use, on average, seven channels of communication to engage customers. It also finds that supporting multiple channels leads to several challenges for organizations, chiefly difficulty of integrating systems (49%), channels managed as silos (47%) and inconsistent responses across channels (33%). Today’s customers have little sympathy for such problems – they quickly lose patience, and customer satisfaction levels fall. This problem in customer satisfaction will likely intensify. In our research, organizations reported that they expect volumes of interactions to increase on all channels and more digital channels such as text messaging, chat, mobile apps and video. In addition, to resolve more interactions at the first point of contact, organizations are using more employees in back-office groups such as finance, HR and operations.

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NICE Evolves Workforce Optimization Portfolio for Customer Excellence

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 1, 2017 10:14:51 AM

I recently discussed how NICE continues to invest in its core products while creating a full customer experience platform, combining its core offerings with products newly acquired  from inContact and Nexidia. During two recent briefings, I learned that these investments continue at quite a pace; the company announced a new product to address the ever-increasing number of channels of engagement, and another so that smaller centers with less sophisticated requirements can take advantage of a specialized workforce management product.

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Pitney Bowes Innovates Customer Engagement

Posted by Richard Snow on May 23, 2017 10:10:30 AM

Our benchmark research into the next-generation contact center in the cloud shows that organizations are supporting more and more channels of engagement; an emerging one is video. Adoption rates suggest that use of this technology for customer service is still in its early days, but as more consumers make video calls using mobile apps such as FaceTime, WhatsApp and Skype, we expect adoption rates and usage to increase. During two recent briefings I learned that Pitney Bowes has built a portfolio of products to support various uses of video.

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Imperative for Customer Engagement Needs Attention

Posted by Richard Snow on May 8, 2017 12:21:18 AM

Not long ago, organizations engaged with customers by meeting them in person, speaking with them on the telephone or writing to them. To be competitive today, however, organizations cannot confine customer service to those forms of engagement. Customers now engage with each other and organizations through a variety of digital channels that include email, corporate websites, text messaging, instant messaging, social media, smartphone applications and video.

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mplsystems Optimizes Omnichannel Engagement

Posted by Richard Snow on May 2, 2017 2:14:54 AM

Our benchmark research into next-generation contact centers in the cloud confirms what many others are writing and talking about – that customer experience is now the business differentiator. This means that organizations need to get customer engagement right at every touch point, be it assisted by employees or digital. The same research shows that while organizations are supporting more channels of engagement, many are struggling to integrate systems and engagement channels; fewer than half of companies can offer omnichannel experiences. Making matters worse, many of their employees don’t have the full range of skills needed to handle all channels and types of interactions. To overcome these challenges, organizations need a systems architecture that integrates assisted and digital channels, workforce optimization and other business applications such as CRM and multidimensional analytics. Several vendors are working to provide such a suite, most focusing on in-system integration of channels, WFO and analytics, and integration with third-party CRM systems.

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NGDATA Innovates on DNA of the Customer

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 27, 2017 11:36:39 AM

Ever since I became involved in the CRM and customer service markets, everyone – businesses, vendors, consultants and analysts – has been talking and writing about the “360-degree view of the customer”.  Despite claims from several vendors, I haven’t seen any products that produce a full 360-degree view, and user organizations haven’t had the time or resources to develop the technology themselves. As our research into next-generation customer analytics shows, the main issue is data – organizations have far more of it than most realize. The research shows that organizations on average use eight data sources as input to analytics, but there are more than 20 potential sources of customer-related data and the situation is getting worse. Beyond the sheer volume of it, data now comes in several forms – structured, unstructured (such as call recordings and text), event data (for example, video that customers download) and process data.

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Genesys Advances Engagement and Optimization of Customers

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 11, 2017 9:22:15 AM

In tracking Genesys for several years I have seen it grow through a series of product developments and acquisitions – from predominantly selling call routing and computer/telephony integration (CTI) software to providing a suite of products that manage inbound and outbound, assisted and digital channels of customer engagement. Continuing this expansion Genesys recently acquired Interactive Intelligence and Silver Lining. These new assets signal another round of transformation as the company builds support for what I call a customer experience hub – a combination of products to support all aspects of enterprise-wide customer engagement.

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Content Guru Brings Interactions to Cloud for Customer Engagement

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 31, 2017 8:19:18 AM

Until recently, the contact center technology systems market was straightforward. Vendors typically provided on-premises systems that fell into four broad categories: telephony management, workforce optimization, business applications (most noticeably CRM) and analytics. The advent of more digital channels of engagement ­– the cloud, mobile devices, and artificial intelligence – has muddied the waters somewhat, making it harder to compare vendors. The cloud has had one of the most dramatic impacts; while some vendors still provide on-premises systems, more are providing services through a private or a public cloud or a hybrid model that combines on-premises and cloud-based systems; some providing services based on other vendors’ systems.  More new vendors have entered the customer engagement market, and some established vendors have taken higher profiles in it.

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NICE and the Customer Experience Platform

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 22, 2017 7:50:26 AM

In tracking NICE for a decade I have seen the company grow, through a series of acquisitions and product developments, from a vendor largely of workforce management systems to one that offers a full suite of workforce optimization products. It is now advancing what I call a customer experience platform that builds on top of my last coverage of it advancing its efforts. This includes systems to manage assisted channels of engagement (primarily the telephone), digital channels of engagement, workforce optimization, advanced analytics and tight integration with business applications such as CRM. NICE is on the road to building such a platform using existing and newly developed products and those that it recently acquired from Nexidia and inContact. It will take time before a fully integrated platform is available, but the company has already taken steps toward this goal.

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ShoreTel Offers Communications and Contact Centers

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 16, 2017 9:45:56 AM

Until recently most organizations deployed systems on their own premises to build communications and contact center infrastructures, which often required them to integrate products from several vendors. In the past few years many vendors have moved their systems to the cloud, and others have begun as cloud-based suppliers. This trend has opened up the opportunity for more organizations to take advantage of modern communication systems and contact centers. Using the cloud for either, or both can save money and resources, reduce risk, and make available more integrated, multi-channel systems.  While the adoption of such systems has undoubtedly increased and is likely to continue to do so, our benchmark research into next-generation contact centers in the cloud finds that many organizations still prefer to remain on premises, and adoption of cloud-based systems occurs on a case-by-case basis. In addition, many organizations look for vendors that support multiple models so they have the option of starting out using one model but transitioning later to another, including to a hybrid model in which some systems are on-premises and others are cloud-based..

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Zendesk Puts Real Meaning Back into CRM

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 22, 2017 6:20:41 AM

One of the first applications I learned about in the contact center market was customer relationship management (CRM). The core capabilities of a CRM system were to manage customer data, marketing campaigns, sales opportunities and service requests. Vendors also touted them as the source for a comprehensive “360 degree” view of the customer, which they could never actually deliver because they did not include customer financial data, interaction histories or customer sentiment in the form of feedback. In any case CRM applications became integral to contact centers as a source of information to answer customer queries, but in reality they did little to actually manage the customer relationship, which was a factor in why they gained a bad reputation. Over time, many vendors adopted a different approach and broke the CRM category into marketing, sales and service clouds, which although they include additional capabilities basically do the same thing, with one big drawback – customer data is managed in three different systems, reducing the availability of a single source of customer data even further.

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Customer Experience Research Agenda for 2017

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 14, 2017 5:33:04 AM

In 2016 Ventana Research saw a significant shift in the customer engagement and contact center software markets. Our benchmark research into the next-generation contact center in the cloud shows that for 70 percent of companies, customer experience is and will be an important way of competing; the largest growth in ways of competing is to introduce digital self-service, which will increase by 12 percent. To support those changes, organizations have introduced more channels of engagement, to the extent that our research shows the average has grown to eight channels. Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that in nearly half (47%) of organizations these channels are managed as silos, which indicates that most organizations still operate multiple channels rather than supporting omnichannel engagement. The next-generation contact center research confirms that customer engagement is an enterprise-wide issue but one-third (33%) of companies struggle to provide consistent responses across touch points.

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Nexidia Unifies Interaction Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 1, 2017 8:47:38 AM

NICE is a longstanding provider of contact center systems. At the beginning of 2016 NICE acquired Nexidia, a provider of customer analytics, which raised questions about the future of the acquired company, its products and its customers. During a recent briefing SVP of product management Larry Skowronek discussed these issues. Nexidia now trades as “a NICE analytics company,” which is unusual because previous NICE acquisitions have been absorbed into the overall company and the brand effectively lost. This arrangement, Skowronek said, gives the company the benefit of retaining the Nexidia brand while taking advantage of the scale, financial strength and market presence of NICE. Several of Nexidia’s longstanding customers have remained customers and are benefiting from new developments and access to the wider NICE portfolio. The company also has a series of new wins, both as a result of direct efforts by its own staff and joint actions with NICE.

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USAN Integrates Management of Contact Centers and Communication Channels

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 22, 2017 6:53:24 AM

Over the last few years the telecommunications and call center industries have undergone radical changes. Telecommunications was mainly in the hands of national and regional telecom companies, which essentially owned all the cables in the ground. The call center market was dominated by a small number of vendors that provided on-premises systems to manage and route calls when they arrived at a company’s offices. The telecom model was in effect the first cloud-based service, though almost no one stopped to think about how a call made on one device arrived at another. The arrival of the internet and wireless technologies and the telecom companies’ willingness to lease capacity on their lines changed both models. Now almost any company can provide communication services, and the majority of contact center systems are cloud-based. In this evolution some organizations that previously were hidden behind the telecoms have emerged as suppliers of communications and contact center services.

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Teleopti Targets Workforce Management for Contact Centers

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 18, 2017 12:25:42 AM

Our benchmark research into the next-generation contact center in the cloud shows that the telephone and other nondigital communication channels are far from obsolete: Participating organizations expect growth in all channels. As a consequence, contact centers are likely to remain a key channel to handle customer interactions, and it is likely that contact center agents will have to handle multiple forms of interactions, which are likely to be more complex. The research also shows that interactions are increasingly being handed by all business groups, not just the contact center. To meet these demanding customer expectations, organizations must continue to carefully manage the availability of skilled resources to handle these interactions.

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CallMiner Advances Customer Engagement Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 2, 2017 11:40:54 PM

Our benchmark research into the next-generation contact center in the cloud confirms what most people intuitively know – that consumers now engage with each other and organizations through more communication channels than a few years ago and that many of these are speech- and text-based. Companies are therefore generating large volumes of voice recordings and textual records. They contain vital information about what customers feel about issues connected to their dealings with the organization – marketing messages the sales process, product and service quality, and employee behavior, among others. The challenge for organizations is to extract insights from these unstructured records and take action to benefit the business based on those insights. When it was founded in 2002, CallMiner set out to support organizations in that quest, and in 2012 it won a Ventana Research Technology Innovation awards.

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Zuora Empowers the Subscription Economy

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 2, 2017 10:47:50 PM

Zuora provides software that supports the rapidly expanding subscription economy. I recently attended the company’s user event in London, called subscribe16. During his keynote speech CEO Tien Tzuo insisted that the subscription economy is not only here to stay but is likely to grow substantially. In the U.K. alone, he said, 40 million users are using subscription services, including 14 million use video streaming services, 5.4 million use music streaming services, and perhaps most surprising, 78 percent of adults age 55 or older use at least one subscription service.

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Verint Advances Voice of the Customer

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 10, 2016 5:46:50 AM

Verint is an established vendor of contact center systems. Its portfolio of products includes digital customer engagement, knowledge management, agent desktop, workforce optimization (for which it was recently rated the top vendor in the Ventana Research 2016 Value Index), voice of the customer and multiple forms of analytics - including text. Verint has built its portfolio through internal developments and acquisitions, the latest of which is OpinionLab. This merger adds two significant capabilities to its already extensive voice of the customer capabilities, giving organizations the ability to measure customer feedback across all channels, including digital.

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NICE Robotic Automation Improves Interaction Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 26, 2016 9:02:11 AM

Robotics is nothing new to some aspects of manufacturing and the IT industry, but it is relatively new in the customer experience (CX) market. The term often conjures up images of little gray machines taking over tasks previously handled by humans – machines making cars, programmed vacuum cleaners and the like. In the CX space, however, we are not talking about machines but about software that can automate routine tasks. For the time being, I don’t believe robots will take over the contact center and replace human agents. Indeed our recent research into next-generation contact centers in the cloud strongly suggests the opposite. It shows that the telephone is still the top channel of communication and that almost two-thirds (62%) of organizations expect call volumes to rise over the next 24 months. Thus agents will continue to handle large volumes of interactions, which may become more complex.

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Clarabridge Engages Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 26, 2016 8:04:36 AM

Analysts have been talking and writing about a “360 degree” view of the customer for years. Our own benchmark research into customer relationship management shows that only37 percent of organizations are able to produce analysis and reports that yield such a comprehensive view. Other research into next-generation customer analytics reveals that the main issue in this area for nearly two-thirds (63%) of organizations is data availability. To make the situation worse, customer-related data is getting ever more numerous and complex. A principal reason for this growth is the number of communication channels consumers now use to engage with organizations and the type of data these channels produce. It includes call recordings, text messages, email, social media posts, customer feedback surveys, chat scripts and event data such as videos that users download. All of these types of data are unstructured , which makes them harder for conventional analytics tools to access and analyze.

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SugarCRM Stays True to Its Vision

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 10, 2016 7:03:50 AM

In the late 1990s, CRM systems were launched to help organizations become customer-centric, to manage customer relationships from end to end, through marketing to sales to customer service, and to provide a “360-degree view of the customer.” For a variety of reasons (overselling, lack of proper adoption, missing functionality), they never lived up to many companies’ expectations, and so CRM got a poor reputation. I recently wrote that customer experience management has undergone significant change in the last 18 months, taking over the role of helping organizations become customer-centric, and that CRM vendors have played a part in these changes. Some of the larger ones have, in my view, taken a backward step by breaking CRM into three components to support marketing, sales and customer service; this makes it harder to support the end-to-end customer life cycle.

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NGData Delivers DNA on Customers

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 9, 2016 7:11:35 AM

During a recent briefing with NGData, I was initially put off by excessive “marketing speak.” The team began by describing its product, Lily Enterprise, as a “customer experience operating system.” Being used to having operating systems run entire computers, I wasn’t sure what this meant. This term was followed by a statement that NGData’s products help companies transition from being “B2C to C2B,” that is, to put the customer first, an idea that has been around for several years but in my experience few companies achieve. One of the biggest challenges in this regard is that most companies are organized into business groups, and each business group typically has its own processes, systems and metrics, a situation that makes it hard to have a single view of the customer and take actions based on the same customer view, and which lends itself to focusing on internal goals, not the customer. As an example, our research into next-generation customer engagement shows three key impediments to delivering exceptional customer experiences: systems that are not integrated (for 49% of organizations), communication channels managed as silos (47%) and customers receiving inconsistent responses at different touch points. The root cause of all these is data – customer data. Organizations have multiple systems that generate customer data, in multiple forms: for example, structured data in CRM and ERP systems, voice recordings, text data from multiple sources (letters, email, Web scripts, text messages, chat scripts and social media posts), video and event data such as a customer downloading a film. With so much data in so many formats, it is hard for companies to generate a single, “360 degree” view of the customer that can be shared across the whole organization.

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Evaluagent Focuses on Agent Engagement

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 31, 2016 8:22:52 AM

Evaluagent is a U.K.-based company founded in 2012 that is carving out a niche in the workforce optimization market. Whereas most WFO vendors offer broad portfolios of products that focus on operational efficiency to reduce the cost of agents, Evaluagent’s narrower portfolio focuses on the people side of interaction handling, particularly agent engagement and satisfaction. The company’s founders had in-depth operational experience of contact centers, and they set out to improve the job experience for agents over what they had encountered, which included cramped working conditions, demanding performance targets, hard-to-use systems and, worst of all, customers often shouting down the phone at them.

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NICE Advances Contact Centers for SMB

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 25, 2016 5:16:01 AM

Over the years, our benchmark research studies on contact center systems have shown that larger centers use dedicated contact center systems to support their operations nearly twice as often as centers that have fewer than 250 seats. Smaller centers typically lack budgets and technical skills to deploy and operate such systems. This situation is evident in the tools commonly used to support workforce management and analytics; smaller centers most often use spreadsheets. While spreadsheets have their place in limited ad hoc analysis for small groups, in an environment such as a contact center, they cause issues with regard to ingesting data from multiple sources and providing analysis in real time.

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Industry Changes Shake Up Customer Experience Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 14, 2016 9:54:56 AM

I have been involved in the call center and customer engagement market for more than 25 years, first as a consultant and systems integrator and for the past 11 years as an industry analyst. There have been lots of changes in that time but never as many as in the last 12 to 18 months. A simple illustration of the change is how I group vendors.

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Aspect Provides Customer Engagement Center in the Cloud

Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 25, 2016 1:35:50 AM

Aspect is a well-established global provider of contact center systems. Its portfolio of products includes applications for contact centers, self-service, workforce optimization and analytics. In May the company announced it has gained clearance for restructuring its debt, which means it is in a better financial position  to invest in its products and global ecosystem of partners, to the benefit of its customers and new prospects. In a recent briefing Aspect’s SVP and general manager of workforce optimization, Mike Burke, asserted that the restructuring will benefit its customers and cited healthy numbers around its pipeline, sales and revenue, including significant recurring revenue from sales of cloud-based products.

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Value Index Analysis Finds Workforce Optimization Market Mature

Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 21, 2016 3:06:50 AM

Ventana Research has published its Workforce Optimization 2016 Value Index. The Value Index provides a comprehensive evaluation of contact center workforce optimization vendors based on responses to our RFP-like questionnaire, which was constructed using insights gained from our recent benchmark research into workforce optimization and our knowledge of the market. In our definition workforce optimization systems include interaction recording, agent quality management, workforce management, agent compensation management, training and coaching, and interaction-handling analytics. The research shows that organizations have deployed many of these applications and by doing so have achieved efficiencies in handling interactions, improved outcomes of those interactions and improved both customer and employee satisfaction.

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Verint Adds Robotic Process Automation to Its Portfolio

Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 9, 2016 9:22:52 AM

Verint is an established vendor of workforce optimization products that was the top-ranked vendor in our 2015 Workforce optimization Value Index. However, like many other large vendors in this category, its product portfolio and capabilities extend beyond workforce optimization; indeed, from a glance at its home page it is not immediately obvious that workforce optimization is a main part of its portfolio. The portfolio includes actionable intelligence, customer engagement optimization, security intelligence, and fraud prevention, risk management and compliance. Workforce optimization is a key component of customer engagement optimization, as are process automation and an employee desktop system, both of which can make interaction handling and associated processes more efficient. Recently the company announced two new products that enhance these capabilities: Verint Robotic Process Automation and Verint Process Assistant.

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Five9 Contact Center System Provides Omnichannel Customer Experiences

Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 1, 2016 10:00:36 AM

Five9 provides contact center in the cloud systems. Its Virtual Contact Center is essentially communication infrastructure software deployed through cloud computing. At the heart of its products is cloud-based telephony software that replaces on-premises ACD and PBX technology. The software connects to public telephone systems and helps users receive, make and manage telephone calls while maintaining high voice quality. Being cloud-based provides a range of advantages: It opens up use of the systems by organizations of all sizes, requires fewer skilled resources than on-premises for implementation and administration, eases integration of the systems, provides flexibility and scalability, changes the cost model and above allows organizations to transition to omnichannel engagement that is consistent across all channels and touch points.

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Upstream Works Delivers Omnichannel Experience for Customers

Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 23, 2016 7:30:24 AM

Since I last wrote about Upstream Works it has expanded its focus on contact center agent efficiency and effectiveness to include omnichannel customer experience. Each of its core products has undergone a number of developments. Its main product now is Upstream Works for Finesse, which it classifies as a smart agent desktop. This is a desktop application that enables users of contact center systems to access the information and systems they need to resolve interactions, as well as prompting the user with next best steps to complete the interaction efficiently and effectively. Upstream Works has a close working agreement with Cisco so the product is only available for users of the Cisco Finesse product.

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Cloud-Based Contact Center Systems Embrace Analytics and Communications

Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 4, 2016 9:32:03 AM

I recently wrote that companies are struggling to provide omnichannel customer experiences and digital customer service is now seen as a business differentiator. To address these issues, organizations need to  change how they use people and processes, and deploy innovative technologies that can support new initiatives. To provide an enterprise-wide solution, contact center systems fall into four categories: communications, business applications, analytics and self-service. Our benchmark research into next-generation contact center systems in the cloud shows which types of systems companies have deployed, which they plan to deploy in the next 24 months and whether they prefer them to be on-premises or cloud-based.

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Workforce Optimization Undergoes Radical Change – Ready?

Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 28, 2016 4:07:02 AM

In today’s intensely competitive markets, companies must strive to meet customer expectations during every interaction, and interactions occur through many channels. Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement finds that customers use up to 17 channels of engagement. Some channels involve assisted service from employees of the company, and some use self-service technologies such as interactive voice response (IVR), websites, mobile apps and social media, also known as digital service. Although the use of self-service is increasing, the research finds that organizations still expect volumes of assisted interactions to grow, albeit more slowly. The research also shows that the employees customers interact with may work in almost any line of business, including marketing, sales, the contact center, finance and human resources. These challenges require organizations to focus on people, processes, information and technology to optimize the performance of the workforce.

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SAS Make Customer Intelligence Engaging and Valuable

Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 22, 2016 9:43:42 AM

My colleague David Menninger recently wrote about the SAS Analyst Summit, concluding that “the SAS analytics juggernaut keeps on truckin’.” He observed, as I have done in the past, that SAS has a vast array of products that it regularly updates to keep up with market demand, ensuring it remains one of the premier vendors of data management and analytics systems. Dave’s perspectives provide in-depth insights into what these products do, while I focus on how they help with business outcomes around customer experience. I was therefore intrigued to hear at SAS’s European analyst event that its products support four types of user – data scientist, business analyst, intelligence analyst and IT analyst. The presenter used simple quotes to illustrate the differing priorities of these groups: For the data scientist, the one that caught my eye was “I need the latest algorithms to solve the latest problems”; for the business analyst I picked “I need to get my report done quickly and easily”; the information analyst is about “identifying patterns of interest that can prompt active decision-making”; and the IT analyst is about “issue resolution and redemption” (mainly operational analysis). In short each type of user needs different products and capabilities, hence the array of products. Nearest to my research practice is the business analyst, who wants easy access to reports and analysis to resolve business issues, and this is where the company’s Customer Intelligence product plays a part.

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Market Research Finds Omnichannel Issues in Customer Service

Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 13, 2016 9:14:25 AM

In our benchmark research into the next-generation contact center in the cloud more than two-thirds (69%) of organizations said they need to improve customer service, and market dynamics require them to do this is in new ways. Whereas today most (83%) compete on the services they offer, over the next two years 70 percent said they expect customer experience to be the top way they will compete, and nearly half (46%) said they expect to compete through self-service, digital channels. There is no doubt that consumers have changed the ways they prefer to communicate with each other and with companies. Mobile devices have become ubiquitous, and many consumers prefer to use chat-based technologies and mobile apps to engage. That is not to say that phone use is obsolete, as the research shows it and email are the most widely supported channels (each by 92% of companies), and while use of the corporate website (cited by 41%) is expected to show the greatest growth, more than one-fifth (22%) of participants said that the volume of inbound calls will show significant growth. Thus organizations must handle customer interactions across a variety of communication channels to maintain the business of all demographic groups.

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NICE Systems Doubles Down on Customer Experience

Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 1, 2016 12:09:48 PM

NICE Systems was one of the first vendors I started to cover when I joined Ventana Research more than 11 years ago. Back then it was a pure-play vendor of workforce optimization (WFO) systems and was creating a portfolio of products by developing its own systems and acquiring niche vendors of call recording, quality management, workforce management, performance management and analytics. Over the years its portfolio has grown with new features, improved integration between the component parts, centralized administration and management capabilities, and a standard, modern user interface. The latest version of its core Workforce Optimization product was rated a Hot vendor in our 2015 WFO Value Index. It is still undergoing development, and a new version is being marketed as Adaptive WFO as it uses analytics to become more information-driven.

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Contact Centers Need Radical Change to Meet Consumers’ Expectations

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 25, 2016 9:37:35 AM

I have been involved in the contact center industry for more than 25 years and often see organizations that are slow in keeping up with consumers’ expectations; many of them seem reluctant to change, regardless of the need to do so. For example, agents of my cell phone operator ask the same four questions at the start of a call as they did 30 years ago; my bank supports several channels of communication, but it doesn’t provide the same information on all channels; and a well-known airline couldn’t tell me where my bag was for 36 hours (it was at the airport where I departed!). My list goes on, and I am sure you have your own.

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Interactive Intelligence Enables Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 18, 2016 6:00:21 AM

I recently attended the Interactive Intelligence Interactions 2016 conference and came away with four key insights regarding the company’s plans and progress in providing contact centers in the cloud. These include the short-term success of PureCloud, the company’s financial performance, the importance of customer support and dealing with change.

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Verint Gains Innovative Products through Acquisition of Contact Solutions

Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 18, 2016 8:23:42 AM

Verint is an established vendor of workforce optimization, advanced analytics and self-service products for customer experience management. Recently it announced its acquisition of Contact Solutions, whose products complement Verint’s. The acquisition adds analytics capabilities and fraud detection software, both of Verint will incorporate into its existing products. Contact Solutions also brings to the merger IVR and My:Time, two innovative products that add to Verint’s portfolio for customer self-service.

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Interactive Intelligence Doubles Down on Cloud Computing

Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 16, 2016 8:15:49 AM

Six months ago I wrote that Interactive Intelligence bases its product strategy on continued support of its three core products: CIC, CaaS and PureCloud. During a recent briefing CMO Jeff Platón made it clear that although the company continues to support all three, its main focus will be PureCloud Engage that is also certified and available on the Salesforce AppExchange. When the company first released this product in 2012, the financial markets and some analysts saw it as a big risk because it is a ground-up development designed to run only in the cloud. The question was whether the company could succeed with a new architecture, all new capabilities and a new cloud platform, Amazon Web Services (AWS). Now the answer seems to be yes; the company asserts that cloud revenue is up and that it has gained 26 new PureCloud customers in the last 12 months and some positive customer references. This is not surprising to me because in my past research I carried out nearly two-thirds or organizations said they planned to adopt contact center applications in the cloud, and just under half said they intended to adopt communication systems in the cloud; judging by results from this and other vendors, many seem to have carried out this intention.

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Genesys Has New Impetus for 2016

Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 10, 2016 9:27:29 AM

During a recent analyst briefing, I learned that Genesys finished 2015 with a bang and enters 2016 with high expectations. Last year it made several changes at the top of the organization, naming a new president, Tom Eggemeier; a new chief marketing officer, Merijn te Booij; and a new head of global sales and field operations, Mark Turner. Their mandate is to stimulate sales of the company’s core product, Customer Experience Platform. I also learned that since spinning out of Alcatel Lucent in 2012, Genesys has had financial success, won many new accounts and expanded around the globe. Several new customers use the cloud-based version of the product, which reflects our analysis that many organizations are replacing outdated, disconnected on-premises systems with cloud-based, fully integrated software suites.

