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.
At a recent analyst event in London, Cisco senior executives made no bones about the fact that the company wants to build on this position and become the No. 1 supplier of contact center systems – which in my view is easier said than done. Although contact centers rely heavily on networks, they also require a much larger variety of systems if they are going to work efficiently and make companies more effective at handling customer interactions. I break the systems into three major categories:
- Communication systems that must manage every form and type of customer interaction, whether it is a phone call, email, fax, text message, paper-based, instant message, video call or social media.
- Business applications that are required to manage the workforce handling interactions – often called workforce optimization – or applications that manage customer-related transactions such as CRM, ERP, knowledge management, desktop management and business-specific systems.
- Analytics, which are now required to access and analyze more types and forms of data than ever before, including structured data, voice recordings, text-based data (including social media), video, event, process and big data.
During the event, I discovered that Cisco has offerings in many of these areas, and that it continues to build out its portfolio and the way it packages some of these systems to make it more practical and affordable for a wider variety of companies to deploy them.
One of the featured products, Unified Contact Center Express (CCE), bundles many key systems into a single offering that can be used to support as many as 400 agents, whether they sit in a formal enterprise-wide contact center, or a location- or business-department-specific center, or a less formal collection of agents handling interactions anywhere across the organization. Capabilities include multichannel interaction management (voice, email, chat), IVR, interaction routing and CTI, integration with presence that allows agents to find and collaborate with other agents to help in the resolution of interactions, a mobile supervisor capability that allows managers to administer the system from a smart mobile device and access key reports and analysis, and the latest desktop system from Cisco, Finesse. Optionally, companies can include quality monitoring, workforce management, social media and outbound IVR. The system is available on-premises or in the cloud. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows that companies are increasingly looking to cloud-based applications (63%) and multichannel communications technology (44%), so this will help Cisco remain competitive in this growing market by making these capabilities more accessible and affordable to a wider range of organizations.
The pack also includes Cisco’s new reporting and analysis tool, Cisco Unified Intelligence Center (CIUC), a brand new Web 2.0 reporting tool that gives companies customized views of their information and dashboards showing key performance information. It supports companies developing their own reports and analysis, or companies can use Cisco partners to provided customized reports. Some of these reports are available on smart mobile devices, and thus support the growing requirement for managers to access reports and analysis while away from their desktops.
My research into the agent desktop shows the impact the agent desktop has on agent satisfaction and thus agent performance with increased average handling time being the largest issue in 65 percent of organizations. I reviewed Finesse recently and found it to be an intuitive tool for agents to use. As partners such as Upstreamworks develop desktops that make interaction handling more efficient and effective, I believe Cisco and its partners will become more competitive.
Another major topic during the event was Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration Service (HCS), another cloud-based service offered by partners that provides tools that allow individuals to collaborate as they try to resolve customer interactions. My research over the last couple of years shows that interactions are being handled more widely across the organization nowadays, which inevitably means that sometimes the first person handling an interaction is unable to resolve it to a customer’s satisfaction. The most mature companies have recognized that collaboration tools are the most effective way to resolve this issue, and HCS provides a cost-effective way for companies to support these capabilities.
At the end of the day, I had a chance to meet with one of Cisco’s partners, Logitech, which is well-known for its range of computer peripheral devices (mice, keyboards, webcams, video cameras and headsets). Some of these are used by agents in contact centers, and Logitech has been working with Cisco to integrate them with Cisco products. One product I saw was a new keyboard that includes keys that link with Cisco softphones, which allow agents to work without a phone but still retain the same experience on their keyboard. The keyboard is fully integrated with the Cisco software, so it gives agents the same capabilities using either soft keys or the keys on the keyboard. I also saw a new video camera whose quality “blew my mind”; from what I saw it would be a good tool to enable video calls or conferencing.
From my days working in contact centers, I have great sympathy with agents, as their workspaces are not particularly brilliant and their desktop typically doesn’t make life any easier. Developments like these from Logitech not only help with the overall workspace but also make agents’ tasks easier. I recommend companies investigate how they can improve agent satisfaction and performance.
Overall, the analyst event demonstrated that Cisco has the resources, desire and partners to develop competitive products that support interaction handling. To gain maximum advantage, Cisco must continue to develop its portfolio, but also continue to make it easier for potential customers to understand what it has to offer, how it works with its ecosystems of partners to make its products and services available, and the supply models it supports. Don’t be put off by the difficulty navigating Cisco’s website; the information is there if you keep searching for it.
As is always the case, not all partners are equal. Building a network is in many ways easier than creating technology architecture to support multichannel interaction handling, so make sure the partner you choose has the resources and skills to support your plans. As my research continues to show, the cloud is the way forward in this market. The steps Cisco has taken with CCE and HCS will certainly widen its appeal to companies of all sizes and make its products more affordable for a wider range of companies. As I said, becoming No. 1 is a lot harder than saying it. Cisco has the brand, coverage, resources and ecosystem of partners a company needs in order to succeed, so it is certainly a player to watch.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director