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TelStrat Achieves Success with Workforce Optimization in the Cloud

Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 23, 2016 5:27:11 AM

TelStrat is a company with a long history. Founded in 1993 it initially resold products of Nortel, Cisco and other telecom equipment vendors. The first product it developed and brought to market was a call recording system deployed on the customer’s premises.  It expanded its portfolio over the years, and today its product suite Engage offers all the key pieces of workforce optimization: call recording, desktop capture, quality management, workforce management and speech, text and desktop analytics. TelStrat built this portfolio through a combination of in-house development and partnering with other vendors. It has achieved considerable business success, having more than 3,300 installations in 55 countries, most of which are delivered through a global ecosystem of some 330 channel partners. Engage is available in three models: Unity is an on-premises, single-server version that supports up to 250 users; Enterprise is an on-premises, multiple-server version that supports unlimited numbers of users at multiple sites; and Cloud is a hosted product that supports unlimited numbers of users and is available through a perpetual license or subscription. The company attributes its recent success to the Cloud version, which it supports through multiple data centers in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. This and its longstanding team of call center experts and partners prepares TelStrat to help organizations of all sizes improve contact center agent performance.

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Research Agenda: Transforming Customer Engagement in 2016

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 7, 2016 9:10:27 PM

I have been involved in the contact center, CRM and customer engagement business for more than 25 years. Yet only in the past few years have I seen much change. Until recently nearly all organizations focused on handling customer interactions as efficiently and inexpensively as possible; few made much effort to manage customer relationships over the complete customer life cycle. However, over the last 18 months, the scene has begun to change very rapidly, and I expect that to continue and even accelerate during 2016.

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Customer Experience in 2016 Infuses New Digital Technologies

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 1, 2016 8:50:32 AM

There were significant technology developments in customer experience management during 2015. Multichannel contact centers in the cloud took hold of the contact center infrastructure market; I counted 21 vendors offering such services. A variety of vendors entered the market for customer analytics, combining analysis of structured data, speech recordings, text, desktop data, Web contacts, and events and processes to provide a comprehensive “360-degree” view of the customer and customer journey maps to track individual interactions over time. In addition a range of self-service or digital customer service applications became available, including mobile apps, voice-activated virtual agents, interactive video and Q&A websites and chat driven by natural-language processing. Digitally connected devices (the Internet of Things [IoT]) and wearable devices began to emerge. In 2016 I will track and try to anticipate the impact these technologies have on the customer experience.

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mplsystems Offers Array of Customer Experience Support for Contact Centers

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 3, 2016 10:56:54 PM

Based in the U.K., mplsystems is a relatively small vendor of contact center in the cloud systems, having fewer than 200 employees, but it has a distinct portfolio of products. Its core product, intelligentContact, is designed for omnichannel customer engagement. Its two other products, Customer Service CRM and Field Service Management, are not typically supported by other vendors in this space. As I dug deeper into the component parts of each of these products, I found other capabilities that also are not normally offered by contact center in the cloud vendors.

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Diabolocom Provides Customer Interaction in the Cloud Solution

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 24, 2015 8:42:58 PM

In our benchmark research into contact centers in the cloud, nearly two-thirds (63%) of companies said that adopting applications in the cloud would enable them to improve how they handle customer interactions, and slightly fewer than half (44%) said that adoptingcommunication systems in the cloud would deliver similar benefits. Several vendors now provide such systems.Diabolocom is the latest one to brief me on its products. Founded in 2005 and having around 30 employees, it has headquarters in France (and its website is in French), but it has a global presence, primarily for supporting French companies that have offices around the world. Its contact center  products are available only in the cloud and extend beyond basic multichannel communications to other applications connected with handling customer interactions.

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Oracle Advances Applications and Technology for Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 20, 2015 8:23:33 PM

Oracle has built one of the world’s largest software portfolios through a combination of developing products in-house and acquisitions. In the last few years it has put great effort into transitioning from providing its applications as on-premises products tomaking them available in the cloud. It also has worked to add customer experience capabilities to its range of business applications. Improving the customer experience is a top priority as our next generation customer engagement research found in almost three quarters (74%) of organization. In doing so it has developed a common user interface across the applications to address modern user expectations and has built a platform to support common capabilities in all its products. Recently I had the opportunity to study the strides Oracle has made in these areas as well as to identify some issues that still need to be resolved.

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Intradiem Enables Real-Time for Agents and Work

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 17, 2015 10:44:09 PM

When I last wrote about Intradiem, its focus was on using numerous sources of data as input for a rules engine that enables companies to make better use of customer service agents’ idle time by allocating tasks to fill those gaps. Although that fundamental concept hasn’t changed, the latest versions of its products also take on a bigger challenge: automating the handling of interactions by shifting the focus from making the best use of idle time to making the handling of interactions and associated tasks more dynamic.

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dvsAnalytics Makes Strong Showing in Workforce Optimization

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 9, 2015 10:09:59 PM

Having covered workforce optimization systems for more than 10 years, recently I was contacted for a briefing by dvsAnalytics. I quickly learned that the analytics mentioned in the company’s name are focused on workforce optimization. Founded in 1983, dvsAnalytics is headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., and has thousands of customers in various industry sectors. Its Encore suite of products includes standard workforce optimization applications for call recording, quality management, workforce management and coaching as well as post-contact surveys, live monitoring, multiple forms of analytics and a range of APIs to support integration with third-party products, especially telecommunications systems. The products have mostly been developed in-house although workforce management is provided through integration with Community Workforce Management fromWorkForce Management Software Group. DvsAnalytics makes its products available on-premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid environment; unlike some vendors, it builds all three options on the same code base. Most of its sales and post-sales support are provided through a network of partners in various locations.

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Enghouse Evolves Products for Contact Center Demands

Posted by Ventana Research on Dec 8, 2015 10:47:07 PM

Over the last few years, through a combination of acquisitions and internal development, Enghouse Interactive has developed a portfolio of contact center products and services. Recently it announced its product portfolio for 2016. This consists of three core products: CCE, CCSP and EICC. These are updated and rebranded versions of the products I recently wrote about, and each is designed to help different types of organizations maximize the value of every interaction with customers.

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Transera Embraces and Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 2, 2015 10:55:26 PM

Transera is an established vendor of contact center in the cloud systems and analytics, and as I discovered at the Salesforce Dreamforce ’15 conference and during a recent briefing, it has added support for managing voice interactions for users of Service Cloud. Its core product, Global Omni-Channel Contact Center, now supports voice, email, chat and Twitter, which are managed centrally through a routing engine that treats all interactions in the same way. This ensures that companies have a central view of how interactions are being handled, and they can manage the rules to guide customers to the channel most appropriate for what they are trying to achieve and route the interaction to the most qualified person. An enhanced scripting engine allows users to script the ways in which different types of interactions are handled, and a recording engine captures all calls and makes them available for analysis. Transera also has added capabilities to produce real-time analysis of contact center performance through dashboards and analytics that show a single view across all sites and data sources. Operational and business metrics can be calculated using multiple data sources, and a variety of visualization capabilities enable the analysis can be displayed in the format most appropriate for a specific user and occasion. All the systems are available in the cloud and are scalable enough to support companies of all sizes, including those with centers in multiple sites.

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LiveOps Empowers Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 28, 2015 9:05:18 PM

Founded in 2000, LiveOps has evolved a unique two-sided business model. On one side is LiveOps Agents on Demand,  an Uber-like business in which home-based workers sign-up as LiveOps agents, and the company uses them to provide outsourced contact center services. This model enables LiveOps to provide flexible levels of service; customers can scale up and down as needed while the provider is able to manage agent numbers cost-effectively. The agents use the LiveOps Cloud Contact Center platform; in this way the company can test its system and use these agents’ experiences to improve the platform as used on the other side of the business. I have previously covered their focus on contact centers in LiveOps Improves the Agent Experience. LiveOps reports revenues growing on both sides and being able to expand its cloud contact center business globally.

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Three Tools to Boost Omnichannel Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 17, 2015 2:07:57 PM

Much is written about omnichannel customer experience, and various software vendors now claim to focus on the customer experience. With various degrees of credibility they range from providers of communication channel management to workforce optimization, voice of the customer, self-service, analytics and even CRM. This bandwagon raises the question of what  omnichannel customer experience really is and how companies can achieve it. Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that consumers now engage with companies through as many as 17 channels of engagement though companies on average support six. The research also shows that every business group, with the exception of IT, engages with prospects and customers at different times during the customer life cycle. Customers today, we know, are more demanding than ever. They want to choose the channel and time of engagement. They want the process to be easy, and they want to be recognized so responses can be personal to them. They expect consistent responses regardless of channel and not to have to repeat actions if they change channels. They want agents empowered to resolve an issue at the first try. Finally, at the end of the interaction they want to feel good about how it went and the outcome.

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Subscriber Experience Impacts Recurring Revenue

Posted by Ventana Research on Nov 8, 2015 11:19:15 AM

The digital economy has changed the way many companies provide products. Some no longer deliver packaged products but provide them as services over a network, typically the Internet. Telecommunications providers in particular are familiar with this business model and have developed processes and systems that use innovations such as product bundles that include elements of fixed charges (such as cost of installation) and variable charges based on usage (such as the number of calls made) and means of registering customers on the network, collecting usage data, invoicing and collections. This model has been adopted increasingly by the software industry, replacing a single license fee and maintenance charges for on-premises products with software as a service in which users access products over the Internet and pay per user and/or for usage. Adoption of this model by other types of business has led them to think of customers as subscribers.

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Genesys Brings G-Force to Powering a Better Customer Experience

Posted by Ventana Research on Nov 5, 2015 11:18:48 PM

I recently joined more than 1,000 users, partners, consultants and other analysts at the first global G-Force 2015 conference, held in Miami. Sponsor Genesys put together an agenda that not only educated but entertained the attendees. For an example of the latter, Sekou Andrews, a poet, actor, musician and voice-over artist, preceded the main keynotes with a wonderful sketch that put customer experience into the context of marriage and reminded us to treat customers as he does his wife, remembering that the customer is always right!

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Insights from Dreamforce ‘15 Exceeds Expectations

Posted by Ventana Research on Oct 17, 2015 1:11:38 AM

I recently attended my first U.S. Dreamforce, the annual event designed to showcase its products and services as well as those of its partners, and I was impressed. I was told that Dreamforce ‘15 would be big, and it was – just about every hotel, restaurant, meeting room in San Francisco seemed to have been taken over for the week, and still the company had to bring in a cruise ship to accommodate people and events. I was told it would be manic, and it was – more than 100,000 attendees, and buses and cabs blocking surrounding streets. I was told it would be busy, and it was – more than 600 conference sessions.  I was told it would educational, and it was – I gained many insights into new product developments, both from salesforce and several of its partners. Here are some of the key takeaways for my research practice.

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ResponseTek Makes Customer Experience Management Simple and Sophisticated

Posted by Ventana Research on Oct 8, 2015 11:46:04 PM

ResponseTek is a software vendor whose platform and services help companies collect and act on feedback from their customers. It supports a closed-loop process that collects feedback, analyzes it, provides customizable reports and analysis dependent on the user, and most importantly enables taking action based on the information. This allows companies to understand product and service issues, customer sentiment, intentions, and likely behaviors, and where necessary ensures the most appropriate actions are taken.

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Calabrio Supercharges Workforce Optimization with Analytics for Customer Engagement

Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 17, 2015 9:03:44 AM

Calabrio is a vendor of workforce optimization software whose core product is Calabrio ONE. It includes the common workforce optimization applications: call recording, quality management, workforce management and analytics. The company is rated Hot in our 2015 Workforce Optimization Value Index, and its product suite is the highest rated in the Usability category. Since our assessment, each of the modules has undergone upgrades, Calabrio has introduced more cloud-based services, and its analytics has undergone extensive changes to support customer experience management. The aim of these enhancements is to provide a single view of the customer that includes customer interactions across all channels, help companies streamline processes through workflow and automation, support more users and provide more deployment options. The Calabrio ONE Cloud Edition supports the full suite in a multitenant environment and is scalable to support companies of all sizes. It also enables users to store data, such as call recordings, in cloud-based services such as Amazon Web Services. I have reviewed these enhancements and note the most significant changes.

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NICE Delivers Customer Journey Maps for Customer Engagement

Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 3, 2015 8:56:38 AM

Through a continuing program of acquisitions and internal development, NICE Systems has transitioned from being a vendor of workforce optimization systems to one focused on aspects of the customer experience, notably voice of the customer (VOC), customer engagement analytics and customer journey mapping. It is also moving to cloud-based services from products installed on customers’ premises and is taking a business-solution approach (providing previously integrated and configured products that address specific business issues) rather than general-purpose products. All of these changes are evident in its latest services, which link VOC, real-time journey mapping and predictive analytics to address common customer service and engagement issues. The foundation for these packages are products I have previously covered – Fizzback for multichannel customer surveying and feedback analysis and Causata for a big data analytics platform that includes predictive analytics capabilities – along with its own customer engagement analytics platform, which can link customer data from disparate sources. The result, for example, is that journey maps can show all interactions on all channels a customer uses to try to resolve issues, including the customer sentiment at each touch point and the outcome of the journey.

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Pitney Bowes Doubles Down on Customer Engagement

Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 20, 2015 7:55:48 AM

From its history of managing postal mail, Pitney Bowes has expanded into products for data management, analytics and location intelligence, as my colleague Mark Smith noted. Continuing this expansion through internal development and acquisitions of vendors such as Portrait Software and RTC, it has added to its portfolio products that include customer information management and customer engagement.

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Interactive Intelligence and Omnichannel Customer Engagement

Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 14, 2015 8:33:47 AM

At the end of last year, I wrote about Interactive Intelligence’s release of a new service, PureCloud. It was the company’s first step into the multitenant cloud computing market, using Amazon Web Services and aimed at small-to-midsize contact centers. To help companies understand the different cloud-computing models, I provided answers to Interactive Intelligence questions on the advancements of these approaches for business.

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Is NPS the Best Measure of Customer Experience?

Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 29, 2015 8:24:16 AM

Recently my colleague Tony Cosentino wrote an analyst perspective asserting that big data analytics will displace net promoter score (NPS) for more effectively measuring the entire customer experience. This prompted a response from Maxie Schmidt-Subramanian, asserting that big data and NPS aren’t the only ways to measure customer experience success. The main point of Tony’s piece, as I interpret it, is that NPS is just a number, but big data analytics can reveal much more about customer behavior and intentions, and it can link these to business outcomes. On the other hand Maxie argues that whether or not companies use NPS, when it comes to measuring the customer experience, they rely too much on surveys and no one metric does the entire job. While to a large extent I agree with both arguments, from a business perspective I don’t think either addresses three very important questions. The first is what actually is the customer experience? Second, how should it be measured? And third, what is the best use of big data in relation to customer experience?

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Upstream Works Helps Customer Service Agents Improve Efficiency and Effectiveness

Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 16, 2015 8:20:42 AM

My research and experience show that contact center agents and others handling customer interactions face the continuing challenge of meeting customer expectations while keeping down the cost of handling interactions. Our benchmark research into the agent desktop and customer service finds that one obstacle to meeting these dual objectives is that users have to access multiple systems – typically four or five – to resolve a customer interaction. The research shows that this impacts efficiency (by increasing average handling time and reducing first-contact resolution rates) and effectiveness (by degrading the customer experience, introducing data entry errors and undermining agent satisfaction). This situation is compounded as companies support more channels of communication, often making it necessary for agents to access even more systems.

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Companies Need Disruptive Customer Experience Technologies

Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 10, 2015 5:41:32 AM

Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement finds that the top priorities in customer service for companies are to improve the customer experience (said 74%) and their customer service performance (70%). To do this, the technological steps most companies expect to improve customer engagement are to deploy collaboration systems, redesign the customer portal, deploy internal mobile applications, deploy mobile customer service apps and use social media for customer service. All of these we regard as potentially innovative and required digital technologies. Deeper analysis of the results finds key primary drivers for these priorities. Employees across the organization are handling customer interactions, but customers expect consistent responses no matter who they engage with. Customers are using more electronic channels of engagement, but here, too, they expect consistent responses. People on both sides are engaging more while they are on the move, so mobile support for employees and customers has become essential. Let’s consider how each of these five technologies can help companies meet these challenges and improve customer engagement.

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Envision Offers Comprehensive Suite for Workforce Optimization

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 29, 2015 7:31:29 AM

Envision is a vendor of workforce optimization software that I have been following for many years. It is rated a Hot vendor in our 2015 Workforce Optimization Value Index. It offers a full suite of products, including interaction capture, quality monitoring, workforce management, coaching and training, agent compensation management and workforce analytics. In an analysis last year I wrote about how, in an effort to make workforce optimization more accessible and affordable, it created an architecture optimized to run in the cloud. During a recent update, CEO and founder Rodney Kuhn said that the company continues to focus on the cloud while adding new capabilities, especially in interaction capture, agent evaluation and coaching, and analytics.

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OnviSource Opens Up Workforce Optimization for Contact Center Excellence

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 19, 2015 5:47:00 AM

OnviSource is a 10-year-old vendor of workforce optimization software whose core product, OnviCenter 7, includes interaction capture, quality monitoring, workforce management, coaching and training, and workforce analytics. The company is rated a Hot vendor in our 2015 Workforce Optimization Value Index. It scored highly in the Manageability, Usability and Reliability categories but was held back by lack of compensation management (for which it provides input to third-party products) and some analytics capabilities. The 2015 Workforce Optimization Value Index shows how competitive the workforce optimization market is: The top seven vendors are separated by fewer than three percentage points, OnviSource ranking fourth.

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Corvisa Brings New Generation of Contact Center Communications in the Cloud

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 12, 2015 2:32:58 AM

Contact centers in the cloud are increasingly popular alternatives to managing them on a company’s own premises. Running many business applications on hardware owned and managed by a third party is relatively straightforward and requires less support internally. Also the payment model changes from a license to a recurring fee, and typically the vendor provides updates as part of the fee. The challenge with placing a contact center in the cloud is that it is not a single system or even a collection of similar systems. The center includes infrastructure systems to manage communication channels, a network to support telephone extensions and access points to business applications, specialist systems such as routing and IVR, business applications (such as ERP, CRM and workforce management) and performance management and analytics systems; increasingly the contact center has to support mobile and social media as well. Moving all these to the cloud in an integrated manner is a complex task.

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Salesforce Helps Companies Innovate in Customer Management

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 4, 2015 8:19:48 PM

In recent years I have tracked Salesforce, its product development and its announcements. Despite having grown into a giant corporation, it continues to introduce innovations. At a recent analyst day in the U.K., I followed up on the company’s overall direction, some key product developments and a new service to help drive adoption of innovative customer-related processes. Salesforce’s primary aim is to help organizations market and sell to, service, engage with and know their customers through innovative processes and cloud-based systems. To support these efforts, it has made significant updates to its marketing, service community and analytics clouds. For example, it has added Marketing Cloud Predictive Decisions to its Marketing Cloud. The new module enables marketers to apply analytics to a range of customer-related data to gain a more complete picture of their customers and from it build more personalized marketing messages and campaigns. Business users can set up their own analytics, determine next best actions and deliver marketing messages and dialogues through multiple communication channels. Predictive Decisions helps transform marketing’s approach from general one-off marketing campaigns to one-to-one, personalized dialogues through channels that individuals prefer. On another front, the company has enhanced its Service Cloud with Service Cloud Intelligence Engine. This product also runs across multiple channels. It dynamically pushes work to the right employee, based on the skill set required to handle the task and the history of the request, and at the same time it distributes and manages the workload across employees who handle customer interactions. Analytics here provides an enhanced view of customers so that dialogues concerning a case can be viewed and preserved across all channels. In other developments Community Cloud has been enhanced to expand the range of expert groups to engage, deliver customer self-service as part of a community, and do this on smart mobile devices. Analytics Cloud now can ingest larger volumes and types of customer-related data, including interaction data. It enables both business users and analysts to use a wider range of data sources to find answers to specific questions, also on mobile devices. It also includes capabilities for developers to build specific analytic apps for targeted business uses. My colleague has assessed the product in Salesforce Analytics Cloud Delivers Wave of Elegant Dashboards. All of these developments and existing capabilities have been brought together on what Salesforce calls the Customer Success Platform. It is built on the company’s cloud infrastructure, and as well as its own cloud-based apps, it includes all the partner apps available on the Salesforce app store. A “scalable metadata platform” glues everything together. It includes data and objects, a mobile user interface, collaboration tools, analytics, workflow and identity management. Enhancements  enable developers to build mobile apps for both customers and employees more easily. In the pipeline are capabilities to use wearable technology to collect and display data. Salesforce’s efforts to help companies “do business in a new way” reflect challenges that many companies encounter in trying to serve customers more effectively. Our research into next-generation customer engagement shows that the three most common challenges are integrating systems (49%), managing communication challenges in a unified way and not as silos (47%) and inconsistent responses and information in customer interactions (33%).  My research and customer case studies lead me to conclude that changing processes is the biggest challenge. To meet this challenge Salesforce has introduced a consulting program called Ignite. This collaborative consulting service aims to help organizations design their customer management vision and execution roadmap. It is comprised of four steps: discovery, inspiration and design, prototyping and iteration and doing it. Discovery uses joint workshops and interviews with key stakeholders to introduce the program and its objectives, gain buy-in and discover the current state. Inspiration and design is another series of joint workshops to develop ideas and envision the desired state. Prototyping and iteration uses the new ideas to develop prototypes of how the new vision can be delivered. The “do” step presents and demonstrates the prototypes to stakeholders and develops a value statement and an implementation plan so the business can decide the way forward. Overall this seems to be a fairly typical consulting service that focuses on customer engagement and associated processes, systems and metrics, but it is deliberately collaborative and tailored around Salesforce applications and tools. The main innovation I see is that it is designed to uncover new ways of working that organizations may not have considered. Business, especially around customer engagement, is changing more rapidly than ever, and it is hard for organizations to keep up with technology developments and learn how to gain maximum benefit from them. Ignite should help Salesforce customers identify how they can improve customer management and introduce new approaches to keep ahead of the competition. The Salesforce Customer Success Platform is a comprehensive package of systems that focus on customer management processes, underpinned by improved integration, analytics and collaborative capabilities. Our research consistently finds that most companies are still relatively immature in the use of people, processes, information and systems for customer management. I therefore recommend companies seeking to survive and prosper in today’s highly competitive markets assess how the Salesforce products and service can help.

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Genesys Advances Omnichannel Experience for Customer Engagement

Posted by Ventana Research on May 20, 2015 11:15:09 PM

I recently wrote about six technologies that can help companies deliver experiences that live up to their customers’ expectations: an integrated multichannel infrastructure, analytics, a smart agent desktop, business applications such as workforce management and knowledge management, collaboration and mobile apps. They should be closely integrated to simplify system administration, to support processes that have been disconnected because they required multiple systems and to be easy to use. In my experience few vendors provide systems that meet all these goals so I was keen to learn about the latest version of the Genesys Customer Experience Platform which was the recipient of 2014 Ventana Research T Technology Innovation award for contact center in its works with IBM Watson Engagement Advisor.

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Verint Introduces Gamification Software to Motivate and Engage the Workforce

Posted by Ventana Research on May 14, 2015 9:32:36 PM

Some new words can give the wrong impression. Take “gamification,” for example. It may sound as if employers are inviting their employees to play games just for fun, when actually this is a technique increasingly being used to recognize achievement and thus help improve performance. Several workforce management software vendors have introduced gamification systems that support setting targets, measuring achievement against those targets, rewarding players who meet their target and displaying winners who do best at meeting or exceeding their targets. This concept is not entirely new in contact centers, which long have used notice boards that recognize achievements such as “agent of the month,” which is also an award to the employee best meeting his or her targets. A new product called Verint Gamification supports similar capabilities but visualizes them in more engaging ways that link meeting personal goals with enterprise objectives.

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NICE Systems Engages Analytics to Optimize Customer Experience

Posted by Ventana Research on May 12, 2015 9:51:10 PM

NICE Systems is an established vendor of workforce optimization products that has long included analytics in its portfolio. Its latest release in this area, NICE Customer Experience Analytics, focuses on mapping, understanding and managing customer journeys and metrics. The product is built on NICE’s common technology platform, which consists of three functions: collect, understand and optimize. The Collect segment has tools to help manage customer-related data and ingest data from multiple data sources; Understand uses analytics tools to analysis the data and produce reports, dashboards and other forms of output; and Optimize uses the outputs to help users improve business tasks such as improve customer satisfaction and net performer scores, suggest next best actions and reduce customer effort.

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Panviva Embraces Cloud Computing for Guiding People and Business Processes

Posted by Ventana Research on Apr 29, 2015 8:54:21 AM

When I last wrote about Panviva I likened its product SupportPoint to a smart agent desktop – a system that helps contact center agents access the information they need to handle customer interactions, guides them through the process of handling interactions and offers advice on what to say next (for example, which product to upsell). Several trends have emerged since then. Two of our recent benchmark research projects, next-generation customer engagement and next-generation customer analytics, confirm that handling interactions is now an enterprise issue – every business unit except IT now handles interactions. This change creates challenges. More kinds of employees need access to information relevant to the type of interactions they handle. Yet each business unit typically has its own processes and systems to support the way it handles interactions. A third issue is that more employees handle interactions away from their desks and need access to information on mobile devices. The situation is further complicated because, as our research projects also show, customers now interact with organizations through more channels, and companies must provide easy access to those channels.

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In the Digital Economy, the Customer Experience Is Critical

Posted by Ventana Research on Apr 17, 2015 6:55:23 AM

Advertising and marketers tell us we now live in a “digital economy.” That implies the economy is based on and depends on digital technologies. It certainly is true that many consumers, especially younger ones, have changed the ways they interact with each other and businesses; they are now more likely to use digital channels of communication, particularly email, websites, text messaging, instant messaging and social media. In this digital world, where customers can search globally for products and services and change suppliers instantly, it is critical for companies to focus on the customer experience.

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New Research to Examine Best Practices in Customer Interactions and Experience with Cloud Computing

Posted by Ventana Research on Apr 14, 2015 11:20:24 PM

In 2013, Ventana Research carried out groundbreaking benchmark research into contact centers in the cloud. It revealed that customer pressures have forced companies to support an increasing variety of channels of interaction. This research investigated the systems companies were using then or were planning to use, particularly cloud computing, to manage these channels. The research uncovered three major challenges: integration of systems, channels of communication supported as silos and customers receiving inconsistent information across channels. We found that to overcome these challenges, companies most often were planning to improve agent training and coaching (73%), to deploy contact center applications such as CRM and workforce optimization in the cloud (63%) and to adopt communications management systems in the cloud (44%). Further benchmark research shows continuing changes. The number of channels customers use continues to grow, and in particular more customers prefer to use digital self-service channels such as chat, visual IVR, voice-activated virtual agents and social forums. On the business side more employees across the organization have become involved in handling interactions, including finance and HR departments, mobile customer service and home agents. As channels proliferate more companies have realized that they need a single, comprehensive view of their customers that includes a history of their interactions, the channels they used for those interactions and likely actions they might take as a result of the outcomes of those interactions.

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Verint Engages on Customer Engagement

Posted by Ventana Research on Apr 8, 2015 8:04:45 AM

In covering Verint for several years I have watched it go from selling call recording systems to adding workforce optimization software, analytics, and support for multiple channels of interaction with customers. Its latest product, Customer Engagement Optimization, increases support for customer engagement and managing the customer experience. Verint has achieved this expansion through a combination of acquisitions and in-house development. Its acquisition of Kana enabled it to go from supporting workforce optimization with some analytics to supporting multiple channels of customer engagement, workforce optimization and advanced analytics. I have written several times that this approach has its advantages – acquisitions shorten the time it takes to add new capabilities and extend the scope of the products – and disadvantages – it creates challenges in producing fully integrated products and developing a common user interface so the products are easier to use. During a recent briefing I saw that the company continues its efforts to advance in all these areas.

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Nexidia Brings Compliance and Process Management to Interaction Analytics

Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 31, 2015 7:08:18 AM

Nexidia is a leading vendor of speech analytics vendor. I recently wrote about how it has enhanced its architecture to include text analytics and improve overall system performance. Version 11 of its Neural Phonetic Speech Analytics continues these enhancements to make the product faster and more accurate in its results.

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VPI Applies Business Intelligence to Customer Experience

Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 20, 2015 9:35:04 AM

VPI is a well-established vendor of workforce optimization systems and rated a Hot Vendor in our 2015 Workforce Optimization Value Index. It offers a full suite of products for this market. Notable among them is Performance Reporting, which produces reports and dashboards showing a range of analysis and metrics about telephony, agent performance, coaching and customer success, along with alerts to inform employees of required actions. It combines data from a range of sources, both structured and unstructured, using speech analytics, and works in real or near real time. Performance Reporting is the basis for a new product, Customer Experience BI, which uses many of the same capabilities but focuses more on the customer experience while retaining the contact center capabilities. Our benchmark research into next-generation customer analytics shows this to be an important development as just under two-thirds (63%) of participants said they are considering investing in customer analytics to improve the customer experience.

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Enghouse Interactive Expands Portfolio of Contact Center Systems

Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 13, 2015 9:00:55 AM

Enghouse Interactive is one of three divisions of Enghouse Systems, a publicly traded Canadian company founded in 1984. The other two divisions provide network technology to telecommunications providers and applications for public and private transportation companies; Enghouse Interactive owns the company’s three contact center systems. The corporate group has a history of growth – it now has a market capitalization of more than US$1 billion - achieved both organically and through an aggressive acquisition policy. The same applies to Enghouse Interactive. Its three core products are built on three acquisitions – Syntellect in 2002, CosmoCom in 2011 and Zeacom in 2012. Each of these has been enhanced by a combination of in-house development and integration with other acquired products. The three products are maintained and developed independently, something Enghouse Interactive says will continue for the foreseeable future. However it is working to integrate its latest acquisitions with all three products, so each will gain new capabilities.

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Tracking the Customer Journey Is Critical for Engagement

Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 27, 2015 4:38:57 AM

Competition for customers is more intense today than ever before, and companies struggle to differentiate themselves from the competition. Our research repeatedly finds that customer experience is a key differentiator. Our research into next-generation customer engagement said the impetus for improving engagement is to improve the customer experience in almost three quarters (74%) of participants. One increasingly popular way to do this is to use customer journey maps, which show how companies plan to engage with customers: at what times, through which channels, at which touch points and with which business units or using which self-service technologies. Our benchmark research into customer relationship maturity shows that two-thirds (67%) of very customer-focused companies use customer journey maps. The top four uses are to develop more customer-focused employee training (by 78%), personalize customer experiences (76%), enhance customer experience processes (73%) and drill down on customer experience processes to the customer segment level (73%). Typically producing these maps has been a manual process, perhaps using process mapping tools; in these cases few companies were able to capture and visualize actual journeys. However, as more business units engage with customers and companies deploy multiple channels of engagement – including self-service – improving the customer experience and mapping the customer journey become more complex, and to keep up companies have to invest in processes and tools that help them automate the process of producing maps and capture data about and visualize actual customer journeys.

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Verint Advances Feedback Management to Improve Customer Experience

Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 26, 2015 2:31:05 AM

Verint entered the enterprise market for customer feedback management when it acquired Vovici in August 2011. Since then the Vovici products have been integrated into Verint’s Customer Engagement Optimization suite, which includes products originally developed by Verint and Kana, which it also acquired. The current suite supports a range of capabilities that Verint groups into three categories: customer analytics (various types of analytics and Enterprise Feedback Management), customer engagement (which is largely the Kana products that support the agent desktop, email, chat and co-browsing, knowledge and case management, and Web-based self-service) and workforce optimization (quality monitoring, workforce management, desktop and process analytics, performance management and e-learning and coaching). Having this broad array of capabilities allows Verint to support a closed-loop approach to customer feedback and connect it to the processes with which to identify issues raised through feedback and take action to improve (through process change, training and coaching, for example).

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Cisco Provides a Portfolio of Contact Center Products

Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 17, 2015 7:13:21 PM

I recently attended a Cisco Collaboration analyst day in the U.K. and was impressed by what I heard and saw. Cisco  of course is known as a supplier of network equipment and software, and it has long provided these through a global network of partners. But Cisco also has been in the contact center market for several years and has had success with its small and enterprise contact center systems, having more than 20,000 on-premises customers and revenue in excess of US $1.5 billion. Cisco markets the contact center systems as Customer Collaboration , but the portfolio is still based on its two longstanding contact center products: Unified Contact Center Enterprise  and  Unified Contact Center Express , designed for larger and smaller centers, respectively. Two other options are  CiscoPackaged Contact Center Enterprise  and  Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution for Contact Center (HCS-CC) . These both use the Enterprise products, but the first comes packaged and so has less options, and the second is based on cloud computing; both are easier to deploy and more affordable for a wider market than the other options.

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Genesys and Workforce Optimization

Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 28, 2015 8:09:32 AM

Genesys is best known as a provider of contact center management systems and has long provided computer/telephony integration (CTI) and single-queue call routing systems. Over the past few years it has had changes of ownership and now is a stand-alone company focused on providing systems to improve the customer experience. To do this its combines contact center infrastructure systems and a suite of workforce optimization applications. We included the suite in our 2015 Workforce Optimization Value Index, which evaluates workforce optimization vendors against the requirements of companies as found in our benchmark research into next-generation workforce optimization. Genesys is rated a Warm vendor in the Value Index as a consequence of not actively participating with our process forcing us to base the evaluation on publicly available information including product documentation, presentation and briefings, which although comprehensive does not address all aspects included in the Value Index. During a recent briefing I learned more about Genesys’ software and services that I can provide more depth on some key areas of their workforce optimization offering.

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Research Agenda: Customer Technology for 2015

Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 23, 2015 9:49:00 AM

I recently wrote about customer experience lessons I learned during 2014 and the technologies required to deliver EPIC experiences. Both of these analyses focus on the people, processes, information and technologies required to improve the customer experience at every touch point, and these themes will also be at the heart of our customer technology research agenda for 2015.

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Technology Requirements for Providing an EPIC Customer Experience

Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 20, 2015 1:23:01 AM

Customer Experience was one of the subjects most talked and written about during 2014, and I expect this to continue in 2015. Many observers and analysts, including me, believe it can be the difference between companies succeeding or going out of business. Yet debate continues to define what customer experience is and how to manage it. Some think the best tools are “voice of the customer” information and systems that enable companies to track and understand customer sentiments and likely actions. Others advocate customer or interaction analytics that provide a complete view of the customer. For others it is all about social media and how it changes the customer relationship, and many diehards still insist customer relationship management (CRM) systems are the key. Indeed, as it is with CRM, ask 100 people what it is and you may get 100 different answers. I go back to basics. For me the customer experience is how customers feel and act during and after any engagement with a company. Of course, there are many ways of interacting these days, whether it is seeing an advertisement, receiving an email, talking to an agent in a call center, having a service engineer visit your house, looking for answers on a company’s website, trying to navigate through IVR menus, using the company’s mobile app or watching a YouTube video. These all impact customers’ perceptions of a company, affect their emotions and drive their reactions. In all, the customer experience is determined by the combination of how employees behave, how well processes work, how complete the information about the customer is and the impacts of diverse types of systems, all of these at any point of engagement throughout the customer life cycle.

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Workforce Optimization Software Vendor Ratings in Perspective

Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 14, 2015 9:47:57 AM

As with many other research topics, Ventana Research investigates workforce optimization in two ways. Our benchmark research into next-generation workforce optimization assesses how companies use workforce optimization systems now and intend to in the future, while our Workforce Optimization Value Index evaluates how well workforce optimization products and vendors match buyers’ needs.  In our newly released 2015 Workforce Optimization Value Index the top vendors are Verint and VPI, both rated Hot, followed by five other Hot vendors: NICE Systems, OnviSource, Aspect, Calabrio and Envision. The overall scores place all seven Hot vendors within four percentage points of each other, and only a further three percentage points separate the three Warm vendors – Genesys, KnoahSoft and Interactive Intelligence. The closeness of the scoring suggests that this is a mature market and in most respects vendors support much the same features.

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ManyWho Brings New Approach to Workflow and Business Efficiency

Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 12, 2015 9:52:02 AM

ManyWho was launched in May 2013 by two former executives, Dave Norris and Steve Wood. They branded it the Cloud Workflow Company, It offers an innovative approach that allows organizations to create workflows, automatically convert them into business applications and run the apps on multiple types of devices. The key to its success lies in the second and third steps, which differentiate ManyWho from most other business process optimization vendors; the process maps that users produce are not static representations of how business processes should work but instead become apps that monitor what is happening and enable the next step in completing the process.

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Customer Engagement Analytics Getting Simpler with Verint

Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 12, 2015 8:39:51 AM

Verint is a well-established vendor of workforce optimization systems. It recently acquired KANA Software, as I discussed, which enabled Verint to move further into the customer engagement market. Now Verint has combined the two companies’ range of analytics products to create Verint Engagement Analytics.

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Salesforce Innovates in Customer Engagement

Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 8, 2015 7:06:47 AM

When began in 1999 its stated intent was “to reinvent CRM in the cloud.” In 15 years, the company has achieved much more than that, having a major impact on the way IT systems are delivered: Large numbers of vendors have followed its example to provide cloud-based systems. It added a platform as a cloud – a software development environment in the cloud – to its portfolio, introduced an apps store where many vendors sell their products and services, moved into social and mobile computing, and expanded CRM in the cloud to marketing, sales and service clouds. And it continues to innovate in the fast-changing business software market.

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Lessons Learned about the Customer Experience in 2014

Posted by Ventana Research on Dec 31, 2014 9:48:27 AM

During this year talk has been widespread about the customer experience, which is good. What is not so good is that, according to my benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement, most companies still struggle to deliver satisfying experiences. However, the research and my discussions with users and vendors lead to some clear conclusions:

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Workforce Optimization Vendors Rated in 2015 Ventana Research Value Index

Posted by Ventana Research on Dec 30, 2014 10:34:48 AM

The Ventana Research Value Index for Workforce Optimization in 2015 is now released. Workforce optimization covers all aspects of managing everyone who handles customer interactions and is thus vital to improve operational efficiency, and customer and employee satisfaction. It includes the following applications: interaction capture, quality monitoring and assurance, workforce management, coaching and learning management, variable compensation management, and interaction and agent analytics. Our Value Indexes are informed by more than a decade of analysis of how well technology suppliers and their products satisfy specific business and IT needs. For each we perform a detailed evaluation of product functionality and suitability to task in five categories as well as of the effectiveness of vendor support for the buying process and customer assurance. In this case the resulting index gauges the value offered by each vendor and its products in supporting workforce optimization.

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Interactive Intelligence Innovates in the Cloud for Contact Centers

Posted by Ventana Research on Dec 26, 2014 7:31:43 AM

Interactive Intelligence is a well-established supplier of contact center systems and just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Customer Interaction Center (CIC) is its on-premises product, which provides integrated management of multiple communication channels and supports a high degree of customization. Communications as a Service (CaaS) is a virtual private cloud (for single tenants) version of CIC and as such offers less potential for customization. Recently Interactive Intelligence released PureCloud, an innovative cloud-based service that is available through Amazon Web Services.

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IBM Enables Business Innovation from 21st Century Technology

Posted by Ventana Research on Dec 19, 2014 10:05:54 AM

Those of us who have been in the technology industry for many years remember the phrase “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” Then IBM was both a hardware and a system software vendor, and most IT managers new that hardly anyone would question a decision to go with IBM. These days IBM has done extensive marketing to make itself known for everything “smart” – planets, cities, commerce and of course technology. While its website suggests it offers a limited number of software products, in fact IBM is one of the largest providers software and is committed to innovation. David Stokes, CEO of the U.K. and Ireland division, kicked off its recent U.K. BusinessConnect event by reminding the audience that IBM is driven by three fundamentals – data, the cloud and security.

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NICE Systems Delivers Customer Engage Platform

Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 29, 2014 6:31:19 AM

I recently wrote about NICE Systems expanding beyond workforce optimization, including more analytics in its product portfolio.

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NICE Systems and Customer Engagement Analytics

Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 4, 2014 9:12:47 AM

I recently wrote about NICE Systems’ acquisition of Causata to enhance its analytics capabilities and expand from workforce optimization into customer experience management. NICE recently released Customer Engagement Analytics, which is designed to analyze customer interaction data to help companies improve the customer experience at every touch point. NICE calls this optimizing the customer journey.

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NewVoiceMedia Advance Cloud-Based Contact Center Technology

Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 22, 2014 9:40:34 AM

Recently NewVoiceMedia announced that it has raised $50 million to fund its growth. The company was founded in 2000 in the U.K., initially offering call management and routing as cloud-based systems. Until then, most companies built their contact centers using on-premises private branch exchange (PBX) or automated call distributor (ACD) call management systems, with on-premises call routing and business applications such as customer relationship management (CRM). Some companies offered off-premises business application services, and had just begun to push its CRM in the cloud offering.

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Oracle Customer Experience in the Cloud

Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 14, 2014 9:16:59 AM

Oracle has a large and diverse set of products and now has most of its business applications operating in the private and public cloud. However, some recent acquisitions have enabled it to focus on cloud-based-products for managing the customer experience. Our next generation customer engagement research has found that customer experience is the top impetus for improving customer engagement as found by almost three quarters (74%) of organizations. Oracle has created a customer experience suite that includes marketing, commerce, service, sales, CPQ and social cloud. In particular the acquisition of RightNow has become the foundation of Oracle Service Cloud.

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IBM Brings Sophistication to Customer Analytics and Prediction

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 30, 2014 8:48:47 AM

During recent IBM analyst big data event, I learned about a new product, IBM Predictive Customer Intelligence. It extracts and processes customer-related data from multiple sources to analyze customer-related activities and has capabilities to predict customer behavior and actions. Predictive Customer Intelligence is built on IBM’s big data platform and supports extraction and integration of data from multiple sources, internal and external, and from structured and unstructured data. It can process data created by third-party products, such as text-based files of data created by converting speech to text. The product can capture and analyze customer interactions from multiple communication channels such as voice, email, text messages, chat and Web usage scripts and social media posts.

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SAS Helps Manage Interactions and Gain Insights on Customers

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 26, 2014 10:14:51 AM

By its own admission, SAS has a very large software portfolio (of more than 250 individual products), and it continues to develop and release more products and updates to existing ones. Some of the products are sold alone, and others are bundled into “enterprise solutions”. Some are for technical users, and others are business applications. This complexity can make it hard to identify which product or bundle serves a particular need. Three are most relevant to my research practice: Customer Intelligence (CI), which I wrote about after attending the 2013 SAS European analysts event; SAS Visual Analytics; and a new one, the Customer Decision Hub that SAS has developed to support multichannel customer engagement.

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Nexidia Brings Sophistication to Customer Interaction Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 23, 2014 10:09:15 AM

Last year I assessed how Nexidia had advanced its products to support customer interaction analytics. Since then the market has changed, and Nexidia continues to expand its products to meet a broader set of needs for analyzing and optimizing customer interactions. Companies are recognizing that they need complete information about their customers, including interactions, and need to change the metrics they use to monitor and assess customer-related activities. My research into next-generation customer analytics shows that the most common tools used to produce customer analytics is spreadsheets (52%) and only 26 percent of companies have implemented a dedicated standalone customer analytics tool to help them respond to these requirements; however, the results also show that more companies plan to adopt dedicated customer analytics products in the next 12 to 24 months. For good reason as spreadsheets are known for errors that impact business and use of general BI tools can lengthen the time to value and not support the specific data and analytic needs like that needed in customer interaction analytics.

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New Generation of Recurring Revenue and Billing Inspired from Cloud Computing

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 22, 2014 10:59:07 PM

Much has been written about how cloud computing changes the way businesses source their software and services. For software companies, instead of being installed inside the company, software like business applications run on a computer installed at an external site. If the external site is not shared with any other business, this is called a private cloud; if it is owned and operated by a third party and supports more than one business, it is called a public cloud. In the case of public clouds, users access the applications via the Internet, and increasing they can do this while out of the office, using laptops or mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The main advantages of this model are that companies don’t need to invest in hardware or support staff to install and maintain hardware or software like these applications, the vendor handles system updates and users can work anywhere (including on the move) by logging in through a Web browser or an application designed specifically for mobile technology. Our research confirms that the overall importance is overall important in more than half (57%) of organizations.

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8x8 Integrates Communications and Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 18, 2014 9:55:32 AM

8x8, Inc. was founded in the 1980’s to provide semiconductor products to the emerging personal computer market; in 2002 it was relaunched to focus on Voice over IP (VoIP) services. By 2008 it had become the second-largest independent VoIP provider in the U.S., and its product, Virtual Office, was widely used by businesses for telecommunications. In 2011 8x8 acquired Contactual and entered the cloud-based call center market. Today the company brands itself as a “communication and collaboration solutions provider in the cloud” and has two main product lines, Virtual Office and Virtual Contact Center.

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Genesys and IBM to Improve Customer Engagement with IBM Watson

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 14, 2014 9:34:58 AM

The contact center market continues to shift focus from handling customer calls as efficiently as possible to providing superior customer engagement across multiple touch points. The latest advancement is an joint announcement from IBM and Genesys who have signed a partnership agreement to provide “smarter customer engagement”. The agreement includes a technology partnership and a joint marketing plan, and brings together IBM’s Watson Engagement Advisor and Genesys’ Customer Experience Platform.

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NICE Systems Closes Voice of the Customer Loop

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 4, 2014 8:35:24 AM

NICE Systems is best known for its suite of workforce optimization products [] that I recently assessed. However, after attending its user event last year, I wrote in 2013 that it was extending its portfolio and changing its focus to concentrate on packaged solutions that address specific business needs. Over the years the company’s portfolio has evolved through a combination of in-house development, acquisitions and partnerships. This approach  enabled NICE to build a broad portfolio quickly, but it also created challenges in integrating the separate products into a homogeneous whole. One of the key acquisitions was Fizzback, which gave NICE entry to the market for customer feedback and voice of the customer (VOC) software. In this context I was keen to learn during a recently briefing how the company is integrating these products into a broader VOC portfolio.

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InContact Advances Workforce Optimization for Contact Centers

Posted by Richard Snow on May 29, 2014 10:11:49 AM

InContact has cloud-based products that cover multichannel communications infrastructure (sometimes referred to as a “contact center in the cloud”) and workforce optimization. The channel management products were developed by inContact and through a partnership with Verint. InContact has been working to make Verint’s workforce optimization products available in the cloud while integrating the two sets of products. I met Kristyn Emenecker, inContact’s VP of workforce optimization, at the recent ICMI Contact Center Expo to find out how the recent announcement that it has acquired Uptivity, which also provides workforce optimization products in the cloud, will impact that partnership and the future direction for the products.

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Contact Center Expo 2014 Highlights Cloud Computing and Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on May 15, 2014 9:36:11 AM

I recently presented at the 2014 ICMI Contact Center Expo and Conference and have a few insights I want to share. I was impressed by the two main keynote speeches. In the first Bill Rancic, an entrepreneur, author and TV personality, talked about “How to Succeed in Business and Life.” Bill is not in the contact center industry, but he reminded the audience that individuals and companies that succeed in life and business grab opportunities when they come along. He went on to say that consumers (which includes you and me) are changing the ways we conduct our lives and the ways we engage with each other and with businesses. As we all know, use of mobile devices has rocketed, as has use of the Internet and social media, and as a result people are less inclined to talk to each other directly, choosing instead to text, post comments to social media or use the increasing number of mobile applications available; when we do talk, it is now increasingly likely to include video. This change creates opportunity for companies; those that meet expectations about communicating in these ways can grab the attention of customers and generate more business. I couldn’t agree more, having written about these changes myself. Consumers have already made these changes, and companies need to act now to grab the opportunities.

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Panviva Enables Smarter Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on May 8, 2014 8:38:41 AM

On its website Panviva describes itself as providing “business process guidance,” which is a phrase I was notfamiliar with. As I searched the site, I found messages such as”it’s all about customer experience,” “the right information for the right person at the right time” and “navigating complexity.” All of these describe issues contact center agents face on a daily basis, and I concluded that Panviva competes in a space I track. My benchmark research into the agent desktop and its impact on customer servicefinds that agents play a significant role in the customer experience, but many have to work with a desktop that impedes them in accessing systems and information, and some of the interactions they handle are complex.It was this perspective I brought to a briefing with Steve Pappas, Panviva’s SVP for North America.

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OpenSpan Makes Smart Agent Desktop Simpler

Posted by Richard Snow on May 3, 2014 11:55:58 PM

My benchmark research into the smart agent desktop finds that in nearly two-thirds (65%) of companies, contact center agents have to access multiple systems as they try to resolve customer interactions. These range from channel management systems (such as telephone, email, text messages and social media) to business applications (such as CRM, ERP and knowledge management), performance dashboards and analysis, and messaging systems. Having to use all these systems leads agents to make mistakes, increases average handling times, produces data errors and reduces satisfaction for both agents and customers. The last two are especially important because the research shows that very satisfied agents twice as often as less satisfied ones meet important customer-related metrics such as customer satisfaction, net promoter and customer effort scores, and satisfied customers are likely to remain loyal, buy more and recommend the company to people they know. A smart agent desktop can alleviate these issues by making it easier for agents to access systems, navigate between them, enter data and view important information.

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NICE Delivers Customer Interactions with Next Generation Workforce Optimization

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 3, 2014 9:17:43 AM

In my research of NICE Systems for several years I have remarked often that its biggest challenge is to integrate all the products that now make up its Customer Interaction Management suite. Through acquisitions, in-house development and partnerships, this suite has grown to include interaction recording, quality management, workforce management, incentive management, interaction analytics, performance management, real-time guidance, customer feedback management, mobile access and Web-based customer service. The company still offers each of these applications separately, but increasingly NICE bundles selected products into what it calls “solution suites” for uses such as workforce optimization. It also configures these suites to meet specific business needs such as voice of the customer and operational efficiency. These bundles require integration, common administration and management capabilities, as well as standardization of the user interface. My latest briefing by NICE executives showed the company moving in these directions but still having more to do to meet the expectations of a new generation of users. Successfully integrating applications to become business-related solutions is critical according to our benchmark research into next-generation workforce optimization, in which nearly half (48%) of participants said that integration is very important; analysis show that they want systems to be easier to use, to provide a better user experience, to be less error-prone and to connect processes such as customer feedback and workforce optimization. Version 6 of NICE Customer Interaction Management moves in this direction, with an integrated portal into performance management, workforce management and contact management, unified administration capabilities and enhancements to the user interface.

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Customer Analytics Research Reveals Required Capabilities for Software

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 29, 2014 9:52:42 AM

Our recently released research into next-generation customer analytics shows that the most participants (52%) use spreadsheets as a customer analytics tool. I recently wrote that while these popular tools are adequate for some tasks, they are not suitable for analyzing large volumes and many types of customer data. So I think it is appropriate that one in four (26%) participants have adopted a dedicated customer analytics tool and a further 29 percent are planning to invest in such a tool in the next 24 months.

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Confirmit Advances Social Analytics for Voice of Customer

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 26, 2014 11:08:14 AM

The last time I reviewed Confirmit it had just acquired CustomerSat and was re-engineering its products to support a broader approach to voice of the customer (VOC), which Ventana Research defines as a complete view of customer interactions, customer sentiments after interactions and the outcomes of those interactions. During my latest briefing, I found out that the new architecture will be available in version 18 of the product, which Confirmit recently announced as generally available. Confirmit also recently announced the acquisition of Integrasco for social and text analytics and says it intends to have those products at least partly integrated into the core product during the second quarter of this year.

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Interactive Intelligence Advances Contact Center Software Portfolio

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 20, 2014 9:22:43 PM

Building a contact center is growing in complexity as companies struggle to support customers’ ever-higher expectations. Customers now insist on engaging with companies through the channel of their choice, often from a mobile device, and at a time of their choosing. If they interact with a person, they expect that person to have the social and technical skills to resolve their issues quickly and effectively. If they use any form of self-service, they expect the technology to help rather get in the way of speaking with a person. And of course many disgruntled customers don’t hesitate to publish their views on social media.

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Customer Analytics Deserve More Than Spreadsheets

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 7, 2014 8:24:32 AM

I recently completed two closely related benchmark research reports, on next-generation customer engagement and next-generation customer analytics. The  research on customer engagement shows that companies on average engage with customers through seven or eight communication channels and that almost every business unit except IT engages with customers. To provide customers with personalized, in-context and consistent experiences across these channels, companies need an up-to-date, complete view of their customers that gives those who interact with them the information they need to decide how to respond. However, the customer analytics research shows that the majority of companies don’t have access to such information and analysis. The most common analytics tool for more than half of companies is spreadsheets in 52 percent of organizations. Although spreadsheets meet individual users’ needs for ad-hoc analysis, they are inadequate for enterprise processes such as customer analytics. Almost three-fifths (57%) of companies in the research said that using spreadsheets makes it difficult to produce accurate and timely customer analysis.

Read More Continues Move to be Platform Provider

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 27, 2014 9:51:16 AM began with a simple message: On-premises CRM has come to the end of its useful life, and the way forward is cloud-based CRM. I have written several times that the company has won this argument, and my research into contact center in the cloud confirms this: 63 percent of participating organizations said that adopting systems in the cloud is one of the key ways to improve customer engagement. Furthermore, this vendor’s success pressurized  many other companies to move into the cloud, and not just for CRM. itself expanded from cloud-based CRM to create clouds for sales, marketing and service.. This transition continued in the middle of last year when it surprised the market by announcing it would add a development platform in the cloud to provide tools for creating mobile apps. To further these aims, it recently announced the first release of Salesforce1 Service Cloud, calling it the “Service Platform for the Internet of Customers.” I had several questions about what this really means going into a recent briefing.

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The Future of Customer Engagement Is Complicated

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 31, 2014 8:59:49 AM

In my benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement three-quarters (77%) of participating companies said it is necessary to improve the way they engage with customers. The main drivers for doing that are to improve the customer experience (74%) and improve customer service (70%). However, neither is an easy task because companies now have to support more channels of communication, and more customer interactions are handled by multiple business units within the organization. The combined impact of this complexity can be inconsistent responses that depend largely on which channel the customer uses and which person handles the interaction. This is situation is likely to get worse as customers continue to use existing channels but increasingly add new means of engagement such as mobile apps, voice-activated applications and social media posts.

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Envision Takes Workforce Optimization to the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 28, 2014 11:41:08 PM

Envision has carved out a slice of the workforce optimization market by offering its suite of products as cloud-based services. In addition to core products such as interaction recording, quality assurance, workforce management, training, coaching and agent analytics, it offers speech and desktop analytics and customer feedback management through surveys and our part of my research agenda. Our last Value Index shows that this is a highly competitive market, and my benchmark research on next-generation workforce optimization reveals that various segments of the market such as call recording and quality management have high levels of penetration. I was therefore keen to understand where Envision’s latest release, Click2Coach Cloud, fits in this market.

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Uptivity Launches Gamification Capabilities for Workforces

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 27, 2014 9:26:32 AM

I am not comfortable with the term “gamification” used in the context of business applications. It sounds as if employees are officially allowed to play games while working and thus take their attention away from the task at hand, which in a contact center is serving customers. So I was skeptical when Uptivity recently wanted to brief me about gamification capabilities it recently announced for its suite of workforce optimization products. I was doubtful that gamification will help companies in their quest to optimize performance from their contact center agents.

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Customer Engagement in 2014: Agenda for Delivering Best Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 15, 2014 9:54:16 AM

In 2013 we continued to see change in the contact center, customer service and customer experience markets: Consumers’ communication habits continued to evolve, more business units outside the traditional contact center became involved in handling interactions, software vendors continued to come up with new technologies, and cloud computing, mobility, big data, collaboration, social media and analytics all had a big impact on the ways users access and consume software. Many of these trends surfaced in my benchmark research on next-generation workforce optimization and next-generation customer engagement. Overall my research shows that organizations are slowly maturing in terms of the people, processes, information and technology they use to support customer engagement and related customer-facing activities. However, it also shows that many of the old issues have not gone away and that companies still have work to do to meet customer expectations and achieve their business goals.

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Verint Doubles Down on Customer Engagement with Acquisition of KANA

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 10, 2014 8:52:45 AM

Verint recently announced a definitive agreement to acquire KANA Software. Its goal, in the words of the press release, is to “transform the way organizations engage with their customers.” Customer engagement and customer experience management have become the topics of many conversations in my research area, so I wanted to understand the substance behind this move.

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Infor Makes Customer Experience Management Simpler for Marketing

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 27, 2013 8:18:49 AM

I recently wrote that Infor aims to reinvent business applications and its new developments make it a vendor to watch. I was therefore intrigued to have a demonstration of its latest marketing products, Infor Epiphany and Infor Orbis Marketing Resource Management. These are grouped on its website under customer relationship management, and I don’t usually spend much time on this category of products since for my research it is too inwardly focused and doesn’t impact the customer experience a great deal. However this briefing showed that for Infor it is not that simple.

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Aria Makes Billing Simple for Recurring Revenue

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 18, 2013 10:48:12 AM

I have written lately about how digital customers change customer engagement. It’s no surprise that at the heart of this change, as well as many others that impact business, is the Internet. Along with smart mobile devices, the Internet has changed the ways consumers engage with each other and businesses. In buying products and services, digital customers prefer to research them on the Internet, then buy online or at a store. They expect all activities to happen fast, perhaps in real time. Online commerce has helped support this business model for many companies but has not been as nimble to meet the subscription and billing demands needed today. If not, the Internet provides ways of helping customers express their opinions and feelings often and immediately. To adapt to this business will have to be able to support new methods of selling products and services to the market and support the rapid subscription and billing needs to capture revenue potential at any time of the day.

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Companies Struggle to Engage with Customers Digitally

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 11, 2013 8:45:32 AM

If you stop to compare communication preferences of the past to those of today, you can’t fail to notice some major changes, especially in younger generations. Talking on the phone – fixed or mobile – is in decline, as many people now prefer text messaging, chat and social media. We rely on the Internet to search for websites, run mobile apps and use social media. We watch less TV in real time, preferring to watch what we want, when we want to watch it and to skip advertisements. The same applies to newspapers, with many people preferring to have the news they want to see downloaded to their smart devices. Today, any email from someone we don’t know goes straight to the junk mail folder, and writing seems to be becoming a lost art. This is the world of the digital customer. Companies have to support digital customers while continuing to support others who still make phone calls, send email and even write letters. According to my research into next-generation customer engagement, most companies are not yet prepared to meet the expectations of digital customers.

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Failure in Agent Workforce Optimization Adoption Plagues Customer Interaction

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 5, 2013 7:39:39 AM

Ventana Research defines workforce optimization as a set of processes and technology for customer agents that include interaction (call) recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, training and coaching, compensation management and analytics. My benchmark research into next-generation workforce optimization set out to discover the people, processes, information and systems companies are using to get more from their customer service agents, the benefits they have gained, their plans to change and the barriers holding back those changes. Our research projects apply the Ventana Research Maturity Model™ to evaluate the maturity of organizations in a given market or with respect to a business or IT process. In this case our analysis shows that based on current practices nearly half of companies are at the lowest Tactical level of maturity and only 13 percent have reached the highest Innovative level. Closer examination of the results shows that companies are least mature in their use of technology for workforce optimization, with half at the Tactical level. Much has changed in the way companies handle customer interactions. Two of the biggest changes I have seen in various research are that companies now support more channels of communication and more employees around the organization are involved in handling interactions, meaning companies need to review their workforce optimization systems and begin to take advantage of these advances. Yet the research shows that most of them aren’t yet doing that.

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No Need to Dream of Customer Engagement at Dreamforce

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 19, 2013 7:32:21 AM

I recently wrote how the recent U.K.-based Call Centre Expo showed that companies have shifted priorities for deployment systems from on-premises infrastructures to cloud-based systems and that as a consequence vendors had shifted focus from workforce optimization to cloud-based multichannel interaction management. Confirming this trend, as Dreamforce event at least 10 such vendors will be showing their products. A few of them I saw at Call Centre Expo: GenesysInteractive IntelligenceLiveOpsNewVoiceMedia and Vocalcom. But as an illustration of how rapidly this market has grown, Dreamforce also will host 8x8Corvisa CloudFive9inContact and ShoreTel. Between the two events there are 18 vendors offering such products, and many others will not promote and demonstrate products at the event.

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Companies Need to Reconcile Customer Interaction Priorities

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 16, 2013 8:51:12 AM

Today companies handle an increasing number of customer interactions and they do this through a greater number and variety of communication channels, and by using more employees that are dispersed throughout the organization. Managing the pool of agents in a contact center has always proved a complex task and this is made more complex as interactions are now handled by most lines of business (marketing, sales, customer service, finance, HR, home workers and mobile workers). To do this many companies have deployed what collectively is called workforce optimization (WFO) systems: interaction recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, training and coaching, compensation management and reporting/analytics. My benchmark research into Next Generation WFO set out to discover what people, process, information and systems companies are using, the benefits they have gained, future plans to change and what barriers are holding back those changes.

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Infor Aims to Reinvent Business Applications

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 6, 2013 8:20:24 AM

Infor is a vendor I haven’t covered much in the past, but after attending the recent Infor on the Road day in the U.K. that is about to change. I viewed Infor as basically a CRM vendor, and I don’t believe such systems have much impact on customer engagement and the customer experience. Indeed if you view Infor website’s product page, it features several product categories focused on internal processes: CRM, Asset Management, Financial Management, Resource Planning, Human Capital Management and Product Management. (By the way, my colleague Robert Kugel wrote about some of these after his visit to Inforum.) If like me you are not technically minded, you might skip the technology section, which is where Infor showcases innovation in business applications.

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Zeacom Communication Center 7.0 Modernizes the Agent Desktop

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 31, 2013 8:32:42 PM

When I last reviewed contact center vendor Zeacom it was in the process of being acquired by Enghouse Interactive, with its primary goal being a more global presence. At the time Zeacom’s main selling points were support for multiple channels of communication and integration with Lync, Microsoft’s unified communications software. Now the acquisition is complete (although Zeacom still seems to operate on a fairly autonomous basis), and I learned during a recent briefing that the latest release of its Zeacom Communication Center 7.0 product takes advantage of closer integration with Enghouse Interactive products and includes some important new capabilities.

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IBM Social Business Bets on Key Application and Technologies

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 24, 2013 8:23:57 AM

I recently attended an IBM event about its new social business products and services. I was skeptical at first: I have seen another vendor’s “social enterprise” come and go, and although companies need to address customer use of social media, I don’t think “social” is the path businesses should take; it is more to do with collaboration. However, I quickly learned that IBM sees things rather differently. Its starting point is the need for companies to make their workforces smarter – something I agree with. Employees are the heart of a company; for example, according to my research into customer service and the agent desktop, not only do happy, empowered employees twice as often deliver superior customer experiences, but they also meet customer-related targets more often, and deliver or retain more satisfied and more loyal customers who spend more.

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Key Insights from Call Centre Expo 2013

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 11, 2013 12:58:59 PM

Two years ago I wrote about communications in the cloud taking over the annual U.K. contact center event Call Centre Expo. Now that dominance is almost complete. At one point at this year’s event I was standing at the center of the show floor and without taking a step I spotted 11 vendors all offering some form of communications in the cloud. This term includes all the systems that manage the various communication channels companies now support for managing customer interactions: telephone, email, fax, postal mail, corporate websites, chat, mobile text messaging, video and social media. Not long ago these channels would have been bundled into the contact center infrastructure and typically managed by disparate, on-premises, often proprietary systems. Now, as these systems reach the ends of their lives, companies are looking for more cost-effective and integrated ways to support multiple communication channels and increasingly are moving to cloud-based systems, which my last benchmark research on the contact center in the cloud identified as the third-most common response to the challenges of interaction-handling.

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Verint Utilizes Voice and Feedback to Advance Employees and Customer Satisfaction

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 2, 2013 9:01:41 AM

Verint has been a major player in the workforce optimization and voice of the customer (VoC) feedback markets for several years. As I noted in a previous analysis, its major challenges stem from the fact that its product portfolio has come about largely through a series of acquisitions, which has led to integration and user interface issues. Verint has been steadily addressing these by taking an information-driven approach and adding extensive analytics capabilities to the overall portfolio. Recently it has begun developing what it calls “business impact solutions,” the first of which I have written about. These offerings combine a number of individual products into predefined, prepackaged bundles that address some of the common business issues companies face, including personalized guidance of agents on the next best action, call avoidance and cost to serve. During recent briefings I learned that Verint is continuing down this path with two new releases.

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Nexidia Advances Customer Interaction Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 26, 2013 10:16:32 AM

Nexidia is best known as a vendor of speech analytics. It was one of the first in this market, and a key differentiator is that its product uses phonetics to identify words and phrases embedded in recordings of phone calls. This capability has the advantage over standard word and phrase spotting because users don’t have to create a dictionary of words they want to spot. Thus the software can analyze calls and identify their content without users having to predetermine what it should look for. The system can also index recordings based on the results of this analysis so that users can search back through the recordings to carry out more detailed analysis of calls they are interested in. Over the past few years Nexidia has advanced its product, now called Nexidia Interaction Analytics, to include other forms of text-based interactions such as text messages, chat scripts and social media posts. In addition to speech and text, it can include other customer and agent information to provide a full picture of interactions.

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ResponseTek Goes Mobile for Customer Insight

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 21, 2013 8:30:10 AM

ResponseTek is a well-established player in the marketing and customer feedback markets. It has four products that cover market research, customer feedback, knowledge management and media monitoring,  that enable companies to capture comments made on public sites, typically social media-based. Its customer feedback products support creation, collection and analysis of feedback through multiple channels, as I have noted, including mobile devices. ResponseTek has now taken its support for mobile one step further with the recent announcement of a mobile app.

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The Real Truth on Agent Performance and Workforce Optimization

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 19, 2013 9:05:52 AM

Ventana Research believes that in today’s highly competitive markets the most important factor is the customer experience, or to be more precise, the way agents handle customer interactions and their outcomes from the perspectives of both customers and businesses. Our research on the contact center in the cloud shows that to reach customers organizations are deploying channels of interaction beyond the telephone, such as Web-based chat and self-service, mobile text messaging and social media, and that they increasingly use employees based outside the traditional contact center to handle interactions. Only organizations that handle all these kinds of interactions consistently and with high quality are likely to meet customers’ expectations, deliver satisfying experiences and thereby generate customer loyalty and repeat business.

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CallCopy Brings Insights to Agent Performance through Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 17, 2013 9:09:04 AM

In my last review of CallCopy I wrote that it was moving further from its origin as a call recording vendor by expanding its product range to include workflow optimization applications such as quality monitoring, workforce management, coaching, agent-related analytics, customer satisfaction survey management and capture of non-voice interactions. During a recent briefing I learned that CallCopy is continuing this transformation with Insight, its contact center performance management product. The offering focuses on improving agent performance with enhanced analytics capabilities that enable business insights that can be used to drive process change.

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Enkata Launches Action Center for Optimizing Employee Performance

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 9, 2013 9:43:08 AM

Enkata, as I wrote not long ago is continuing to expand the range and capabilities of its products for optimizing employee actions while maintaining a firm foothold in analytics for the contact center and agents. Its latest release, Action Center, maintains this position with a focus on improving employee performance.

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Corvisa Cloud Provides Communications Management in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 5, 2013 9:13:33 AM

Our benchmark research on the contact center in the cloud shows that today organizations have to support more channels of interaction with their customers in order to provide superior customer service. This places pressure on companies to find systems that provide integrated management of communications channels at affordable prices, are easily managed and accessible with the skills their employees have, and above all meet the needs of the business.

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Alteryx Advances the Process of Customer Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 28, 2013 11:44:42 PM

The market for customer analytics continues to grow as organizations realize the current competencies and technology are not aligned to the priority of providing the best possible customer experience through supporting business processes. At the same time those organizations that have invested and continue to improve in this area are taking advantage of why I call a new generation of customer analytics. As I research into technology to support customer analytics, I had a chance to assess the work done by a business analytics software provider called Alteryx. My colleague Tony Cosentino who is the research director of our business analytics efforts recently wrote an analysis of Alteryx, but I wasn’t familiar with the company until my own briefing about its customer analytics focus. For the technical aspects of the product, you can consult Tony’s analysis, but I want to discuss several key points that came up during my briefing.

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Confirmit and Voice of the Customer Software

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 22, 2013 1:03:03 PM

The last time I was briefed by Confirmit it had just acquired CustomerSat and, in addition to undergoing a number of internal developments, was transitioning from supporting market research, customer and employee feedback to focusing more on voice of the customer (VOC). One of its key differentiators has been its ability to combine market research, customer and employee feedback to close the loop and produce VOC reports and analysis that include all three perspectives. Confirmit added the ability to collect feedback through unstructured “conversations” on smart mobile devices, in recognition that these devices are being used more frequently by consumers and therefore such capabilities increase the likelihood of consumers responding to requests to provide feedback. Although my research on customer feedback management  shows this to be an important, growing requirement, the Confirmit products continue to support the creation and analysis of surveys as a core way of collecting and understanding customer feedback.

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NICE Systems Acquires Causata to Optimize Customer Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 19, 2013 7:55:25 AM

NICE Systems is well known in the contact center market for its suite of workforce optimization products. However, over the past several months it has gradually been expanding out of the pure-play contact center market into back-office and mobile applications, as well as the broader market of customer interaction handling. My research on the contact center in the cloud shows that customer interaction processes are getting more complex as customers demand faster, more personalized responses, interactions occur through more communication channels, and more lines of business are involved with interaction handling. My recent benchmark research shows that companies are becoming increasingly reliant on analytics to monitor and assess how well they are performing these critical tasks and in what areas they need to improve.

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Verint Brings New Business Solutions to Optimize Customer Relationships

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 15, 2013 10:34:04 AM

Earlier this year I wrote that Verint Systems, which makes workforce optimization and analytics products for customer engagement, has changed its focus from individual product capabilities to packaged business solutions that include specifically configured versions of its products. The first of those was real-time personalized guidance; it uses several of the company’s Impact 360 workforce optimization products to guide agents in real time as they handle customer interactions. I wrote at the time I was expecting more of these from Verint, and now it has brought out three additional solutions, which I learned about during a recent briefing.

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Agent Desktop Management in 2013 Is Hot for Improving Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 13, 2013 10:31:46 AM

Ventana Research has just released its 2013 Value Index for Agent Desktop Management, in which we evaluate the competency and maturity of vendors and products that support the management of the desktop systems that agents use to handle customer interactions. Our firm has researched this software category for many years, and our benchmark research into customer service and the agent desktop shows the impact the agent desktop has on agent satisfaction and efficiency and the business outcome of such interactions. Because of its increasing importance, we have taken agent desktop management out of our Customer Experience Value Index and created a separate category for it.

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Enkata Optimizes Claims Processing

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 20, 2013 9:44:50 AM

Enkata used to focus its products on improving agent performance in the contact center. It has gradually expanded that focus to include improving the performance of workers in the back office, an effort that has culminated in a suite of products that help companies improve processing of healthcare claims.

Read More Is Full of Surprises

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 10, 2013 8:58:11 AM

Anyone who follows is used to surprises, but over the last couple of months the company has come up with some that go beyond the usual. It rebranded the recent user conference in London as a customer company event. This follows from changing its messaging to urge every company to become a customer company not a social company. The event itself was everything we have come to expect, using an array of customer case studies to show how’s products help companies innovate and be successful, and a large partner and product showcase to prove how many products and partners salesforce now has. The real surprises were tucked away in meetings arranged for the many analysts present.

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IBM Improving the Science to Apply Business Analytics for Better Customer Engagement

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 3, 2013 2:53:12 PM

I recently wrote how IBM is making customer analytics smarter. Since then IBM has run events in North America and Europe to demonstrate how it is continuing these efforts and expanding into other areas. Outside of the customer space you can read how my colleagues assess its efforts: Mark Smith discusses HR, Robert Kugel sees its impact on business overall, and Tony Cosentino addresses it in IT. Our research My focus remains the customer and I have learned more about what IBM is doing in social media, identity reconciliation, visualization, mobile apps and big data.

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SAS Aligns Marketing and Customer Intelligence

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 16, 2013 10:10:50 PM

I recently attended SAS’s European analyst event, where I went to focus on new developments around customer intelligence, an application of big data that SAS includes in its high-performance analytics and visual analytics. SAS offers an amazing number and range of products that is hard to keep track of, so I was glad to get a sense that now it is focusing more on business solutions built with data visualization and discovery, big data, data management, cloud computing, marketing analytics (which appears to be the new branding for customer intelligence) and enterprise decision management. It appears that the European event followed closely the lines of the U.S. event my colleague Mark Smith attended; he offers an analysis of the company’s wider messages.

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Barriers to Omnichannel Customer Communications

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 11, 2013 10:52:11 AM

In never ceases to amaze me, the number of new terms and acronyms the contact center market generates. Just as everyone is getting used to the fact that customers interact with companies through multiple communication channels (multichannel for short), someone invents the term omnichannel and we all have to get our heads around what this means. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows that companies now support on average nearly five communication channels, and although the traditional channels are still the most common, as the chart shows, there are signs that new channels such as chat (used by 37%), social media (29%), text messaging (22%) and video (5%) are on the increase.

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IBM Watson Engagement Advisor for Smarter Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on May 25, 2013 10:55:01 PM

Recently my colleague Mark Smith wrote about the IBM Watson platform. Mark is our expert on technically complex subjects like IBM Watson and‎ cognitive computing and the value it can provide to organizations and wrote an educational white paper on the topic. In fact IBM Watson was awarded the 2012 Ventana Research Technology Innovation Award. I focus on the customer and the customer experience, but I became engaged with the launch of the IBM Watson Engagement Advisor, which uncannily brings the two together.

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SoCoCare Enables Social Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on May 23, 2013 2:44:26 AM

Much is being written about the impact of social media on customer service, although my research into the agent desktop shows it hasn’t reached the fever pitch that many commentators would have us believe. It is true that the number of consumers using social media and as a consequence the volume of posts are astronomical. But I wonder how many of these posts actually have to do with customer service and how organizations filter out the relevant ones to help them decide on customer service policies and the appropriate action to take.

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Interactive Intelligence Reveals Ambitious Plans for Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on May 20, 2013 10:10:22 AM

At its recent user conference, Interactions 2013, Interactive Intelligence (Nasdqaq: ININ) showcased its extensive product portfolio and its ambitious plans to improve the products both technically and functionally. I have written more than once about the complexities of building a contact center, which is getting even more complex as companies begin to support more channels of interaction as inbound ones are distributed around the organization including sales (59%), marketing (46%) and CRM team (41%) and distribute to many different contact center sites according to our customer relationship maturity research. To keep up with developments, I divide contact center systems and applications into five groups:

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IBM Making Customer Analytics Smarter

Posted by Richard Snow on May 10, 2013 11:33:44 AM

When it comes to today’s customers, companies have to be smart if they are going to anticipate and meet new customer expectations. These days IBM talks about doing most things in “smart” ways. Recently I was briefed on IBM’s Smart Customer Analytics, but it took me quite a while to find information about it on the company’s not-so-smart website. Surprisingly since business analytics is so important to IBM current and ongoing investments and is the top ranked technology innovation priority in 39 percent of organizations according to our benchmark research.

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NICE Systems Leading Change at Interactions 2013

Posted by Richard Snow on May 1, 2013 11:34:13 AM

I recently attended NICE Systems’ annual user conference, this year called Interactions 2013. In discussions of its different products and latest releases and testimonials from selected clients, I was surprised by how the messages were packaged. NICE has a long history of acquiring companies, and it has let many of them continue to operate as autonomous lines of business. Often there was minimal integration with other NICE products, a variety of user interfaces, no common software administration tools. In my opinion this policy prevented it from taking advantage of having a suite of products focused on handling customer interactions. At the conference, Zeevi Bregman, CEO and President, positioned NICE as supporting three lines of business: interaction management, fraud and compliance, and security. He explained at length how the three are inextricably linked, tying fraud and compliance and security to interaction management and customer service. Fraud and compliance is linked to customer service because market segments such as banking have to ensure that the customer service they provide conforms to legislative requirements, and security is an increasing part of knowing customers and ensuring the safety of their information. Other executives also stressed these themes.

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Attensity Uses Social Media Technology for Smarter Customer Engagement

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 23, 2013 10:55:18 AM

When I last wrote about Attensity I classified it as a “pure play” text analytics vendor, but the latest release of its product has lead me to revise my opinion. Its product Respond uses natural language-based analysis to derive insights from any form of text-based data and among other results can produce analyses of customer sentiment, hot issues, trends and key metrics. The product supports what Attensity calls LARA – listen, analyze, relate, act – which is a form of closed-loop performance management. It begins by extracting data from multiple sources of text-based data, (listening), analyzing the content of the data (analyze), linking this data with other sources of customer data, and producing alerts, workflows and reports to encourage action to be taken based on the insights (act).

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Kana Paints a New Picture of Unifying Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 18, 2013 9:46:23 AM

Back in July I wrote about Kana’s acquisition of Ciboodle and its previous acquisition of Overtone and what seemed to be its ambitious plans to release an integrated version of the products. I went so far as to say Kana would have “something unique to offer” if it pulled off this effort. Now, almost nine months to the day, it has launched a new version of Kana Enterprise, and from what I saw in a prelaunch briefing it does seem to be something unique. Billed as “the first omni-channel customer service suite,” the new product brings together the original Kana customer self-service and knowledge management products, the Ciboodle desktop and several new developments.

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Companies Need Smarter Agent Performance Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 17, 2013 9:05:04 AM

I read a lot these days about how companies should pay more attention to contact center agent or customer service representative satisfaction, as it can have an impact on customer experience and meeting key customer-related metrics. This is a far cry from the “good old days” when agents were often locked away in a dark, dismal place and told to answer as many calls as possible. My research into the agent desktop shows that many companies have indeed latched onto these new priorities, and the two top first ranked goals (19%) with respect to agents is to increase agent retention and thus keep the skills they have to handle customer interactions, and to improve agent satisfaction, which in itself helps ensure more agents stick with their roles longer.

Read More Prepares Marketing for the Future

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 10, 2013 12:12:21 PM

At the beginning of the year I wrote analyst perspective outlining why I think is a vendor to watch during 2013. I followed this up with a post noting that Salesforce has shifted its headline messaging from becoming the “collaborative company” to becoming the “customer company” – a message that resonates better with me. During a recent analyst event, the theme of becoming a customer company remained the main message, but this time the emphasis moved to marketing, as the presenters dug deeper into Marketing Cloud which the company is moving further away from traditional marketing systems than Sales Cloud and Service Cloud are from sales and service.

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ClickFox Maps the Customer Journey

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 8, 2013 11:30:41 AM

The last time I reviewed ClickFox it was primarily focused on capturing how callers transverse IVR menus. It produced visual maps of what options callers used and thus how they navigate what can be quite complex menus, allowing users to identify the most common paths and thereby optimize these to meet common customer requirements and business needs. Since that time the market has changed considerably, and ClickFox’s current products now support companies as they try to identify how customers use different communication channels and how they hop across different channels to resolve their issues.

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Astute Solutions Supports Integrated Approach to CRM

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 5, 2013 11:53:49 AM

Like all analysts, I have a series of classifications to help group together vendors with similar capabilities. My challenge is to create categories that align with most users’ expectations so I don’t confuse readers when I define which category a vendor falls into. My “big five” are WFO or agent performance management (quality monitoring, workforce management, training and coaching, remuneration, and agent-related analytics); contact center infrastructure, including cloud-based systems (multichannel interaction management, routing, CTI, and rerecording); CRM (marketing, sales and customer service); customer experience management (agent desktop, self-service, customer feedback management, knowledge management); and contact center and customer analytics (transactional, speech, text, event, process, multichannel, predictive and big data). Occasionally a vendor comes along that defies these classifications. Astute Solutions is one such. It describes itself as providing “best-of-breed CRM Customer Service, Social CRM, Contact Center, IP Communications, Knowledge Management, Mobile, and Self-Service solutions specifically designed for enabling customer-centric business strategies” – quite a mouthful.

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Companies Need Effective Contact Center Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 27, 2013 8:27:37 AM

I began my involvement with contact centers – actually they were called call centers in those days -more than 20 years ago. I quickly learned that almost everyone involved in running a contact center is obsessed with metrics: queue times, average call handling times, agent utilization, average length of after-call work – the list seemed to be endless. Since joining Ventana Research I have carried out numerous benchmark studies into customer and contact center performance, and found things haven’t changed a great deal. The number of metrics has increased and old favorites are still high up on the list.

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IBM Launches Customer Experience Lab

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 18, 2013 8:51:28 AM

IBM recently announced its new Customer Experience Lab. During a briefing I learned that the lab is a response to what IBM discovered by interviewing more than a thousand CMOs, who are concerned about the explosion of data companies collect about their customers. This explosion is being driven by changing customer communication preferences and the way customers now interact with organizations, which I recently highlighted in my post about the 2.0 world. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows a similar trend; although traditional channels such as telephone calls and email are still the most popular, channels such as social media, instant messaging, text messaging and video are fast catching up.

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Taking Advantage of a New Generation of Customer Analytics Using Big Data

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 13, 2013 10:18:02 AM

Organizations have been talking about how to effectively analyze customer data for more than three decades. This has evolved into a desire for a “360-degree view of the customer” - a comprehensive picture drawn from all available data. As yet, not many organizations have achieved it. Our recent research into customer relationship maturity shows that fewer than one-third (31%) of organizations produce a single set of reports and analysis that the whole organization uses to support customer-related activities. Even those that do produce such a set of reports and analysis lack some critical information, such as customer interactions and social media comments.

Read More Helping Organizations Achieve Customer Excellence

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 12, 2013 10:46:04 AM

I recently wrote that was a vendor to watch during 2013, and during a recent briefing I heard more messages that support this view. First there was confirmation about financials. Even though the company is only 14 years old and the overall economy is not exactly booming, revenues for 2012 were up 35 percent to $3.05 billion, with Europe matching this with a 37 percent year-on-year growth. This not only shows the company is here to stay, but that the cloud is now well and truly established as a delivery model.

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Clarabridge Operationalizes Text Analytics for Better Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 11, 2013 9:52:47 AM

Clarabridge is a well-known text analytics vendor that markets its products under the banner of customer experience management. As I wrote last year, its products allow organizations to take a closed-loop approach by capturing all forms of text data, analyzing it, categorizing it, understanding root causes of customer issues and raising alerts so that action including collaboration can be taken based on these insights. Such a process is supportive of customer experience management, but for me the missing link is using these insights in real time to actively influence customer interactions.

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Welcome to the 2.0 World of Technology Marketing

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 8, 2013 10:01:53 AM

Like me, you have no doubt spotted the propensity for software vendors and consultants to call anything new “2.0”; for example, we have ERP 2.0 and CRM 2.0. Just recently during a joint Aspect and Microsoft presentation, the companies went one step further and introduced the concept of the 2.0 customer meeting the 2.0 company. My first reaction was one of horror, but as I thought about it, it became clear that customers have changed and so companies need to change to keep up – welcome to the 2.0 world.

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Three Unified Communications Trends in Evidence at UCExpo 2013

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 7, 2013 8:03:13 AM

I recently attended the Unified Communication Expo exhibition and conference in London to find out how much communications has been changing. As I entered the exhibition center the first thing I noticed was the huge variety of vendors on show, everything from major brands in the telecommunications industry (Aspect, AT&T, BT, Cisco, Mitel, Nokia and Siemens Enterprise Communications) to some major brands perhaps not so associated with telecommunications (Dell, Citrix, Google and Microsoft), to several niche players with products such as mobility management, IP-based voice and data networks, audio/web/streaming/video conferencing, email/chat/text messaging and unified communications (presence and collaboration), to suppliers of audio equipment (Dell, Jabra, Logitech, Plantronics and Sennheiser). For me the most disappointing thing was the lack of vendors focused on the contact center, with only Aspect, Enghouse Interactive, Microsoft (in partnership with Aspect), Noble Systems and ShoreTel in evidence.

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Genesys Acquires to Advance Contact Centers

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 1, 2013 9:52:15 AM

The first positive signs for the “the new Genesys” emerged just 100 days after its sale by Alcatel was completed last year, and those positive signs have continued. The company has not only maintained strong development of its core products but has also made an aggressive move into the contact center mid-market, the contact center in the cloud market, and the multichannel communications management market. It strengthens its position now with the announcement of its acquisition of

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Transera Uses Big Data for Customer Engagement Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 22, 2013 9:46:21 AM

Transera is an established contact center in the cloud vendor with in-depth interaction routing capabilities. During a recent briefing I learned that it has now supplemented these capabilities by launching a new product that it calls Adaptive Customer Engagement. Although it’s not entirely obvious from the name, the product uses big data analytics to analyze past customer interactions, profile customers, then use these insights to optimize current and future customer-facing activities such as handling a live customer interaction, planning a marketing campaign or focusing agent training and coaching. The objective is to proactively influence these activities so the outcomes are better both from the customer’s and company’s perspectives.

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Cisco Advances Customer Interactions and Collaboration in Contact Center

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 21, 2013 10:07:51 AM

Cisco is without doubt best known as a supplier of networking systems. Its products have been used by companies large and small to build local and wide area networks. It has played in the contact center space as a provider of network and call management systems that sit between public networks and contact center agents to manage the delivery of interactions to the right extensions and provide agents with softphones so they can manage inbound and outbound calls. These systems were designed to operate in a multi-supplier environment so companies could build contact centers that made use of existing ACD and PBX systems. Cisco’s go-to-market strategy has been primarily indirect, and it has therefore built up a vast ecosystems of partners that sell, deliver and support its systems.

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LiveOps Improves the Agent Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 13, 2013 10:26:30 AM

My recent research into the contact center in the cloud shows the typical agent’s life is not an easy one. Agents are expected to handle more types of interactions that arrive through more communication channels as found in our research with inbound, email and outbound in use by more than 74 percent of organizations, meet an increasing number of performance metrics, and leave each caller feeling happy with the interaction. And they have to do this with a desktop that my research shows can only be described as “a mess.” It typically has on it multiple business applications (such as CRM, ERP and knowledge management), multiple systems to access communication channels (phone, email, IM, social media), message boards and performance dashboards.

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Subscription Billing Model Can Maximize Customer Value

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 7, 2013 7:12:45 AM

You would think that all organizations would want to maximize the value of every customer relationship, but my research over the last couple of years suggests otherwise. Three particular insights stick in my mind. My research into customer analytics shows that overall customer lifetime value ranked only sixth most important customer-related metric, compared to the highest-ranked, customer service costs, which was selected by 54 percent of respondents versus 31 percent for customer lifetime value. Executives had it second highest-ranked, but as you move down the organization it falls off in importance. This lack of focus is also reflected in my research into customer relationship maturity, where customer value was again ranked only the sixth most important customer-related metric, this time behind the top-ranked metric of overall revenue (62% versus 25%).

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Intradiem Takes Customer Agent Task Management to Next Level

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 5, 2013 8:52:29 AM

Intradiem is a vendor that not many people have heard about, for the simple reason that it is actually Knowlagent, which recently announced a complete rebranding. The company says the new brand better reflects its product and service capabilities. Knowlagent was all about allowing companies to automatically manage how agents utilize their time in those often very short periods when they are not answering calls or carrying out other fixed tasks, such as taking a training course. The latest release of its product, Intradiem 9.0, enhances those capabilities, so even under the new brand, the company will continue to help companies optimize agent utilization.

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OnviSource Joins-Up Customer-Related Processes

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 1, 2013 9:07:28 AM

OnviSource is best known for its OnviCenter Product Suite, which includes what is commonly referred to as workforce optimization (recording, quality, monitoring, workforce management, analytics) plus a telephony platform that includes a soft, IP-based PBX, IVR and call routing. It is available on-premises or through the company’s cloud-based option, OnviCloud. Recently OnviSource added a further option, OnviLink, and announced enhancements to OnviTel, its telephony platform.

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NewVoiceMedia Expands Globally to Advance Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 1, 2013 6:48:05 AM

NewVoiceMedia recently announced it has raised $20 million of investment funds to aid its expansion overseas, including offices in North America. The company was founded in the UK in 2000 and originally offered telephony and call management in the cloud. It now has a close partnership with, which has allowed it to expand into a multichannel contact center in the cloud. During the last 12 years it has achieved considerable success, both financially and in acquiring prestigious clients, mostly in the UK. Old instincts die hard, and even though the company’s services and support are accessible anywhere, potential customers still like to see support available in their country. This latest round of funding will allow NewVoiceMedia to make a serious attack on the American market.

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Enghouse Interactive Advances Multichannel Customer Interactions

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 30, 2013 10:16:09 AM

I recently wrote how Enghouse Interactive is building a portfolio of products to support contact center in the cloud. The foundation of all its products is the handling of interactions through a comprehensive set of communication channels. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows that after the adoption of CRM in the cloud, companies are most likely to adopt contact centers in the cloud because they support consumers that want to interact through more channels, and because of the increasing need to support distributed contact centers and the diverse location of employees handling interactions.

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Vertical Solutions Integrates Field Service and CRM

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 25, 2013 10:19:09 AM

I hadn’t come across Vertical Solutions until a recent briefing, from which I found that the company offers an interesting combination of field service management and CRM. Vertical Solutions has offices around the world, and its target market is companies with between 50 and 2,500+ users in the manufacturing, outsource contact center services, healthcare and residential services markets. It began with a focus on field service and has expanded to include CRM, or, as I would call it, customer experience management. If you track my blog you know I have reservations about labeling products as CRM or CXM, simply because both terms have come to mean different things to different people.

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Verint Announces Real-Time Personalized Guidance

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 24, 2013 10:05:07 AM

Recently Verint announced a new development in its workforce optimization suite Impact 360 Workforce Optimization that it calls Personalized Guidance. It aims to improve the customer experience by prompting anyone handling customer interactions with what they should do next. The principle is simple and logical: Analyze all the data you can so you understand the customer and context of the interaction, identify best next action, and prompt the person handling the interaction with this action so the customer receives a response best related to the interaction. Ideally, customers are happier and more interactions are resolved at the first attempt. The software also closes the loop and feeds information back to all other related lines of business so people there can also take appropriate action, which might mean changing a process, improving a product or updating a use guide, for example.

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Companies Miss the Point of Voice of the Customer (VOC)

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 22, 2013 7:55:18 AM

The majority of companies think it is important to collect customer feedback, according to my recent research into customer feedback management, and they put that feedback to an average of five uses, the top five of which are to improve customer service (75%), to develop customer experience and interaction processes (54%), to identify agent training needs (54%), to improve products (50%) and to create a customer service strategy (49%).

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Cisco Finesse Provides Innovative Agent Desktop

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 17, 2013 9:08:49 AM

My recent benchmark into the unified customer service agent desktop shows how critical the agent desktop is to improving agent satisfaction, meeting key customer-related metrics and enhancing the customer experience. The typical agent desktop contains multiple systems that allow agents access to multiple communication channels, business applications, messages and performance dashboards. The result is that the desktop is cluttered with systems, frustrating agents, driving up average interaction handling times, and impacting the customer experience as agents search for the information to resolve interactions. The research shows a direct correlation between implementing a unified or smart agent desktop and agent satisfaction, with the direct result that more satisfied agents are twice as likely to meet key metrics such as customer satisfaction, net promoter and customer effort.

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Best Practices and Benefits from Using a Customer Service Agent Desktop

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 17, 2013 7:30:51 AM

My research into the customer service agent desktop shows that most centers expect a lot of their contact center agents: more than half (59%) handle between two and five different services (such as general queries, complaints and sales) and 14 percent handle seven or more. Nearly half (49%) are expected to handle between six and 15 calls per hour, and as well as calls, the majority (75%) are expected to handle other forms of interactions, with most handling between one and five per hour. To achieve these goals most agents (65%) have to access an average of three or four different business applications, as well as multiple communication channels and dashboards. To make matters worse, a minority (28%) still have to use multiple desktops to access these systems, and the majority (62%) have to sign into each system independently. It is therefore not surprising that only a third (35%) of respondents believe their agents are satisfied with their roles.

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2013 Direction of Technology for Customer and Contact Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 16, 2013 4:16:31 AM

At the beginning of 2012 Ventana Research predicted that six major technologies would have an impact on the provision and supply of IT systems, and that these would bring about innovation in the way organizations support their business. Each of the six – business and social collaboration, mobile, analytics, cloud computing, social media and big data – has affected how organizations engage with their customers, but I don’t believe the full impact has yet been fully realized. Indeed, in some areas, their impact will accelerate.

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Customer and Contact Center Management Research Agenda for 2013

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 11, 2013 10:24:44 AM

Despite the recession, 2012 was a busy year in the contact center, customer service and customer experience markets. Ventana Research completed four benchmark research studies into customer relationship maturitycontact center in the cloudcustomer feedback management and agent desktop. Overall these show that organizations are slowly maturing in the processes, people, information and technology they use to support customer-facing activities. However, they also show many of the old issues have not gone away, and companies have still have lots to do in order to meet customer expectations and deliver on business goals.

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NICE Systems Addresses Fraud in Contact Centers

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 9, 2013 11:13:49 AM

Back in 2007 when NICE Systems acquired Actimize I wondered how long it would be before someone figured out how to use the company’s fraud detection systems in contact centers. The answer is now, as NICE Systems announces its Contact Center Fraud Prevention system.

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Verint Advances Integration and Interactivity for Workforce Optimization

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 8, 2013 11:17:10 AM

In early 2012 I wrote a blog post about how Verint was overcoming some of its product integration issues by using an information-driven approach that allows users to drill down from key performance metrics into underlying application data. The latest version of its Impact 360 Workforce Optimization suite extends this approach and supports a flow of data between applications and workflows that enables cross-application processes. The suite of products includes interaction recording, workforce management, agent quality monitoring, eLearning and coaching, enterprise and customer feedback management, performance management, and desktop, process, text and speech analytics. The latest release is designed to make these operate seamless so that companies can manage processes related to handling customer interactions.

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Customer Service Presents Major Challenges

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 7, 2013 11:33:47 AM

In today’s competitive markets, many organizations recognize that customer service represents an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competition. However, our research into the agent desktop shows that providing excellent customer service is a real challenge in many areas, starting with managing the channels of communication required to offer customers a choice in how they interact with the company. My research into customer and contact centers shows that over the last 18 months, companies now support an average of five channels, including advanced channels such as chat, text messaging, video calls and social media. This presents a challenge for companies because these channels are often supported by different lines of business and the information delivered through them is not consistent. The net result is that customers don’t get a consistent experience across channels and so will often skip across channels until they get the result they are seeking. This situation is further aggravated because organizations are still most often organized into silos, with each line of business pursuing its own goals, objectives and metrics. This means customers get a different experience and different information depending on which line of business they are dealing with, and often are met with statements such as “that is not my responsibility” and “I can’t help because I don’t have the information.”

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Best Practice Customer-Related Metrics

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 4, 2013 11:39:30 AM

Customers have always been important to companies, but what are the best metrics to measure the success of customer-related activities, and how well companies meet customer expectations?

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2013 Vendor to Watch –

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 3, 2013 11:35:49 AM

It’s hard to believe that was launched only 14 years ago. It has since grown into a multi-billion-dollar company that has changed the way companies source software. Back in the early days its two primary messages were “the end of on-premises software” and “a new era of CRM in the cloud.” Today the first message seems to have softened somewhat, with its own website talking about products and applications, and of course many companies still use traditional on-premise applications. As my research shows, companies are not so concerned about the specifics of “SaaS,” “hosted” or “cloud” but are more focused on usability, functionality, security, scalability, integration, performance and of course cost. They are also increasingly concerned about finding the skills necessary to deploy and operate the applications they need to support their businesses. When you add these all up, off-premises really comes into its own. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows that CRM leads the way in adoption in the cloud, with communications in the cloud (systems to manage the delivery of multichannel customer interactions) following closely behind.

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Linking Customer Feedback and Business Benefits

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 2, 2013 11:11:50 AM

Many organizations collect customer feedback, but my recent research into customer feedback management shows that most have yet to take advantage of modern techniques. The research shows that companies on average use approximately four methods. The most popular remain email and online surveys, listening to call recordings and outbound phone calls. Newer techniques such as reviewing social media posts, social media forums, mobile apps and mobile text-based conversations remain the domain of early adopters and innovative companies. The same can be said of how companies analyze customer feedback, with by far the most common method being manual. Only the most mature companies having adopted specialized analytics tools that automate the process, thus making it more efficient, letting them use bigger samples of customer input, and making the outputs more reliable and consistent.

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Interactions’ Virtual Assistant Provides Self-Service Innovation

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 22, 2012 6:55:23 AM

Organizations have been struggling for years to find effective systems to support customer self-service. One of the most popular techniques has been to deploy an IVR system, but my research into customer experience management shows that nearly two-thirds (61%) of customers using IVR end up taking the option to speak to an agent, and the old saying “customers hate IVR” still prevails. The same research shows that web-based self-service is achieving similar low levels of success.

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Take Time Now to Get Mobile Customer Service Right

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 7, 2012 11:21:36 AM

Recently I read that each person has an average of 1.8 devices connected to the Internet, and this number is likely to grow as people continue to buy smartphones and tablets. In parallel, the number of apps available in the various app stores is growing exponentially, with the iPhone store alone having more than 700,000 active apps. The big question for me is how much of this is about business and how much is purely social. Recently GenesysInteractive IntelligenceJacadamplsystems and NICE Systems made announcements showing they are banking on a greater portion being about business, as they all released tools that allow organizations to build what they call mobile customer service apps.

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Altitude Software Supports Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 6, 2012 10:55:43 AM

Recently I completed a benchmark research project into the adoption of a contact center in the cloud, which I defined as the combination of contact center-related communications, applications and analytics in the cloud. Furthermore I defined communications in the cloud as the systems to manage interactions, inbound and outbound, through different communication channels: telephony, email, post, web-based chat, mobile chat, web-based messages, video, mobile apps and social media. The research shows that organizations are increasingly adopting cloud-based systems to support customer expectations to interact through the channels of their choice. At the recent Ventana Research Innovation Summit I outlined why I think the only practical and affordable way for organizations to meet these objectives is to adopt integrated, cloud-based communication systems and services from one of the increasing number of vendors coming to market with such solutions.

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The Reality of Social Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 4, 2012 11:39:48 AM

Much is written these days about how consumers have changed their buying and communication habits, and how more are turning to social media to search for product and service information, complain, exchange news and opinions, and, well, to be social. This has led to predictions such as the demise of the contact center, marketing becoming the prime leader of customer experience, and social media becoming the dominant channel for customer service.

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SAP Launches SAP 360 Customer – New Offering but Old Mission

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2012 9:52:46 AM

Over the last few weeks SAP has run several events for both customers and the analyst community to herald the launch of SAP 360 Customer in an attempt to regain ground in the CRM market and convince everyone that it has sorted out its cloud, mobile and collaboration strategy. One of the main user events was Sapphire NOW in Madrid earlier this month. From reports that I have seen, it seems that customers at that conference were far from convinced – and if customers are not convinced then prospects are likely to be even less convinced.

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Mplsystems Extends Beyond Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 23, 2012 11:22:44 AM

The parent company of mplSystems, Message Pad Ltd., was founded in the U.K. in 1994 and provides the infrastructure to support contact center operations. mplSystems’ main product family is intelligentContact (iContact), which is available either on premises or in the cloud. It is an interesting mix of products that covers call, email, chat, SMS, social media management and routing from a universal queue, a new social media product that routes social media posts to agents and provides the interface through which agents can respond. It offers some WFO capabilities, such as call recording, quality monitoring and workforce management, along with a new tool set that allows companies to build mobile customer service apps and a suite of reporting and analytics tools. Companies can choose to deploy as many of these applications as they require, adding more at a later date based on business demands to build a solution that meets the organization’s business requirements. mplSystems provides services to work with customers on these type of projects.

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Zeacom Enters the Growing Enghouse Interactive Contact Center Solution Empire

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 19, 2012 10:55:49 AM

I recently wrote a blog post about how Enghouse Systems is expanding its portfolio of contact center vendors, and another detailing more about what capabilities its products support. I noted that its acquisition trail wasn’t over and that it was in the process of acquiring Zeacom. Although not quite evident from the Zeacom website, that deal is now done and Zeacom is part of Enghouse Interactive. This means that Enghouse Interactive now has three major contact center products, so it was good to catch up with a Zeacom executive to learn more about how Zeacom fits in with Enghouse Interactive’s overall portfolio.

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Building The Collaborative Enterprise to Improve Customer Relationships

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 16, 2012 12:17:16 PM

I have challenged some of the hype about the social enterprise because I feel “social” gives the wrong impression. For most people, social media is predominately about being social. While everyone likes to feel that going to work is partly about being social, when it comes down to it running a business is about winning customers, selling them your products or services, and providing customer service when needed. In today’s competitive markets, none of these is an easy task.

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CallMiner Introduces Real-Time Speech Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 15, 2012 11:04:07 AM

I recently wrote how CallMiner had expanded into text analytics and had released its myEureka product, which in my opinion took the presentation of analytics to a new level. My colleagues agreed, and our firm awarded CallMiner the 2012 Ventana Research Technology Innovation Award for Customer Excellence.

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Vocalcom Supports Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 13, 2012 10:51:49 AM

Vocalcom is one of the up-and-coming names in the contact center market. Founded in 1995, it is headquartered in France but has a worldwide presence, with 4,500 customers and more than half a million users of its services. It may not be as well-known as other companies in the same space because many of the customers are in southern Europe, and a high percentage are outsourcers who use its services to provide contact center services based on its platform. It offers what I call multichannel contact center interaction management in the cloud – what some term “communications in the cloud.” A full contact center consists of the systems to manage multiple communication channels, systems to manage agent performance, business application such as CRM, and analytics. Vocalcom’s strength is in the former, along with integration tools that support interfaces with business applications and analytics that focus on interaction performance.

Read More Positions as Cloud Platform Leader

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 24, 2012 12:52:43 PM launched more than 12 years ago as the founding CRM vendor in the cloud. Today it has grown to be the kitchen-sink vendor in the cloud. It seems every month it announces some new cloud service, and its services now cover almost the entire enterprise: sales, marketing, service, HR, finance and a list of supporting services that make it hard to determine just what the company now has to offer. Two things remain clear, however: has established cloud computing as a credible way to source software applications, and all applications need to be socially enabled to keep up with new user and consumer preferences.

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Call Centre Expo 2012 Reveals Some Surprising Trends

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 4, 2012 12:26:19 PM

Call Centre & Customer Management Expo has been running for several years now. The event provides an opportunity for contact center and customer service managers in Europe to catch up with all the latest and greatest going on in the market. At this year’s event earlier this week, as usual, I found the normal mix of presentations, vendor exhibition stands and other side events. The vendor show included a mix of core contact center vendors (interaction management, CRM, WFO, customer experience management, customer and contact center analytics), supporting vendors such as headphone suppliers and post code software, contact center media players and associated professional bodies. My primary interest is in the core multi-channel contact center market and vendors, and having attended for more years than I can remember, I look for emerging trends on what vendors are present and what they have to offer.

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Confirmit Moves to Voice of Customer and Feedback Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 28, 2012 11:20:21 AM

Confirmit is one of the leading vendors of market research services. It has a full range of products that support every step of the market research cycle. Its software lets users create surveys that can be delivered through multiple channels, perform panel management (managing teams of people that contribute to research programs), collect the data from completed surveys, and use a suite of reporting and analysis tools to gain in-depth insights from the data collected. The company has been steadily moving into the enterprise feedback market, using similar products and services that allow companies to focus on customers and employees. These developments have been accelerating, as evidenced by three recent announcements: the release of the company’s latest Horizons 17 software, a new set of services that focuses on the customer, and the acquisition of CustomerSat, an enterprise feedback management software and services provider.

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Enghouse Interactive Contact Center Products Offer a Range of Capabilities

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 27, 2012 9:23:58 AM

Enghouse Systems Ltd. is not one of the best-known brands in the contact center market, but if it keeps acquiring vendors at the rate it has been doing then it might soon be. It was founded in Canada in 1984, and from what I can see it is grown largely by acquisition to revenues of more than $120 million. It has morphed into Enghouse Interactive, which now represents nearly 90 percent of its parent company’s business. A quick look at its website shows that over its lifetime it has acquired six brands that operate in the contact center market: Arc Solutions, Cosmocom, Datapulse, Syntellect, Terex and Trio; and this doesn’t include its latest acquisition, Zeacom. After my first briefing with the company I reported on three of these acquisitions: Cosmocom, Syntellect and Zeacom.

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VPI Extends into Multi-channel Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 26, 2012 9:37:35 AM

Voice Print International recently announced it has selected Hewlett-Packard’s Autonomy to deliver speech and multi-channel analytics. This news means VPI joins a small group of vendors that can provide a view of customer interactions across multiple communication channels, which is of growing importance to companies. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows that companies now support an average of four to five channels of interaction with customers. Without a multi-channel view they are in danger of upsetting customers but not knowing what customers have tried before. The core challenge is that many interactions are either in the form of call recordings or text (email messages, forms, letters, chat and web scripts, and social media). Companies that cannot process all of these forms of data are left with an incomplete view.

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Other Side of the Pond Takeaways from Salesforce Dreamforce

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 24, 2012 11:53:54 AM puts on a marketing event that no other software vendor can come close to. Any CEO that can get MC Hammer rapping about your company as an introduction to your keynote has to be admired. The actual content got mixed reviews; my colleague Mark Smith saw some shortfalls in how supports analytics, while Robert Kugel felt the company’s cloud-based software could help midsize companies.

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Genesys Advances Customer Service to the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 19, 2012 10:44:49 AM

In what will no doubt be one of a host of announcements coming out of Dreamforce, Genesys announced a new set of cloud-based services especially for customers. Genesys is a well-known brand in the contact center market, but it has undergone significant change of late and is now an independent company in charge of its own destiny. This announcement demonstrates that it intends to become more responsive to market trends – and it probably can’t do better than to team up with, which will provide huge amounts of marketing clout. Salesforce itself has become a major brand in the contact center space with Service Cloud, as my research into the adoption of cloud-based contact centers shows.

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Customer Feedback Processes Lagging in Companies Today

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 17, 2012 11:18:00 AM

Many people these days talk about voice of the customer (VOC) programs and how they can improve business performance. The foundation of any VOC program is collecting customer feedback, analyzing it and using the insights to improve customer-focused processes, training and the use of technology. Changes usually focus on customer service, but increasingly companies are focusing on the customer experience – how companies engage with customers to resolve issues, provide information, close sales and respond to social media. Our benchmark research into customer feedback management shows that although their use of customer feedback to slowly maturing, companies still need to address a number of fundamental issues.

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NewVoiceMedia Provides Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 14, 2012 12:33:20 PM

Our recent benchmark research into the adoption of cloud-based systems to support contact center operations shows that around 10 percent of companies have adopted what is commonly termed communications in the cloud – that is, systems in the cloud to manage delivery of telephone calls to the right location, be it an internal extension number within an organization, a branch office number, a contact center extension or someone’s home or cell phone number. Given that telecommunication service providers manage calls in the cloud, it makes sense to intercept calls before they are delivered to a physical location, use rules to decide the correct final destination and route calls directly. NewVoiceMedia, founded in 2000, was one of the first companies to offer such services in the cloud. It first came to my attention at a UK contact center exhibition when within minutes of visiting its stand I was set up as a technical support agent and began receiving calls from its test contact center – very impressive given that with similar on-premises systems setting up such a task could take hours if not days.

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Companies Should Consider Adopting Contact Centers in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 5, 2012 12:01:51 PM

Our recent benchmark research on the contact center in the cloud shows companies are under more pressure than ever to upgrade their contact centers. The large majority of companies (73%) think it is very important to improve the way they handle customer interactions, and only a small percentage are fully satisfied with their current applications (19%) or their communications (14%).  Upgrading presents a significant challenge, however, because simple call centers that handle only phone calls have been made obsolete by the need to support multiple channels of communications. Consumer communication preferences have changed, and as a result companies on average now support five channels of communication in their centers, with just over a third (37%) supporting six or more – the most popular being inbound calls (still tops), email, outbound calls, fax and postal mail.

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SAS Furthers Cloud Computing for Business

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 30, 2012 11:56:14 AM

After this summer’s SAS European analyst event, I wrote that I came away less than convinced SAS was truly committed to the cloud, based largely on the fact that most other vendors are blowing their cloud trumpets much louder than SAS. It seemed developments in and around customer intelligence and its other products were higher priority to the company than its cloud strategy. However, after a recent update, I was left with no doubt that the cloud is important to SAS and that the company has a well–thought-through strategy based around two services that Ventana Research touched on earlier this year.

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Interactive Intelligence Embraces Business Process Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 22, 2012 11:11:43 AM

The product page for Interactive Intelligence highlights what the company is best known for – IP-based business communications. This image is further strengthened by its flagship Customer Interaction Center platform, which offers organizations a fully featured multimedia contact center in the cloud. This offering includes multimedia communications in the cloud along with many of the capabilities that Ventana Research terms agent performance management. However, the company also offers a third set of products, which support business process automation. On first examination these seem somewhat tangential to the other products, but my research into customer relationship maturity shows the product sets are likely to converge more and more as organizations address the challenges of providing customers with excellent experiences.

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The Collaborative Enterprise to Support Customer Interactions

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 16, 2012 10:05:26 AM

I’ve challenged a lot of the hype about the social enterprise, because I feel “social” gives the wrong impression. For most people, social media is predominately about socializing. While everyone likes to feel that going to work is partly about interacting with friends, when it comes down to it running a business is about winning customers, selling them your products and services, and providing customer service when needed. In today’s competitive markets, none of these are easy tasks. As I look across four of our benchmark research areas: customer information managementcustomer experience managementcustomer feedback management and customer relationship maturity, I have come to several conclusions:

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Calabrio Provides Integrated Workforce Optimization

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 8, 2012 11:04:19 AM

Calabrio offers a suite of workforce optimization (WFO) products used in call centers that includes call recording, quality recording, workforce management and performance management, and it also offers a purpose-built speech analytics product. From a briefing and demonstration, I confirmed that the core WFO products support the capabilities that our research shows companies expect of these products. Ventana Research defines agent performance management (APM) as WFO plus capture of all forms of customer interaction, agent training and coaching and agent compensation management, as well as all forms of contact center-related analytics such as text, voice and desktop. The recent Ventana Research APM Value Index shows that this market is highly competitive, as all the top five vendors scored within one percentage point of each other.

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Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 2, 2012 10:53:08 AM

Since it was founded in 1999, has been driving other vendors and end-user organizations to rethink how they supply and purchase software. The company has grown from being a supplier of CRM in the cloud to a vendor with diverse offerings that include a development platform, an app exchange, platforms that support marketing, sales and customer service, knowledge management, desktop technology, collaboration, website development, social media support and analytics. Along the way it has also become a powerful marketing machine – which sometimes gets in the way of understanding just what its products do and don’t do, and where they all fit. This obfuscation also extends to its extensive range of partners, where again it is sometimes hard to know who it deals with and how.

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Enghouse Expands Its Portfolio of Contact Center Vendors

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 31, 2012 8:49:02 AM

A look at Enghouse Interactive’s Products page shows it is not the easiest of companies to understand. Listed are six products – companies actually – that make up the parent: Arc Solutions, CosmoCom, Datapulse, Synellect, TelRex and Trio. As yet this list doesn’t include the latest acquisition, Zeacom. All the businesses in some way connect to multichannel communications and the contact center, with products that range, respectively, from communication management systems for Cisco, a cloud-based contact center, unified communications applications that improve collaboration between employees within an organization, a premises-based multichannel contact center, IP call recording and workforce management, and telephony systems, with Zeacom adding a cloud-based unified communications system based on Microsoft Lync.

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VPI Optimize Agents for Quality Customer Interactions

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 26, 2012 12:10:14 PM

VPI, a well established vendor in the workforce optimization (WFO) space, was recently rated as a Hot vendor in the Ventana Research Agent Performance Management 2012 Value Index, which extends the traditional definition of WFO to include multichannel interaction capture, agent-related analytics, and agent compensation management. VPI’s Hot rating is a tribute to the functionality and architecture of its suite, even though it doesn’t include a WFM product (instead, workforce management is supported through integration with a number of the specialist WFM products) or compensation management.

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Knowlagent Increases Agent Utilization and Customer Satisfaction

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 25, 2012 11:41:35 AM

Knowlagent has carved out a unique position in the agent performance management market. Everyone involved in running a contact center knows how difficult it is to manage agent time so that agents are available within service level agreement specifications to answer inbound customer calls, have sufficient time to carry out other essential tasks such as breaks, training, coaching and making outbound calls, but not burn themselves out. Our research into agent performance management shows that many companies, especially those with a small number of seats in their contact centers, use spreadsheets or specialized workforce management systems to try to achieve this delicate balance. Because of the limitations of these systems, most centers can only work with 15-minute slots as they attempt to optimize agent utilization. Even with the best planning, the random nature of inbound call patterns means that agents typically have two-minute slots of ideal time, and these can occur at random intervals, according to research sponsored by Knowlagent that we carried out. Knowlagent has therefore developed a product called Knowlagent RightTime that monitors in real time what agents are doing and then seeks to allocate tasks to agents to optimize their time within the parameters set up by the company – a process it calls automated intraday management.

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Kana Acquires Ciboodle

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 24, 2012 10:16:35 AM

This month Kana announced it had acquired contact center provider Ciboodle. This comes a few years after Ciboodle was acquired by Sword, a marriage that apparently didn’t work out because Sword, a predominantly services company, didn’t make the necessary investment in the Ciboodle products to keep them competitive. Kana, looking to expand its portfolio beyond service experience management, spotted that Ciboodle, with its customer experience management portfolio, provided a good, complimentary set of products – so hopefully this ends up as a happy marriage.

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Journey Maps Enhance the Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 17, 2012 10:23:04 AM

My research into customer experience management shows that companies are increasingly aware that the customer experience has a profound impact on business success. In almost equal numbers, participants said it determines the loyalty of customers (21%), the propensity of customers to recommend the company to others (21%), the amount of additional purchases they make (19%) and their general level of satisfaction (19%). Furthermore, companies also realize that good experiences save money, because customers complain less (11%) and contact them less frequently (9%).

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Agents Performance Management is Hot for Successful Customer Interactions

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 16, 2012 12:23:44 PM

Our benchmark research into agent performance management shows that the majority of companies are not very mature in their use of people, processes, information and technology in handling customer interactions. Companies are most mature is their use of information, but even in this area they are hampered by their failure to use the latest technologies available to support their efforts.

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Callminer Expands Into Text and Social Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 12, 2012 9:10:46 AM

Callminer is best known as a vendor of speech analytics software. Along with its own suite, its products also are embedded in those of several other vendors to provide speech analysis. During a recent briefing, I learned that the company has not only expanded into text and social analytics but also that its latest release includes more features and a friendlier user interface, two requirements that my research shows are essential in persuading companies to more widely adopt analytics for customer-facing processes.

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Hold-Free Networks’ Can Enhance Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 2, 2012 11:27:01 AM

Many companies have legacy systems in their contact centers, especially systems to manage telephony. My research into the use of technology in centers shows they can create headaches for center managers whose budgets don’t allow them to invest in new systems to match emerging business requirements and changes in consumer behaviors. My research into customer relationship maturity shows that consumers now want to interact with companies through multiple communication channels, with social media and smartphones rapidly emerging as the two channels of choice, which legacy systems cannot accommodate.

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Mobile Customer Service: New Generation of Interaction Technology

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 29, 2012 11:32:21 AM

Recently a flurry of vendors have announced new products that enable companies to build mobile customer service applications that I have analyzed, including GenesysInteractive Intelligence, Jacada and NICE Systems. All are intended to respond to customer demands for self-service through mobile devices. At a recent customer engagement day, I gave a keynote address on the likely impact of mobile apps and social media on customer service, and I chaired three round-table discussions on the subject of mobile apps with senior customer service and contact center managers so I could gather their side of the story.

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Social Dynamx Enables Social Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 25, 2012 10:58:07 AM

I hear a lot of talk about  the impact of social media on customer service and the contact center. My research into customer relationship maturity shows much of this is only talk. The research shows that while many companies have rushed to create a Twitter handle and a Facebook page and put video on YouTube, most are struggling to integrate social media into their customer service or more broadly their customer engagement strategy and processes.

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SAS Expands Business Relevance in Using Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 18, 2012 12:22:12 PM

After the SAS analyst event last year, I wrote that it is hard to keep track of everything SAS has to offer because it had so many products and developments in the pipeline. Back from this year’s event, I can report that 2011 was successful, its revenue and worldwide presence are up, and SAS continues to expand its channels to market. On top of everything I saw last year even more products and developments are in the pipeline, but the theme and focus remain the same: enabling business analytics.

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Vitria Aims To Boost Adoption of Operational Intelligence

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 8, 2012 10:02:44 AM

Ventana Research was the first analyst firm to cover operational intelligence, and a while back I wrote how the products of Vitria support proactive customer service by using event data to anticipate likely impacts of operation issues on customer service. Our research into the use of analytics shows that while more mature companies have begun to adopt OI, they are mainly early adopters. In an effort to speed up adoption, Vitria has developed what it calls operational intelligence apps and it has opened up a trial program for companies to explore how they can help improve their operations using these new applications.

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Jacada Supports Mobile Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 5, 2012 9:13:58 AM

Jacada pioneered what I call a smart agent desktop when in 1990 it created the tools that allow companies to develop a desktop application that follows the process of handling a call, hides applications behind a simple-to-use interface and automates access and updating of systems. This smart agent desktop enables agents to answer calls more efficiently and effectively and to focus on the customer. The product includes tools that allow developers to map the process of handling different call types, build the user interface to match those processes, interface with applications and report on various aspects of how calls are handled.

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Echopass Demonstrates Value of Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on May 31, 2012 11:09:27 AM

Our benchmark research into the contact center in the cloud shows that almost all companies now support multiple communication channels to engage with customers. Most of them also involve multiple business units in handling inbound and outbound interactions. More companies now support at-home agents, and contact centers are becoming more distributed. These scenarios are a good fit for cloud-based systems, and the research finds that the top three ways organizations said they can meet these challenges, and thus improve the way interactions are handled, are to improve training and coaching, adopt applications in the cloud and adopt communications in the cloud. It also shows that organizations have high expectations of cloud-based systems, expecting them to require less capital expenditure, facilitate innovation in interaction handling, lessen demand on in-house resources, including IT and better support home-based agents.

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Cloudforce UK Shows at Its Best

Posted by Richard Snow on May 24, 2012 11:14:00 AM

When the marketing machine rolls into town, you have to sit up and listen, and that’s what 14,000 attendees did at the latest Cloudforce event in London. The company took over a vast portion of the ExCel London Exhibition Centre to accommodate the keynote speech, lots of side events and meeting rooms and an expo floor where attendees could see demonstrations of every product and service, including many from partners showing what they have to offer.

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Splunk Provides Intelligence for Customer Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on May 22, 2012 1:04:49 PM

Recently my colleague Mark Smith wrote about Splunk and its latest technology supporting analytics for IT on machine data and providing operational intelligence. I wasn’t familiar with the company, which has focused on IT users and improving the performance of a company’s networks and IT systems. From a customer management perspective, these are of little interest unless they impact the customer experience; for example, if the website is down or the online banking system is unavailable. But in a follow-up briefing I learned that Splunk is increasingly playing in the business analytics market and has several user cases that relate directly to customers.

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Genesys Moves into Mobile Self-Service for Customers

Posted by Richard Snow on May 21, 2012 11:29:55 AM

It has been a busy time for Genesys, a company best known for computer/telephony integration (CTI) and routing software for contact centers. In February it split from Alcatel-Lucent and announced that with financial backing from two investment funds it was going forward as a stand-alone company. Over the last few years Genesys has diversified its portfolio to include workforce optimization, agent desktop, intelligent customer front door (ICFD) and analytics. Amid the current economic uncertainties, going it alone might seem risky and lead it to focus on these core products before expanding more. Not so; at its recent customer event, it announced a new product, Genesys Mobile Engagement, that it says “links mobile apps to customer service agents.”

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NICE Systems Mobile Customer Self-Service Connects to Agents

Posted by Richard Snow on May 18, 2012 11:35:23 AM

Conventional wisdom in the contact center is that self-service options for customers reduce the number of their telephone calls. However, my benchmark research into the use of technology in contact centers throws doubt on this, finding that companies still expect the volume of interactions through all channels, including the phone, to increase. This is further supported by my benchmark research into customer experience management which shows many customers starting out with self-service opt to call the contact center because they cannot resolve their issues. In recognition that for the foreseeable future agent-assisted service is likely to sit alongside self-service,  NICE Systems recently announced Mobile Reach,an application that ties self-service on mobile devices to agent assistance.

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Market Dynamics Force Change at Transcom

Posted by Richard Snow on May 16, 2012 11:46:23 AM

I have written several times that the market dynamics around customer relationships are changing faster now than at any previous time in my experience. Smartphones and tablets are changing the way consumers communicate, social media has opened up a channel of communications over which companies have little control, and finding new customers has become harder, so companies are placing more emphasis on retaining existing customers and increasing the amount of business they do with each. One option for organizations to address these challenges is to outsource the task to a third party that specializes in these issues.

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Make It Simple for Customers To Engage with You

Posted by Richard Snow on May 8, 2012 10:01:02 AM

A recent research project involving 7,000 consumers carried out by the Harvard Business Review concluded that to retain customers and get them to buy more products, organizations must make it simple for people to engage with them, provide information they trust and allow them to weigh their options before they buy. The research found that consumers are bombarded with information and choices, and as a result they tend to go down the easiest route, which often leads them to take a blinkered view: I haven’t got the time and energy to consider options so I’ll take this one.

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Interactive Intelligence Offers Customers Mobile Self-Service

Posted by Richard Snow on May 7, 2012 10:10:05 AM

Interactive Intelligence announced Interaction Mobilizer, the latest application in its growing portfolio of products. As I recently wrote, Interactive Intelligence has come a long way since it launched its first software-based PBX in 1994. It was a pioneer in offering contact center applications in the cloud, which now include communications in the cloud and products for workforce optimization. The latest announcement follows similar ones from other vendors also announcing applications to support mobile self-service. Each of those products supports slightly different sets of capabilities, but all of them follow the trend to provide organizations with another channel through which customers can interact with them, and support customers who want self-service capabilities from their smartphones or tablets.

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Customer Engagement Day Reveals New Issues and Opportunity

Posted by Richard Snow on May 1, 2012 11:15:47 AM

I recently attended the second in the series of customer engagement days organized by the Directors Club (GB & NI). The format of the event was the same as the first day that I wrote about and included three keynote presentations and three roundtable sessions where attendees discussed how organizations should engage with customers. As for the first event I chaired the roundtable on perfecting multichannel customer engagement in the contact center and gave a keynote on how social media is impacting the contact center.

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Interactive Intelligence Puts Meaning Back in Innovation

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 23, 2012 9:17:38 AM

Marketing claims about a company’s innovation have become so common as to be almost meaningless, and this is true in the software business. That’s a shame because it obscures cases in which a vendor really is innovative. For example, at a recent partner and analyst event hosted by Interactive Intelligence (ININ), its CMO told me that ININ has stopped using the phrase “deliberately innovative”  because claiming to be innovative isn’t helpful in getting across its messages.

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Verint Revamps Applications in Information-Driven Approach

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 20, 2012 11:55:32 AM

Verint is one of the major players in the contact center market, with two suites of products that support contact centers and voice of the customer analysis. The company’s website shows that these suites have been put together from a combination of in-house developments and acquisitions (Blue Pumpkin, Witness Systems, Mercom, Iontas, GMT and Vovici are among them). Although this strategy has allowed Verint to create comprehensive suites of products in both areas, it also created  issues with integration of the products and a lack of commonality in the user interface. These concerns were the main factors that kept Verint from being ranked as highly as it might have been in our last Value Index for Agent Performance Management (APM).

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Merced Acquisition Spurs NICE Changes

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 19, 2012 10:06:24 AM

Last December NICE Systems announced a definitive agreement to acquire Merced Systems. I have been covering both companies for several years, and initially it wasn’t obvious to me why the acquisition made sense. My colleague Mark Smith wrote about the deal and expressed concerns about how the acquisition would impact both sets of customers and both organizations. Now it turns out that the Merced acquisition will have a much bigger effect on NICE than expected.

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SAS Advances Customer Intelligence

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 18, 2012 11:22:22 AM

SAS is one of the largest and best-known independent vendors of BI and analytics. The company’s website shows  16 product lines, and product variations to match almost every business analytics requirement in any industry. One of its core products lines is Customer Intelligence, which I wrote about last year. Customer Intelligence consists of four main components: strategy and planning, information and analytics, orchestration and interaction, and customer experience – among all these interesting areas, only the last really indicates what the products do.

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Tello Launches Innovative Method To Collect Customer Feedback

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 17, 2012 9:49:08 AM

The various media, including the social form, insist that the customer is king;  exaggeration or not, it is true that understanding their customers is of greater importance to companies than ever before. The newest way to understand customers is to capture all the comments they make about a company, analyze them and produce reports containing information such as likes and dislikes, hot issues, trends and sentiment analyses – many people today call this collection the voice of the customer (VOC). It can help companies with a range of tasks: refining customer-facing strategies, improving products and services, streamlining front- and back-office business processes, focusing training and supporting front-line operational decisions such as how to handle customer interactions.

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Businesses Should Hear Voice of the Customer

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 16, 2012 11:44:40 AM

In the last several years many companies have shifted away from the mad pursuit of new customers toward focusing on retaining existing customers and winning more business from them. Against that background I expected to see a resurgence of customer relationship management processes and systems, but instead there is a growing focus on social media, customer experience management (CEM) and voice of the customer (VOC). I have already voiced my concerns on the level of focus on social business. My research into CEM shows that as yet few companies fully understand it or have the systems they need to support an enterprise-wide CEM initiative. The same seems to be true of VOC.

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inContact Supports Customer Interaction Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 13, 2012 11:06:58 AM

Managing contact centers typically includes five areas: communications management, workforce optimization, business applications such as CRM, analytics and customer experience management. Last year I wrote about how inContact has evolved from a communications provider to sell a contact center in the cloud that supports most of those requirements. Its products cover communications (ACD, CTI, Dialer and IVR), workforce optimization (Quality Management, Workforce Management and eLearning, which includes content production, hiring and screen recording), analytics (Reports 2.0, which through a partnership with QlikView provides enhanced reporting and analysis capabilities) and customer experience management (ECHO Customer Survey).

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Aria Heralds a New Era for Billing Systems

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 12, 2012 10:25:01 AM

Recently I was introduced to Aria, which provides a billing and subscription management system in the cloud. Its target customer is any company that offers subscription- and/or usage-based services. Its core module allows users to set up a product catalogue that consists of plans (such as subscription charges or recurring use charges) and inventory items. Usage-based charges can be based on a scale; for example, the first 10 occurrences are charged at one rate, the next 10 at another rate and so on. Users can create a plan by modifying an existing plan or by picking items from a list. Plans are hierarchical, making it easy for companies to update and manage plans built on lower-level plans; for example, a platinum service plan can be made up of a combination of lower-level services such as bronze or silver. Users can also create dependencies – for example, specifying that a plan must include software support or cannot include 7-by-24 calls. Inventory items are one-offs – for example, a modem that allows connection to hosted disc storage – and each of these can have its own charging structure. This may seem complicated, but a demonstration showed that the process consists mainly of ticking boxes or dragging and dropping prebuilt items.

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ResponseTek Enhances Understanding of Customers

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 9, 2012 12:06:03 PM

If they haven’t done so yet, businesses ought to become acquainted with two relatively new concepts: customer experience management (CEM) and voice of the customer (VOC). Ventana Research defines CEM as the practice of managing the customer experience at all touch points regardless of the communications channel being used. To manage that experience, three types of systems are directly helpful: smart desktop technology to help employees deliver great experiences to customers as they are occurring; smart self-service technologies that support easy-to-use, Web-based customer service; and customer feedback management to collect and analyze survey responses, free-form comments and social media posts. This focus is part of my research on trends and best practices in customer feedback management and is part of my latest research agenda. We define VOC as reports and analysis of all customer-related data (structured, unstructured and event-based), not just analysis of speech or feedback.

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A Smart Desktop Enables Customer Service Process Improvement

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 6, 2012 11:53:50 AM

A desktop or laptop computer is an essential tool for people who carry out customer-facing activities, especially contact center agents. My benchmark research into the use of technology in contact centers shows that agents may have to use eight systems or even more to handle a simple interaction, and I heard of one case where agents had to navigate 50 screens within one application to close a sale. This all takes time, often leads to errors, frustrates the agent and undermines the customer experience as they wait for their issues to be resolved. Aggravating this situation, people now have to handle more types of interactions and have to use different types of technology to handle new communication channels and collaboration software, while the number and complexity of business applications is also on the increase.

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Expo Shows Maturity of Unified Communications

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 14, 2012 11:56:04 AM

Like many other observers with a business perspective, I have been skeptical of unified communications, but a day I spent at the recent Unified Communications Expo 2012 went a long way to convincing me that unified communications has entered the mainstream. At this point I think organizations should consider it as a viable option to improve the efficiency of their communications systems, the ability to collaborate internally and with customers, and the effectiveness of their multimedia contact centers. 

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Research Reveals Challenge of Building Customer Relationships

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 13, 2012 2:51:39 AM

Businesses have long struggled to build ongoing, profitable relationships with their customers.  Our new benchmark research into customer relationship maturity shows that this is not getting easier. 

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Customer Engagement Day Highlights Issues for Companies

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 9, 2012 10:45:03 AM

My namesake Jon Snow is chairman of the Directors Club (GB & NI), an association for professionals who focus on dealing with customers.Recently he organized the first of a series of customer engagement days designed to bring together senior representatives of U.K. companies to listen to a few presentations about hot issues in engaging with customers and more importantly to share experiences and concerns about key customer engagement issues in roundtable discussions, such as “the rise of the social enterprise,” “listening to the voice of the customer” and “mobile customers require a mobile strategy.” In addition to presenting a keynote on the state of social media in customer service, I chaired a discussion on “perfecting multichannel customer engagement in the contact center.”

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Cicero’s Desktop Helps Users Work Smarter

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 8, 2012 9:54:39 AM

Cicero provides what I call a smart desktop product. The software allows users to hide multiple applications behind an easy-to-use interface and build rules to complete tasks more efficiently and effectively, for example, specifying  what field to complete next or the next question to ask a caller. It enhances customer experience management by enabling users to focus on the customers rather than on how to access the various systems, data and information needed to resolve interactions. 

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The Customer and Contact Management Research Agenda for 2012

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 21, 2012 11:03:33 AM

In all the years I have spent building contact centers and tracking this market, from both business and technology perspectives many things have not changed. Center managers are still under pressure to drive down costs, customers generally are not satisfied with the way their interactions are handled (perhaps less so), and organizations still aren’t making the most of customer interactions. However, as noted in my predictions for 2012, I am expecting more rapid change in the next couple of years than ever before with the advent of a collection of technologies that are already impacting business interactions with customer or by their actions.

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Zeacom Announces Full Support for Microsoft Lync

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 10, 2012 1:50:04 PM

A few months ago, evaluated Zeacom CommunicationsCenter (ZCC), which provides a multichannel contact center that is integrated closely with business process automation. This allows organizations to build a contact center tied to their interaction-handling processes and deliver any form of interaction to the person most qualified to handle it. At the time of my review, the product ran alongside products from the likes of Avaya, Cisco and NEC, and was resold and supported by the partner networks of these suppliers. There was also a beta test under way that supported integration with Microsoft Lync, which provides an alternative to using PBX products from these vendors.

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Enkata Expands Customer Analytics for a Better Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 2, 2012 10:25:26 AM

The products of Enkata have generally been designed for what Ventana Research terms performance management for customer service and call centers, including applications connected to agent performance management (quality monitoring, coaching, training and related analytics) and operational performance analytics based on transactional, structured data. Recently Enkata has taken a new direction with its branding (“changing the customer experience”) and has been filling out its portfolio of products to include analytics for unstructured data, so it now includes speech (courtesy of a partnership with Callminer), desktop, cross-channel and text analytics; the last supports  the analysis of customer surveys and social media posts.

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Confirmit Provides Customer Insights through Surveys

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 30, 2012 11:08:33 AM

Ventana Research believes that to provide excellent customer experiences it is necessary to understand what customers want and their likely behaviors, and one direct way to achieve this is by collecting and analyzing customer feedback. The challenge for organizations in this regard is that most customers are reluctant to complete surveys unless they are provided at an appropriate time, in an easy-to-use format and through the channel of their choice. Confirmit’s Horizons products support collection and analysis of feedback from marketing campaigns, employees and customers. The core survey engine enables design and authoring of surveys, and add-on modules handle collecting data, panel management (of a panel of customers, employees or market segments to help focus business activities) and analysis and reporting. It was built on the Microsoft .Net platform, but the most recent release, version 16, extends support to other environments and browsers. This release also enhances security, scalability and availability so Confirmit can collect hundreds of millions of surveys for customers around the world. The product is available for deployment on-premises or as software as a service (SaaS).

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Feedback Management Can Improve the Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 25, 2012 10:22:02 AM

There is a lot of talk today in customer service circles about the “voice of the customer” (VOC). For some people it means speech analytics (literally the voice of the customer), some others use it as an equivalent to the “360-degree view” of the customer, and for others it is about customer feedback. At Ventana Research we take a broader view and define VOC as reports and analysis that include as much customer information as possible. It should draw data from all available customer sources and use various forms of analytics to extract, report and analyze it as fully as possible. I am also an avid supporter of customer experience management (CEM) and urge companies to focus on the experiences customers receive at every touch point. This is where I see VOC and customer feedback come together.

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Clarabridge Advances Customer Experience Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 13, 2012 8:37:39 AM

Clarabridge is an established vendor of text analytics products, which it sells both directly to the market and indirectly through an extensive set of partnerships with companies such as MicroStrategyIBM Cognos and Verint. Recently it has been marketing its applications under the category of customer experience management (CEM). To me, CEM is about personalizing and influencing the customer experience while an interaction is in progress. Organizations cannot do this without the right information about the customer, and text analytics is one of the primary tools that allows organizations to derive that information; in this way Clarabridge fits in CEM.

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Customer and Contact Center Management in 2012

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 3, 2012 11:35:00 AM

After reviewing the benchmark research I carried out during 2011 into customer and contact center analytics, the use of technology in contact centers and the adoption of cloud-based contact centers and systems, I have come up with a list of critical investments that I predict will distinguish customer and contact center management in 2012.

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Cloud-Based Contact Center Research Finds Deployment Growth

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 20, 2011 12:19:39 PM

Cloud-based systems have arrived as an option for how organizations source their IT systems, now and in the future. Proponents of the cloud – of which I am one – will tell you they have several major advantages over conventional on-premises systems. They require little upfront capital expenditure; the major costs come as a monthly “rental” charge for using the service rather than an annual license; they are less demanding on in-house resources; they are quicker, easier and less risky to implement; there is no annual maintenance fee as updates are built into the service charge; and organizations have disaster recovery taken care of by the vendor. With this background I recently carried out benchmark research to discover organizations’ current and likely adoption of cloud-based systems to support their contact center operations.

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Maturing Customer Relationships Continuously

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 8, 2011 8:20:36 AM

The old proverb “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” applies well to the management of customer relationships. If business technology vendors are to be believed, managing customer relationships involves – indeed, is driven by – software. 

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Actuate Brings Business Intelligence to Customer Information

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 21, 2011 10:02:49 AM

Actuate, which develops commercial versions of the open source Business Intelligence Reporting Tool (BIRT) technology, recently held a one-day event in London. My colleague Mark Smith covers Actuate’s products, but I was impressed by the simplicity of the company’s message, the core of which is that the ActuateOne suite of products allows companies to extract data from multiple data sources, use one product to analyze it and present the results in multiple formats in response to individual user requirements. A key component of this visualization is how easily it can display the results on smartphones and tablets. Actuate presenters demonstrated these capabilities in a lengthy session designed to show that this is “BI for the layman”; that is, after some from help from IT in setting up access to data sources, users can do everything else through the software’s drag-and-drop capabilities. My recent benchmark research into contact center analytics suggests that such simplicity is critical for more business users to adopt BI; if companies are to move away from using spreadsheets to produce their customer and contact center analyses, in addition to being able to do more the new products will have to be as easy to use as spreadsheets.

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Contact Centers Should Align Objectives and Metrics

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 10, 2011 9:59:32 AM

It never ceases to amaze me, when you ask people what their business objectives are and how they are measured, how often the two have little in common. This has been the case consistently in the research I have carried out over the last eight years into customer service and contact center performance. The main objective for contact centers is to improve customer satisfaction, but the key performance metric is average call-handling time. Despite hours of contemplation and discussions with colleagues, I still can’t see how one relates to the other.

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Zeacom Simplifies Multichannel Interaction Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 8, 2011 11:27:17 PM

For years building a call center was technically challenging as it typically involved integrating proprietary products from multiple vendors. Although more vendors now offer integrated solutions, even these can difficult to administer and use because of variable user interfaces and gaps in the integration. These challenges become harder as companies expand their contact centers to support multiple communication channels and agents of several kinds dispersed over multiple locations.

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Despite Recession, Acquisitions Continue in Contact Center Market

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 2, 2011 12:41:29 AM

It has been a busy year for relationships among vendors in the contact center market and despite tough economic times, it doesn’t look like things are slowing down. For example, early this year acquired Radian6 to strengthen its position as a supplier for what it calls “the social enterprise.” This is not a term I particularly like, but there is no doubt CEOs are interested in understanding what customers are saying about them on social media, and so this looks like a smart move. Just how many companies fully understand social media and the implications for their business is another question, but social media is not going to go away so I expect more companies to develop plans for it in 2012.

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Transera Delivers Contact Center Interactions in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 31, 2011 11:22:18 AM

Throughout this year we have seen more vendors begin to offer a contact center in the cloud. The latestis Transera, which offers an integrated set of products that focuses on enabling interactions for customer service agents. It has four main groups of products: operations management, agent management, media and call management, and routing and queuing. 

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Interactive Intelligence Offers Trial Access to Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 25, 2011 11:08:04 AM

Cloud computing offers companies opportunity to innovate in the ways their contact centers handle customer interactions. Systems vendors have been gradually moving call and other interaction management to the cloud, along with some of the core applications required to operate a contact center such as call recording, workforce management and analytics. Interactive Intelligence is one of the front runners in this market with its Customer Interaction Center. To approach potential customers that aren’t convinced of the virtues of cloud-based systems, Interactive Intelligence recently launched a new service, Quick Spin, a trial version of the its suite.

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Moments of Truth in the Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 21, 2011 12:08:52 PM

I find that customer experience management (CEM) means different things to people. Recently I attended a seminar organized by Rapide, a U.K. technology vendor that specializes in helping companies improve their interactions with customers. The seminar included talks from speakers I don’t normally associate with CEM, and they opened up a new perspective that revolves around a concept I first explored while working at Price Waterhouse Consulting: Moments of Truth.

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New Customer and Contact Center Technology at Call Centre Expo

Posted by Richard Snow on Oct 15, 2011 3:33:16 AM

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.

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Interactive Intelligence Advances Cloud-Based Contact Center

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 30, 2011 1:46:08 AM

Interactive Intelligence recently released version 4.0 of its Customer Interaction Center (CIC). CIC provides companies with integrated communications and contact center functions that can be deployed on-premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid environment divided between them. 

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Verint Will Acquire GMT To Extend Workforce Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 29, 2011 1:03:41 PM

Recently Verint announced its intent to acquire GMT, a provider of workforce management products. My initial reaction was that Verint was primarily interested in acquiring GMT’s customer base to extend its already large share of the workforce management market. In a briefing Verint confirmed this but said there are other reasons behind its move as well.

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NICE Acquires Fizzback for Customer Feedback Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 29, 2011 12:25:50 PM

NICE Systems has agreed to acquire Fizzback, a specialist vendor of customer feedback management software. On first read this appears to be another acquisition to gain market share, as NICE already provides a customer feedback tool; however,  Fizzback’s customer base is much smaller than NICE’s, so this looks unlikely. Representatives of NICE explained to me that the acquisition is part of its long-term strategy to enhance its customer feedback management capabilities and to build a stronger voice of the customer.

Read More Presents the Social Enterprise

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 23, 2011 10:08:34 AM

As he opened last week’s Cloudforce 2011 conference in London, CEO Marc Benioff declared that companies “must become social or die.” He reiterated the message in answer to a direct question I put to him during lunch with the media and analysts. I have heard several of his keynotes, and reviewed my colleague analysis from recent Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. and this one had a distinct change of emphasis. Benioff seems to feel that the cloud argument has been won, his big CRM competitors have been overcome and it is time to focus on helping companies grasp the changed business environment they now exist in. Dare I say it, there was even a hint that the answer is software – specifically, software to enable what Salesforce calls the social enterprise.

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Merced Customers Apply Analytics and Metrics To Improve Agent Performance

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 20, 2011 11:01:55 AM

Ventana Research’s benchmark research into agent performance management shows that most companies recognize the vital role contact center agents play in creating good customer experiences and thus good business outcomes. The research also shows that only the most mature companies have put in place processes and metrics that encourage behaviors that deliver such business outcomes. Furthermore, the research shows that companies are held back from adopting more customer-related metrics because they don’t have performance management tools that can help them create such metrics; instead most rely heavily on spreadsheets. Thus I was encouraged to hear during a recent roundtable discussion sponsored by Merced Systems from two customers that have used the Merced Performance Suite to institute a more rigorous, metrics-driven approach to improving agent performance.  

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For Dovetail CRM Means Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 6, 2011 10:17:29 AM

LinkedIn’s CRM experts group is hosting an active discussion about what are the top three CRM systems. Along with the blatant promotion of certain well-known products, you can’t fail to notice that the term means different things to people, and that systems gathered under this acronym may cover a range of capabilities. A closer examination of the discussion shows that a majority of discussion participants associate CRM with sales force automation, fewer with customer service and the fewest with marketing. Dovetail Software belongs in the second group, positioning itself as specializing in “support and service software.” 

Read More and the Big Picture from Dreamforce

Posted by Richard Snow on Sep 2, 2011 12:53:56 PM

Even here in the U.K., we are well aware that’s annual event Dreamforce is happening this week in San Francisco. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there, but a contingent of the Ventana Research team is there, and from what they are telling me it is quite a show. I have written before that Salesforce has the best marketing machine in the world, let alone the software industry, and it seems to have topped previous events. The company undoubtedly has changed the way many companies think about software, forced many vendors to change their delivery models and is impacting the way consumers think about communicating and running their lives. But let me make a few long-range observations.

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Alpine Access Supports Home Agents and Cloud Communications as Outsourcing Alternative

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 29, 2011 10:25:34 AM

In the past companies had two basic choices in how to provide call center services: internally or by outsourcing the service, typically to a company based where labor costs are low. Recently some companies have supplemented their in-company resources with home-based agents, and a growing number of providers offer outsourcing services in-country, for example, in North America. From a technology perspective as well, companies had two choices: on-premises or the outsourcer using its own technology. Here also a third option has opened up as technology vendors provide their systems “in the cloud,” housed at the vendor’s premises and accessed by users over the Internet. One of these is Alpine Access, which offers an alternative to third-party outsourcing through home-based agents and cloud-based technology.

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Echopass Enables Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 19, 2011 10:06:27 AM

In the past year various vendors have begun to offer some or all of the systems required to build and run a contact center through a cloud-based service. I recently came across another one, Echopass, which has a different operating model than I am used to. Its core services are provided by products from two vendors that as yet don’t provide their products in the cloud: Genesys, which supplies call routing, intelligent front-door and intelligent back-office workflow, and Verint for workforce optimization (WFO). Echopass supplements these with other vendors’ products, such as Voxify’s speech platform, speech engines from IBM and Nuance and Microsoft .Net and SQL services. Along with a number of in-house developments this array enables Echopass to offer what is in effect a best-of-breed suite that is integrated to create a unified offering.

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Envision Closes Quality Monitoring Loop

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 17, 2011 8:33:56 AM

Envision is an established provider of workforce optimization (WFO) products and last year was rated a “Hot” vendor in the Ventana Research Value Index for Agent Performance Management (APM). Its suite of products includes recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, coaching, e-learning, performance management and speech analytics. The WFO market is now quite competitive, and along with other vendors, Envision recently announced some product improvements. As well as a number of technical improvements – such as support for more Microsoft products, performance and scalability – the main improvements center on quality monitoring and training of contact center agents. 

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OpenConnect Enables Process Improvement

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 11, 2011 11:29:10 AM

It has taken me a long time to recognize that companies function through a series of processes, mostly executed by people (employees) and supported by information and systems. I was familiar with process maps that show activities happening in sequence and branches caused by certain conditions, but these were mainly paper exercises; my working assumption was that people “just get on with things.” But looking closely reveals that getting on with things happens in processes. To help make this clear, OpenConnect provides a product designed to create process visibility of activities, variances and metrics, with the goal of improving performance.  

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Vitria’s Operational Intelligence Enables Proactive Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 8, 2011 9:42:32 AM

Vitria is one of a small group of vendors offering a type of analytics called operational intelligence. The term is not widely known, although Ventana Research has defined and tracked this market for many years and researched. We define operational intelligence (OI) as “a set of event-centered information and analytics processes operating across the network that enable people to take effective actions and make better decisions.” For its part Vitria defines OI as “a new type of real-time, dynamic analytics that delivers visibility into business operations.” Marry the two and you begin to see what differentiates OI from other forms of analytics. 

Read More Customers Demonstrate Tactical Success

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 5, 2011 9:19:48 AM (SFDC) brought five customers to a recent U.K. analyst event to talk about how they used different SFDC services to solve what turned out to be down-to-earth business issues. SFDC of course would have us believe that moving to the cloud is the only way to purchase IT systems (in its parlance, services) and that it has all the services to solve any issue concerning CRM, sales management, customer service, contact center, social media or software development. Only individual users can judge how successful these services are in their organizations, but the five chosen customers all seemed happy. I want to share with you some observations I gleaned from listening to them. 

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KANA’s SEM Resembles CEM

Posted by Richard Snow on Aug 3, 2011 9:46:50 AM

I’m no great fan of three-letter acronyms, so I wondered what KANA Software means by positioning itself as the leader in service experience management (SEM), which is a term I had not heard. I have thought of KANA as a CRM vendor, but through a program of internal development and two acquisitions, it has transformed itself into something quite different. The acquisition of Lagan in 2010 added additional CRM functionality, enterprise case management and a track record of providing solutions to public-sector authorities. In April of this year Kana announced the acquisition of Overtone, which added text analytics capabilities, with a particular focus on analyzing content extracted from social media. 

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CallCopy Continues To Refine Agent Performance Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 29, 2011 11:20:35 AM

About a year ago I wrote that CallCopy had emerged as a major vendor of agent performance management (APM) software. Ventana Research has updated its definition of APM to mean the people, processes, information and systems involved in effectively managing the entire workforce that handles customer interactions, and this includes interaction recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, training, coaching, incentive management , agent-related analytics and performance management. Our revised definition recognizes that companies now have to manage more channels of communication and that more people, including home workers, are engaged in handling interactions. 

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Verint Expands Feedback Management with Vovici

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 28, 2011 11:25:39 AM

Verint recently announced that it has acquired Vovici,a vendor of enterprise feedback management systems. In light of the fact that Verint was recently rated the top vendor in the Ventana Research Value Index for Customer Feedback Management, at first it seemed odd that the company would buy another that offers a very similar product. In this situation the business driver often is to gain market share, with the net effect being that customers are left with fewer choices. Looking deeper reveals that is not so in this case; comparing the two product sets and target markets you can see benefits for current and future customers. Verint has positioned itself in the customer feedback market and has mainly focused on collecting customer feedback through IVR surveys. In contrast, Vovici has been in the enterprise feedback market and has capabilities for collecting feedback through channels other than IVR, and it also collects employee feedback as well as customer feedback. Thus the combination of the two product sets now enables Verint to offer survey collection and analysis across all channels, both for customers and employees. The Vovici product set also has capabilities to create and run social media-based groups, which provide another avenue for communicating with customers. 

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Optimizing the Customer Experience Requires Dedication

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 18, 2011 12:25:42 PM

In my research area, a lot is said and written these days about optimizing the customer experience. Some say it is done by improving key performance metrics such as customer satisfaction (CSAT), net promoter score (NPS) and customer effort score (CES). Others say customer experience management (CEM) is the “new CRM”; some think it is part of a multichannel service strategy, and for others it is as simple as managing social media. In my view it takes all of these, and other efforts, to optimize the customer experience, and thus it is difficult for companies to achieve. Customer experience management is the practice of managing the effectiveness of customer interactions so the outcome meets the customer’s and the company’s expectations. In any case, the key question is how companies achieve this goal. 

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SAS Helps Optimize Key Business Processes

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 7, 2011 1:20:00 PM

If you look at the SAS Institute home page it appears easy to identify what it does – “the leader in business analytics software and services, and the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market.” My colleague recently assessed them as the multi-billion dollar business analytics supplier which I would agree. However, at the company’s recent analyst event I learned that this description only skims the surface of what it really does; even SAS CMO Jim Davis said he couldn’t be sure of the exact number of products it has (more than 200). Some things, however, are more evident: SAS is successful, with revenues up 6.7% on a like-by-like basis from last year; staff numbers continue to grow (up 2.4% from 2010 and 2011 already showing a 4.9% growth); Fortune named it one of the best places to work; customer satisfaction scores are at an all-time high; and it has enough cash in the bank to be self-funding and able to execute an extensive acquisition program, including companies such as DataFlux, which specializes in data management.

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Managing Customer Communications in a Multichannel World

Posted by Richard Snow on Jul 1, 2011 12:53:31 PM

In the customer service and contact center markets we used to talk about phone calls, letters, faxes and email; now we talk about “communications,” “interactions,” “contacts” and “touch points.”These four terms are used almost interchangeably to talk generally about actions involving customers and can include all forms of communication – calls, documents (letters, email, forms and surveys), website visits, text messages, instant message (chat) sessions and social media – over all types of channels – fixed and mobile phones, in person and the Web. This proliferation of forms and channels of communication has caused various issues for companies.

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Jacada is Back with a Smarter Agent Desktop

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 29, 2011 9:54:52 AM

Jacada was one of the first vendors to provide a unified desktop for contact centers. It simplified the agent’s desktop by replacing several application views with a single view that better followed customer conversations. It also interfaced between those applications so agents didn’t have to worry about which fields to update, where to find data or how many applications they had to use. The unified desktop also enabled agents to address customer issues more efficiently.  

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inContact and Siemens Enterprise Communications Working the Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 22, 2011 9:26:32 AM

While the contact center business is not the most dynamic market, it is undergoing more changes than I have ever seen. One of the biggest changes is coming about because of cloud computing. This trend was led by, and the impact is now being felt in the contact center market as more vendors start to provide a “contact center in the cloud.” I recently wrote about inContact , one of the first vendors to provide a full contact center in the cloud. Recently inContact announced an important partnership – and it’s not an obvious match. 

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Interactive Intelligence Unveils Process Automation for Customer Service

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 14, 2011 11:52:07 AM

Providing good customer service has never been easy, but today it’s more challenging than ever, because of three factors. First is the growing overlap between marketing, sales and customer service. This is driven by customers’ increased expectations about the quality of customer service, the consistency of responses they receive during interactions and privacy legislation that limits companies’ collection and use of customer information and unsolicited contact. These circumstances put pressure on companies to take maximum advantage of all inbound interactions. Second, technology has changed customers’ communication habits, forcing companies to interact with them through multiple channels (including social media); this gets complicated when internally different lines of business hold responsibility for some of the channels. And third, companies can’t afford poor-quality products, services and customer experiences because customer complaints are likely to be broadcast over social media, potentially with devastating effects. To meet these challenges, companies have to start thinking differently; a good place to start is with the processes associated with customer-facing activities. 

In my experience most contact center and customer support staff don’t think in terms of process, they think about tasks – taking an order, resolving a complaint, responding to a request for information and many others that make up their jobs. Each of these tasks is actually a collection of processes, and they fit within bigger processes that often transcend business unit boundaries – for example, taking an order in a contact center is likely a result of a marketing campaign, which may have been followed up by a sales person before finishing in the contact center. Due to organizational and cultural issues, most companies struggle with managing processes that cross these business unit boundaries. A relatively new product from Interactive Intelligence (ININ) can help address these issues. 

Its Interaction Process Automation (IPA) product allows companies to map (or model) their processes, design forms to drive the process, initiate processes, monitor progress throughout the process and report on how well the process worked. It includes a variety of capabilities. The modeling tools provide users with drag-and-drop capabilities to model processes (that is, produce process maps that include actions, tasks and decision points ), even those that transcend business unit boundaries. The form designer tool provides the same type of drag-and-drop capabilities that allow users to create forms, either from presupplied templates or from scratch. Behind the forms are integration capabilities that allow users to extract and display data from existing applications or capture data that can be used to update one or more applications. 

Another component allows users to initiate processes or steps within a process in several ways. A process can be initiated manually by a user, automatically by an event (for example, a notification that the customer accessed the self-service portal), or by a trigger within an application (for example, when a balance falls below a defined threshold). Within a multichannel customer service environment, this trigger-by-event capability can be especially useful as it can ensure that actions or events on one channel trigger a follow-up process on a different channel. For example, if the customer tries but fails to complete a purchase on the company’s website, an outbound contact center agent could be alerted to call the customer back to try and complete the purchase. ININ markets this feature as Communications-Based Process Automation because tight integration with its core CIC platform enables users to trigger processes in response to communication-based events. 

A fourth component monitors the completion of tasks within a process, enabling users to track progress through a complete end-to-end process. And finally IPA comes with a suite of analysis and reporting tools that allow companies to see how well their processes are working. 

As I implied, this process-based orientation might seem alien to people in contact centers, who may not buy into “consultant speak” about communications-enabled business process. However, my research shows that contact centers face many challenges, such as reducing average handling times, improving first-contact-resolution rates, and meeting an ever increasing number of customer-related metrics such as customer satisfaction (CSAT), net promoter score (NPS) and customer effort score (CES), and they need to address them somehow. Any solution depends on having the right information available at every interaction point and making the process as efficient and effective as possible. Although some vendors of more general process automation products claim to play in this space, IPA is one of very few products that address specific issues related to handling customer interactions. Managing diverse set of interactions was found to be quite complex in my benchmark research on contact center technology that find the number of them and varying types to be a challenge. As such, as companies seek to improve their customer-related activities, I recommend that they evaluate what IPA offers. 

Do you face challenges managing processes that cross business unit boundaries? Are you seeking to improve the way you handle customer interactions? If so please tell us more and come and collaborate with me. 


Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

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Attensity Makes Text Analytics Smarter

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 14, 2011 11:20:47 AM

My research into customer analytics shows three important things: Text analytics are at the early adopter stage; companies still use spreadsheets as their main tool for analysis; and to move companies away from spreadsheets vendors must offer tools that are as easy to use as spreadsheets. That’s no easy task, given the huge volume and varied types of text data companies are generating and the complexity of analyzing unstructured text. However, the research also indicates that this challenge will be met, and a new software release from text analytics vendor Attensity is the type of product that can help companies overcome these challenges.  

As with so many things today, the driver is social media. Companies at the very least want to monitor what consumers are “saying” about them on social media, and what consumers are saying produces a lot of unstructured text. Whether tproducts are called text analytics or social media analytics, companies are beginning to deploy systems that allow them to tap into social media and produce analyses of what consumers are saying about their brands, products and services. As they do this, companies are realizing they have a wealth of other sources of text data – email, forms, surveys, Web scripts and others – that can be analyzed to form a bigger picture of their customers, which is now popularly called the Voice of the Customer. 

This need for text analytics plays to the strengths of Attensity. The company recently announced Analyze 6.0 , built on the existing Attensity Data Grid and its powerful natural language processing engine, which can deliver insights, discover trends and analyze sentiment from text-based customer interactions. 

Major enhancements in this new version make the product easier to use. A new exploration environment gives users the ability to create new types of analysis using drag-and-drop techniques. Users can select the data they want to analyze, filter it by several different types of parameters (such as names, products or scores), design a dashboard that meets their individual requirements either from scratch or using one of the provided templates, and then drop the required reports into the dashboard. Users can select from a set of standard reports or build reports to individual requirements. The software provides extensive visualization tools: Information may be displayed as tables; as bar, pie and line charts; as category trees (such as types of complaints within the category Complaints); and as gauges and something Attensity calls word clouds, which display the key words in a document with color-coding and variable font size. Word clouds allow users to get a quick overview of the content of selected documents, which in turn helps them create or refine categories of interactions based on frequently used words. As one user told me, it allows them “to see what they need to know so they can create the correct analysis rules.” Last but not least, new capabilities allow users to share or distribute reports and analysis in multiple forms using one-click access to email. 

The software also supports a number of functional enhancements, starting with new metrics about percentage totals by category or subcategory. The new “hotspotting” feature, which goes beyond normal trend analysis, allows users to see any significant change between the current analysis and a historical trend. For example, some words or phrases may have just started to be used, or a phrase that once occurred 10% of the time now appears 25% of the time. This guides users to look for a significant event that might have brought about the change. The final major functional enhancement allows users to use social media information to enhance their profiles of customers, tracking for example what other products a customer has (and maybe is complaining about). As well, more technical enhancements improve data security and system administration. 

In this major release, Attensity has recognized that different generations of people use new sets of words, phrases and acronyms, and that different industries have their own sets of terms. It has enhanced the application’s word-spotting capabilities to recognize text and social media slang and put it into the context of other content. Attensity also announced a banking industry version that recognizes many specific banking phrases and idioms. This version also includes additional multichannel analysis and enhanced workflow capabilities, which for example allow interactions to be delivered to the person best equipped to deal with them. 

All of these enhancements add up to a major advance in how Attensity Analyze can be used to derive insight from many forms of text-based data. It addresses key issues for users by making the software simpler to use and includes features that go beyond what spreadsheets can provide.  

Recently I wrote that it is time for companies to change the way they handle customer interactions. Gaining insight into what customers like or dislike using text analytics is a good place to start. Has your company recognized the benefits text analytics can deliver? Please come and tell us your thoughts. 


Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

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InContact Enhances Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 8, 2011 11:50:32 AM

I have been writing quite a lot lately about the contact center in the cloud. Now it seems that more vendors are moving in this direction. One of them, inContact has evolved from a telecommunications carrier into a software vendor and now has a suite of products for a contact center in the cloud. It includes many of the necessary communications management capabilities (such as ACD, IVR, CTI and autodial) as well as key workforce optimization applications such as interaction recording, quality monitoring, workforce management and e-learning. Recently inContact announced three new features that add even more capabilities. 

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Clarabridge Expands to Europe and Deepens Text Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Jun 1, 2011 11:08:22 AM

In March U.S.-based text analytics vendor Clarabridge opened an office in the U.K. and recently celebrated it at the British Library in London. Sid Banerjee, the company’s founder and CEO, brought over key members of his team along with representatives of three U.S. clients. He explained that the new office would enable the company to support international clients better and allow expansion into European countries. The three clients then gave detailed presentations on how they use the Clarabridge product to understand their customers better and to use the insights gained to improve business performance.

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Conference Highlights Social Media, Analytics and the Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on May 24, 2011 1:27:24 PM

The Directors Club of the U.K. recently held its inaugural National Customer Show in London. The event was well attended and attracted sponsorship from some of the biggest vendors in the contact center industry; among them were platinum sponsors Interactive Intelligence and, and session sponsors Nexidia and SwordCiboodle. I noticed three common themes, covering very different aspects of managing the customer, and I’ll hit the highlights of each.

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Verint Bolsters Workforce Optimization

Posted by Ventana Research on May 6, 2011 11:55:03 AM

Recently Verint Witness Actionable Solutions announced the latest release of its Impact 360 Workforce Optimization software, which it calls the first  “fifth-generation” product in this space.

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Think Carefully about Social Media and Your Customers

Posted by Richard Snow on May 5, 2011 1:37:26 PM

Unless you have been on a long vacation somewhere without newspapers, mobile phones or the Internet, you must have noticed all the buzz about social media – some of it factual and lots of it hype. Over a billion people use Facebook. There are many millions of tweets on Twitter every day, and YouTube has become the place to share videos, whether for a laugh, for a company’s brand awareness or for training courses. The key question for business is how much of this is useful for commerce and how much is just socializing. I started researching this movement and its intersection some time back and last year spoke about Customer Service in the Social Media Age.

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SAP Diversifies into Contact Center and Communications Technology Market

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 28, 2011 1:37:40 PM

Most people associate SAP with enterprise software: ERP, CRM and more recently with business analytics and business intelligence. The majority also see the company as committed to providing these as on-premises applications and having only begun its presence in cloud computing for business applications. But there’s more to the story, as I recently discovered. With its Business Communications Management (BCM) software SAP has quietly diversified into the contact center market, while at the same time increasing its presence in the cloud.

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Verint and the Multichannel View of Customer Interactions

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 27, 2011 10:46:03 AM

Verint’s Audiolog for Contact Centers provides recording and assessment of customer interactions. The latest product release adds functionality that the market wants. My latest research into the state of technology in contact centers confirms that most companies now support multiple channels of communications with their customers. The results show that companies on average support four channels, which may include anything from the telephone to text messaging, chat and social media. As well as the challenge of implementing and supporting these channels, companies need to understand  which ones most customers are using, for what purposes and how many channels they use to resolve their issues; it’s important to know, for example, if someone begins on the website, transitions to social media and finally calls the contact center.

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It’s Time for the Contact Center To Change

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 26, 2011 4:07:13 PM

Twenty years ago, when I began consulting in the contact center industry, building a call center was a hard, resource-consuming task. Just to begin handling calls required purchasing lots of proprietary equipment, such as PBXs and automatic call distributors (ACDs), as well as software for computer/telephony integration (CTI) and business applications such as case management and CRM – and then spending a lot of time and effort integrating them. Lots of tasks were managed using spreadsheets, and if you wanted anything more than the basic reports available from your PBX/ACD supplier, you would have to budget a great deal more money. Right from those early days, call center managers focused on efficiency and relied on basic metrics such as queue lengths, average call-handling time, hold times and call transfers.

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Interactive Intelligence Integrates Contact Center Interactions

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 22, 2011 7:11:34 AM

Interactive Intelligence (ININ) recently invited partners, consultants and analysts to Portugal to hear about the latest developments in its products. Not surprisingly given the extensive range of products it now supports, none of us had much time to enjoy Lisbon but were put through an intensive program of presentations and discussions.

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PBBI Provides Portrait of Customers through Predictive Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 13, 2011 9:25:21 PM

Since last summer, Portrait Software has been part of the Pitney Bowes Business Insight (PBBI) subsidiary. Since the acquisition the combined teams have been putting together a comprehensive set of products to support data quality and customer interaction management. The suite includes the Portrait Self-Service Analytics, Miner, Uplift, Uplift Optimizer, Dialogue, Interaction Optimizer and Foundation modules. The first four provide insights to understand customer interactions and the other three support acting on those insights. Recently PBBI announced updates to both Miner version 6.0 and Uplift Optimizer.

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Executives Learn about Advances in Customer Experience Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 6, 2011 5:50:12 PM

IQPC Europe, a global organizer of business conferences, recently held its Executive Customer Contact Exchange, where contact center and customer service executives and senior managers gathered to find out about developments in the management of customer interactions and the customer experience. Attendees had a variety of reasons for coming; the largest group consisted of attendees who  (29%) said they were interested in customer experience management (CEM), while others expressed interest in specific applications or systems (18%), multichannel customer service (10%), self-service (10%) and social media (8%). The remaining one-fourth said they were interested in various subjects including performance management, outsourcing, agent training and scheduling. The low interest in social media seems to go against the media hype about this channel but reflects my latest research into the state of technology in contact centers, which shows that less than one-quarter of companies have implemented social media.

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Contactual Delivers Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Apr 1, 2011 7:27:57 AM

Creating the technology architecture for a modern contact center is no easy task. To do so, companies typically have to integrate lots of technology: systems to manage their communication channels (voice, e-mail, postal mail, mobile, Web, IM, etc.), systems to route interactions to the best available resource to handle the interaction, be it human or automated (routing, IVR, CTI, etc.), applications to manage the workforce that is handling interactions (quality monitoring, workforce management, training, coaching, etc.), applications to manage business transactions resulting from the interactions (CRM, ERP, billing, etc.), and performance management systems (operational, business, speech, text, social media, desktop analytics). In my recent blog about the contact center technology revolution in 2011, I alluded to the fact that some vendors are making this task easier by making many of these systems available in the cloud and pre-integrating them.

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IBM’s Smarter Commerce Hits Most of the Right Notes

Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 24, 2011 7:35:53 AM

According to IBM everything now has to be “smart,” and its latest announcement heralding smarter commerce addresses customer-related activities. I find it interesting, as I have been researching for some time about the need for a smarter agent desktop and smarter Web self-service. My perspective, derived from observations in my research, is that companies need to focus on effectiveness in providing positive customer experiences rather than today’s almost exclusive focus on efficiency in customer service operations.

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Four Steps for Improving the Customer Experience

Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 17, 2011 7:53:37 PM

There is a lot of talk today about customer experience management, but use of the term is vague, much as customer relationship management meant different things to different people. For some it is much the same as CRM, for others it is about using the voice of the customer to gain insights to make customer-related decisions. I have another view. Let’s consider phone calls, which according to my research into the use of technology in contact centers, is still the main way consumers interact with companies. What makes these calls good or bad experiences? Being driven mad by a badly created IVR system and waiting in a queue both come down on the “bad” side, and companies should do something about them. Those aside, my research into agent performance management(APM) shows that the majority of companies correctly believe that how their agent deals with the call makes the difference. So it makes sense that companies should take action to help agents deliver good experiences. Here are four things they can do.

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CallTower Powers Communications in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 13, 2011 9:46:12 PM

The contact center market is buzzing with talk about cloud-based computing. It began with applications such as CRM from, then came IBM with services based on hardware in the cloud and recently vendors such as ContactualinContact, and LiveOps have brought nearly complete contact centers into the cloud. As well, vendors such as Interactive Intelligence have announced communications in the cloud. Now I have always considered public communications to be in the cloud: How else does a telecommunications operator route a call from one part of the world to another? Likewise how does the Internet log users into websites, which are based who knows where? What Interactive Intelligence and other such vendors do is add intelligence to call-handling – they make communications smarter. For example, they add smart routing so calls can be delivered based on a predefined set of rules. This is beneficial to companies running “virtual” contact centers because a call can be routed to the location and person best qualified to handle it.

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VPI Makes Contact Center Operations Suite and Simple

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 9, 2011 9:07:41 PM

Running a contact center has never been easy, and today it is harder than ever. Customers have become more demanding of good service and less tolerant of errors and are inclined to communicate over multiple channels of communications. Companies not only have to get all the technology together to handle all these forms of interactions but must also ensure that their contact center agents are working as efficiently and effectively as possible. My latest research into the technologies companies use in trying to achieve these objectives shows that three goals dominate most companies’ planning: improving the information they have available to monitor and assess their overall operation, agents’ performance and the outcome of interactions; focusing training and coaching to better target the needs of individual agents; and improving their interaction-handling processes.

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The Contact Center Technology Revolution in 2011

Posted by Richard Snow on Mar 9, 2011 7:50:53 AM

With the new year has come a significant advance in contact center technologies, enabling enterprises to roll out new applications and interaction-handling processes in record time. What used to take six months to a year to develop and deploy – and that was considered fast! – can now be done in a week or two, creating more potential for innovation in contact centers than I have seen in the last 20 years.

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Alcatel-Lucent Future Depends on Software

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 16, 2011 5:07:03 PM

Recently I wrote that Genesys is transforming itself from a near-pure-play CTI/call routing vendor into an agent performance and customer experience management vendor. If you look at its parent company, Alcatel-Lucent, you can begin to understand why. Alcatel-Lucent has three basic businesses – voice networks, data networks and Genesys. Its 2010 results show that voice represents 48 percent of the business, data 21 percent and Genesys 31 percent; growth came from its data networks and Genesys units. Indeed, Genesys saved the day for the 2010 results with “a major turnaround” in the fourth quarter;  otherwise one suspects 2010 would have been flat at best. Genesys’ success came not from its traditional communications businesses but from its newer intelligent workload distribution (iWD), workforce management optimization (WFO) and analytics services.

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NICE Systems Reports Great Financial Results and Acquisition

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 15, 2011 5:54:55 PM

NICE Systems has announced its financial results for 2010, and they make impressive reading in what many consider a difficult market, for contact center systems. I’m not prone to quoting financial figures, but with revenues up to US$695 million (from US$589 million) and non-GAAP profit and margin up to US$451.9 million and 65%, respectively (from US$371.1 million and 63.1%), it certainly seems NICE’s customers are in safe hands. The company also is generating lots of cash, so potential competitors and acquisition targets should beware; this is where the surprise mentioned in my title comes in.

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Jacada Withdraws Analytics While Market Heats Up

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 11, 2011 2:04:40 PM

My latest research into contact center analytics shows how important it has become for companies to improve the way they monitor and assess the performance of their centers. In fact 41% said they could significantly improve the performance of their centers by using analytics, and 47% think they could improve somewhat. Their main requirements are to have more real-time operational analysis and metrics – that is, better insights into what is going on in their centers at the moment people need to know it and a more balanced set of metrics that mixes pure efficiency metrics (such as queue lengths and hold times) with effectiveness or outcome metrics such as first-call resolution, up-sales and customer retention rates; they also want capabilities that are simple to use but effective.

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Genesys Expanding to Agent Performance Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Feb 10, 2011 2:59:23 PM

In the contact center market Genesys is synonymous with computer/telephony integration (CTI) and call routing. It was the first vendor to combine routing of calls to agents and using CTI to pop screens onto the agent’s desktop when the call was put through. Genesys has been adding products to its portfolio and now has expanded into what Ventana Research terms agent performance management (APM) and our benchmark research. Many vendors and other analyst firms use the term workforce optimization (WFO) to included applications such as call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management and agent-focused performance management and analytics. At Ventana Research we add call routing, training and coaching and compensation management to the standard WFO applications, hence APM. Our premise is that if you want to provide to customers the best possible experiences, you must do more than just have enough agents online to serve them; you also need to make sure that the call is routed to the right agent, that agents hone their skills to the highest level to resolve as many interactions as possible at the first attempt and that agents that achieve their goals are rewarded appropriately.

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Is the World Ready for One Source of Customer Data?

Posted by Richard Snow on Jan 14, 2011 5:31:49 PM

If you listen to (SFDC) then you’d have to believe the answer is an emphatic “Yes.”

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Cisco Finesses Agents with Real Time Support Using Nexidia

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 29, 2010 2:21:01 PM

Contact centers face a number of challenges beyond simply answering customer calls. Among them are improving  customer satisfaction, increasing the number of calls resolved at the first attempt and ensuring agents comply with  regulations. But chief among these, my research into contact center analytics shows, is the mandate to reduce the average length of time it takes to complete calls.

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Verint Adds New Dimension to Contact Center Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 13, 2010 5:22:34 PM

One of the problems in the contact center and IT worlds is that terms mean different things to different people. Take “contact center” for example. The meaning was clear when it was just the call center because people knew it was a place that centralized the handling of customer phone calls. It became the virtual call center when calls were distributed over multiple sites. Then it became the contact center because some companies started to ask agents (a term that is interchanged with customer service representative, customer service agent and the like) to handle forms of interaction other than calls – e-mail, letters, chat and others. Now “center” has lost relevance as interactions are handled by the “best” person in an organization, whether in a formal center or working at home; indeed the agent may be in-company or working for a third party that provides outsourced interaction-handling services. This situation makes the term “contact center analytics” imprecise because what is really required is interaction-handling analytics.

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NICE Systems Rebrands Smart Desktop for Agents

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 9, 2010 5:37:54 PM

A few weeks back I wrote about how NICE Systems was venturing into the back office and my surprise that the core smart desktop product it had acquired with eglue, while a key part of this initiative, seemed to have disappeared as a stand-alone offering. Since then NICE has corrected my impression, pointing out that the product is still available in pretty much the same form as always. The problem is that you have to look hard to find it because it has been renamed Real-Time Process Optimization. If you follow this link, you won’t see confirmation that this really is the eglue product, but I assure you it is.

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NICE Systems Ventures into the Agent Back Office

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:26:52 PM

Most people involved with contact centers know of NICE Systems and its SmartCenter suite of workforce optimization products that support key contact center management capabilities such as call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, customer feedback management and a variety of performance management and analytics tools. NICE recently received the top ranked Hot Vendor rating in the Ventana Research 2010 Value Index for Agent Performance Management.

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inContact Provides Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:25:30 PM

All the buzz in the contact center market these days is about the “contact center in the cloud.” I have written on the subject, in particular “Is a Contact Center in the Cloud a Reality?” and “Will Cloud Computing Finally Bring Innovation to the Contact Center?”. In considering this issue my thinking focuses on what goes into a contact center and then what vendors offer these systems in the cloud. At the risk of oversimplifying things, I believe a contact center has two core components – communications management and agent and process management.

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LiveOps Enhances Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:23:48 PM

I have written a couple of pieces this year about the exciting news that a few vendors are now able to provide companies with a call center they can access in the Internet cloud – Will Cloud Computing Finally Bring Innovation to the Contact Center? and Is a “Contact Center in the Cloud” a Reality? There is currently a lot of hype around any kind of cloud-based computing, and the same is true of the contact center. From my perspective, people should be clear about what this phrase really means. Anyone that has been involved in building an on-premises contact center knows it typically involves integrating complex call-management systems (such as PBX, ACD and IVR) and several computer systems including call routing, call recording, workforce management, CRM, agent quality monitoring and performance management, reporting and analytics. The idea is that calls or other types of interactions are delivered to the company’s call center location and then the combination of these technologies determines the best agent to handle the interaction and delivers it to that person. The contact center in the cloud shifts some or all of these systems to a third party, and the company accesses them over the Internet. The difference is that instead of going to the company’s location, an interaction is directly delivered to the best person to handle it, regardless of whether that person is in another location, in a contact center, in another line of business, working at home or even out of the office using a mobile phone. In addition, users are in control in the sense that rather than depending on in-house IT, they can access the service from anywhere with an Internet connection and get new features and functions without waiting for IT to upgrade.

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Enkata Advances Contact Center Analytics to Improve Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:22:33 PM

Among the important findings of our latest benchmark research on contact center analytics were these two: 88 percent of companies said they can use analytics to improve the performance of the contact center (41% said they could make significant improvement), and the main issue holding them back from doing that is an excessive reliance on spreadsheets (90% indicated they use spreadsheets on a regular or universal basis).

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Aurix Powers New Generation of Speech Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:21:11 PM

Aurix is not a widely recognized vendor in the speech analytics market even though its technology powers products provided by companies such as CallCopyKnoahSoftNewVoiceMedia and OnviSource. In fact its strategy is to provide the engine that these and other partners use in market-facing speech analytics solutions. Its main product, Aurix speech search SDK, is a search engine that searches through call recordings to find specified words, terms and phrases. It uses advanced phonetic search technology rather than the more common technique of large-vocabulary continuous speech recognition (LVCSR) and thus allows users to avoid setting up a library of the words they want to search for. This approach makes it easier to work with different languages and to pick out slang, jargon, product and place names, and other words not normally found in a dictionary.

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Think Outside the Box when Investing in Salesforce Chatter

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:19:28 PM

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog discussing (SFDC) Chatter and the buzz the technology is making in which one of my biggest questions was how a non-SFDC customer could justify purchasing Chatter. Well I finally got to speak with someone who has paid at least partially for Chatter. I say partially because this particular customer already has several hundred licenses with SFDC (which entitle them to use Chatter for free) but has paid for several hundred other users to also have access.

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Merced Systems’ European Event Showcases Best Practices and Customer Insights

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:18:18 PM

Merced Systems provides software to support performance management in both sales and service. Its products extract data from various systems to produce business-related reports, dashboards, scorecards and analysis that help companies improve performance in these two key functions. To further its efforts, Merced recently invited around 100 partners, customers and prospects to its 360 Degree Performance Management Forum in London. As well as the usual presentations and demonstrations to convey its messages, successes and strategy, the customer presentations provided practical insights into how companies use these products to gain real business benefits. Since my colleague covered Merced’s U.S. event in depth on applications and technology, I will assess one of the customer presentations in more depth.

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Teradata Advances Personalized Marketing Using Analytics

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:16:52 PM

Most people would describe Teradata as a data warehouse and analytics vendor as my colleague has reviewed its core technology. In addition to that, through its own development and by partnering, the company has branched out into the applications market. One such application is Teradata Relationship Manager (TRM) main purpose is to personalize customer interactions, regardless of channel or type of interaction, although its target area is predominantly marketing.

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Cicero Has Smart Agent Desktop for Contact Centers

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:15:36 PM

My research over seven years persistently shows that the two main business objectives in a contact center are to reduce average call-handling time (AHT) and improve customer satisfaction. It doesn't seem unreasonable to ask why after all this time most companies haven't come up with solutions to these challenges. To find the answer, I think you have to look at the causes. I believe the big two are that "not all agents are equal" - some are more successful at handling calls than others - and that the combination of tools most of them are given - their agent desktop - to support their efforts is a mess.

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SAS Supports Marketing through Customer Intelligence

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:13:58 PM

SAS is a presence in analytics of virtually every kind and my colleague the broader value of SAS earlier this year. Only a couple of months back I wrote briefly about one of its newest offerings, Social Media Analytics. Since then I have had a chance to see this product in action. While the current version isn’t what I would describe as on the leading edge, it provides capabilities companies need right now. In simple terms it lets companies farm data from multiple social media sites (using extensions of its well-proven data extractors), processes these through a version of its core BI applications and then presents what consumers are saying about a company in ways that are easy to use and understand. Users can see customer sentiments about various topics such as company brand, products or services and get a view of trends and likely causes of changes of sentiment. Now that many consumers and customers are expressing their views through social media, this kind of information becomes vital to plotting future activities and helping to make smart decisions.

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The Buzz Is about Chatter

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:12:13 PM

On Wednesday, September 9, 2010 the massive marketing machine called rolled into London to stage its 2010 Cloudforce event at the Royal Festival Hall. The clout of CEO Mark Benioff and his team in the IT industry was evident in the fact that at short notice they could postpone the event by a day and still get about 3,000 attendees, stage a massive partner show and put on a keynote speech and side events that kept the attendees busy and informed about latest developments with and its customers and partners. But through it all one thing stood out – Chatter.

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Contact Center Analytics Help Reduce Average Call-Handling Time

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:10:05 PM

My research continues to show that the most important key performance indicator (KPI) for call centers is average call-handling time (AHT). Furthermore, second in importance only to improving customer satisfaction is the challenge of reducing operating costs, which invariably involves trying to reduce AHT, which contact centers need to do without negatively impacting customer satisfaction. An indicator of the complexity of this issue is its persistence as one of the longest-running and most active debates on LinkedIn.

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KnoahSoft Harmonizes Agent Performance Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:08:45 PM

Over the last decade in my research into contact center operations has revolved around the four operational challenges faced by center managers: to reduce average call-handling time, increase agent utilization, increase customer satisfaction and one recently gaining in importance, to increase first-contact-resolution rates. The first two clearly relate to the core issue of reducing operational costs; the latter two focus on customer retention. At the center of meeting all these challenges are the contact center agents. Those of us who follow relevant LinkedIn discussions see that many experts and center managers agree on his point, but most also point out that even skilled agents need technology to help them.

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Clarabridge’s Text Analytics Improve Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:06:48 PM

I have been doing research into customer relationship management (CRM), contact centers and analytics for seven years. Throughout that time some customer-related themes have remained constant: Companies say their top driver is to improve customer satisfaction; customer experience management (CEM) has overtaken CRM as a top priority; and companies still search for a 360-degree view of the customer (which now is often called “the voice of the customer”). For many companies these themes remain problematic. Most don’t really know how satisfied their customers are; many are not sure exactly what CEM is; and that 360-degree view of the customer remains elusive.

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Vitria Adds Operational Intelligence to Customer Experience Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:05:05 PM

In my writing and speaking, I try to avoid “market babble,” which numbs ordinary readers with technology buzzwords and three-letter acronyms. Lately I have been accused of overusing the phrase “interaction-handling processes,” which some people have taken as an instance of market-speak. So I’ll explain what I mean by it. It has to do with contact center agents – or customer service representatives, if you prefer – trying to resolve customers’ issues. When handling a call, for example, this includes how they identify the caller, how they identify the caller’s issue, the systems they use to resolve the issue, how they close the call, and what they need to do afterward. It used to be common for companies to provide agents with a script to guide them through this process, but now these inflexible routines are being replaced with more advanced automated systems. These systems guide the agent through interactions of different types – general inquiries, complaints, sales and support, say – and allow them to personalize responses based on the caller’s profile. It is generally true that the more an agent can adapt the process to personalize the responses, the better the customer experience will turn out.

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Agent Performance Management Is Important to the Customer Experience

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:02:41 PM

My research into Customer Experience Management shows that four of the top five factors that influence a customer’s experience in dealing with a contact center relate to agents: their attitudes, understanding of the customer’s issue, ability to resolve issues the first time and general knowledge (third on the list was average queue times). The research also shows that the largest volumes of actionable interactions are still phone calls to a contact center; social media interactions perhaps generate more in pure numbers, but many of these are complaints about the way consumers are treated during other forms of interaction. In any case, there is no doubt that agent performance has a fundamental impact on the customer experience.

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Knowlagent Increases Agent Effectiveness

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 1:00:56 PM

My benchmark research into agent performance management (APM) found that the number-one objective of companies trying to improve the handling of customer interactions was to utilize agents more effectively; this also was their top objective in creating agents’ work schedules. In the latter case, the research uncovered a primary reason for difficulties in achieving this objective: Only 36 percent of companies use a dedicated tool to create these schedules; the majority do it manually or with spreadsheets.

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CallCopy Emerges as a Player in Agent Performance Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 12:54:28 PM

Last year I carried out research to discover how companies manage their workforces in handling customer interactions; I investigated their best practices, technologies being used and priorities for the future. The findings led me to define agent performance management (APM) as an extension of what other observers call workforce optimization; APM includes call routing, call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, training and coaching, agent compensation management and agent-focused analytics. The results showed that many companies want to expand their call-recording capabilities to include all calls, that optimizing the utilization of agents is high on their agenda and that they want to take advantage of new technologies such as analytics for the agent’s desktop, speech and text to get a fuller picture of agent performance.

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Infor Launches Innovative E-mail Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 12:53:01 PM

On August 2, Infor launched its next generation of products for customer relationship management (CRM), which are built on its Interaction Advisor that in May I called “its CEM surprise.” At the time it was clear that Interaction Advisor was a platform on which Infor could build a series of innovative products. I didn’t expect the first of them to be just around the corner.

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Will Cloud Computing Finally Bring Innovation to the Contact Center?

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 12:51:29 PM

I have been associated with the contact center industry for more than 20 years, first as a systems integrator building centers and more recently covering it as an analyst with Ventana Research. From this experience I have distilled three major observations: that centers are dominated by technology, that they change very slowly and that performance is largely judged by the average handling time (AHT) of calls. The main challenges have not changed much over the years: Centers constantly have to balance improving customer satisfaction with reducing AHT; this remains true even though many companies are realizing that first-contact resolution (FCR) is a much better indicator of performance.

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SAS Helps Companies Make Sense of Social Media Comments

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 12:49:57 PM

I often read and hear today that social media is the new channel for marketing and customer service channel and also that companies must improve customer satisfaction to survive (I agree with the second proposition). Several observers have put the two ideas together and concluded that in the future all marketing and customer service will happen through social media – that I don’t agree with. My research shows that most customer interactions occur through a contact center or on a customer self-service portal, and I see no evidence that this will change, at least not for several years. However, it is true that many companies have created presences on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook – Ventana Research was one of the first research companies to do this. Many companies blog to promote their views and make announcements, and many use YouTube to show customers and prospects informational, marketing and training videos, but only a few have used social media as a customer forum to gather feedback and opinions. Of more significance is consumers’ use all of these sites to stay in touch with friends, find information – and complain about poor customer service. So we have a situation where both companies and consumers are experimenting with social media, but no one is sure how this new channel will affect business in the long run.

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IBM Innovates in Call-Routing for Agent Performance

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 10:34:47 AM

One often-cited approach to improving the performance of contact centers and customer service agents is skills-based routing. This involves tagging data about the skills of individual agents – for example, languages spoken, training courses passed or the ability to handle well a particular type of call – and using a call-routing system to deliver calls to an extension where an agent with the requisite skills has signed in and is available. Identifying the required skills typically is done by an interactive voice response (IVR) system or perhaps through the number dialed by the caller; in the latter case, a high-value customer might call a special number and identify the issue by selecting among options in an IVR system. Either way, matching customers and their requirements with agents skilled in dealing with them is thought to increase the chance that the customer’s issue will be resolved efficiently in the first attempt.

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Snowfly Motivates Agents To Improve Performance

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 10:27:01 AM

I have often seen evidence that contact center agents’ performance is strongly influenced by the key performance indicators managers use to judge, and often reward, their performance. In one extreme example I found that agents in a high-value-customer service center were rewarded if they kept the average call-handling time below two minutes. This sounded positive until I uncovered the common practice of agents dropping calls as soon as they reached two minutes, regardless of whether the customer’s issue had been resolved. This and other observations lead me to conclude that agent performance metrics should be chosen carefully, as companies will reap what they sow, and that companies must positively reinforce performance so agents deliver on the chosen metrics.

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Upstream Works Helps Improve Contact Center Performance

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 10:23:41 AM

Anyone involved in running a contact center is aware of the imperatives my research has highlighted: reduce operating costs, transition to multichannel support, raise customer satisfaction levels and increase up-sales. On a daily basis, these demands spur managers to focus on reducing average handling times, increasing first-call-resolution rates, optimizing agent utilization, delivering more pertinent agent training and personalizing responses in light of the customer’s profile, the context of the call and targeted business outcomes. The foundation of all these efforts is information and systems that support the contact center agent.

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ResponseTek Underpins Customer Experience Management

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 27, 2010 9:51:45 AM

Most of all, customer experience management is about a company delivering the optimal experience during an interaction. For example, during a conversation the contact center should ensure that the agent’s responses are appropriate to the context of the overall customer relationship and are personalized. The same should be true for a customer’s visits to the Web site, during chat sessions and in responses to mobile text messages. It goes without saying that the person or system involved in an interaction needs all relevant information about the customer, so responses meet the customer’s expectations while also delivering against business goals.

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inContact Provides Contact Center in the Cloud

Posted by Richard Snow on Nov 26, 2010 6:54:56 AM

All the buzz in the contact center market these days is about the “contact center in the cloud.” I have written on the subject, in particular “Is a Contact Center in the Cloud a Reality?” and “Will Cloud Computing Finally Bring Innovation to the Contact Center?”. In considering this issue my thinking focuses on what goes into a contact center and then what vendors offer these systems in the cloud. At the risk of oversimplifying things, I believe a contact center has two core components – communications management and agent and process management.

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NICE Systems Ventures into the Agent Back Office

Posted by jillventana on Nov 25, 2010 1:20:53 PM

Most people involved with contact centers know of NICE Systems and its SmartCenter suite of workforce optimization products that support key contact center management capabilities such as call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, customer feedback management and a variety of performance management and analytics tools. NICE recently received the top ranked Hot Vendor rating in the Ventana Research 2010 Value Index for Agent Performance Management.

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Merced Systems Has a Secret: Quality Monitoring for Agents

Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 7, 2010 2:36:04 PM

In my recent vendor-specific research called Value Index for Agent Performance Management (APM), I took a different view of what customer service organizations operating contact centers need for APM than most industry observers do. Some equate APM with workforce optimization and so include call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, training and analytics in it; others take a narrower view and focus only on agent-focused analytics and performance management. I believe that in addition to these capabilities, companies should include call routing, coaching and compensation management. Call routing fits here because which agent handles a call has a major influence on its outcome; coaching is equally important to maximize outcomes and includes one-on-one sessions as well as more formal training sessions. I include compensation management in APM because my research shows that agents, like other workers, are strongly influenced in their performance by the kind of metrics they are judged by.

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NICE Systems Extends Further into Customer Experience Management with eglue Acquisition

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 21, 2010 4:44:48 PM

NICE systems is an established vendor in the market for agent performance management (APM) systems, and it recently took the top ranking in the Ventana Research APM Value Index awards []. Workforce optimization software includes call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management and training; to this APM adds call routing, coaching, compensation management and agent-focused analytics. The need for these additional capabilities was validated in our benchmark research on agent performance management. I recently wrote an update on NICE Systems’ efforts and direction for 2010 in which I noted that NICE has been expanding its analytics to support better cross-channel customer interactions for agents.

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The “Social” Revolution Is About the Customer Relationship

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 14, 2010 4:33:20 PM

I have been in the customer service and contact center space for over 20 years and have seen many fads, hot topics, three-letter acronyms and "end of an era" predictions come and go. The latest trend is that suddenly everything is "social": We have social customer relationship management (CRM) that should help marketing, sales and customer service improve significantly. So it's worth asking what all the fuss is about and why it is happening now.

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Upstream Works Helps Improve Contact Center Performance

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 9, 2010 4:29:07 PM

Anyone involved in running a contact center is aware of the imperatives my research has highlighted: reduce operating costs, transition to multichannel support, raise customer satisfaction levels and increase up-sales. On a daily basis, these demands spur managers to focus on reducing average handling times, increasing first-call-resolution rates, optimizing agent utilization, delivering more pertinent agent training and personalizing responses in light of the customer’s profile, the context of the call and targeted business outcomes. The foundation of all these efforts is information and systems that support the contact center agent.

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ResponseTek Underpins Customer Experience Management

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 8, 2010 4:27:12 PM

Most of all, customer experience management is about a company delivering the optimal experience during an interaction. For example, during a conversation the contact center should ensure that the agent’s responses are appropriate to the context of the overall customer relationship and are personalized. The same should be true for a customer’s visits to the Web site, during chat sessions and in responses to mobile text messages. It goes without saying that the person or system involved in an interaction needs all relevant information about the customer, so responses meet the customer’s expectations while also delivering against business goals.

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Cincom Drives “Winning Conversations”

Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 2, 2010 4:19:41 PM

My research into customer experience management shows that the customer’s experience is equally important in creating customer loyalty and in getting customers to recommend a company to others. It also found that the main channels of communication remain phone calls to the contact center and visits to the company’s Web site. This combination means it is vital that companies support their contact center agents as fully as possible by providing them with tools that not only make their actions more efficient but also make them more effective at resolving customer issues. As I have written several times, the most important tool companies should provide for agents is a “smart desktop.”

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