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.
As part of that research, I looked at the extent of adoption of cloud-based communications, applications and analytics supporting contact centers and their likely adoption rates for the next two years. At the time CRM was most widely deployed and had the highest likely adoption rate as well. Communications in the cloud was still relatively new, but it also had a high predicted rate of adoption. Consumers now demand more choices of channels through which they can interact with companies, and if my findings at the Call Centre Expo are anything to go by, vendors are responding. That is not to say that all the exhibitors offer exactly the same capabilities. Each has its own set of features, and many include other core contact center applications such as workforce optimization, an agent desktop and analytics as part of their portfolio. Those that have such capabilities include Altitude Software, Aspect, C3, Ctalk, Enghouse Interactive, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, Kana, LiveOps, Mitel, Mplsystems, NewVoiceMedia, Noble Systems, Ultra Communications, Vocalcom and VoltDelta. It’s amazing how many vendors were exhibiting products within sight of each other.
I cannot review all of these products in this space, but if you are looking to support multiple channels of communication, these options are worth considering. With so many options available, it is not as easy as many vendors would have you believe to select the one that best fits your requirements. As in any software category, most of the products have many of the same capabilities, so the trick is to find the one that matches your special needs. And it is not just about choosing features and functions. Ventana Research has developed a process we call the Value Index that compares vendors across seven categories. I recommend you take a similar approach using these criteria:
- Capability – How many channels does the system support? What other contact center applications does it support? Does the system fully support single-queue interaction routing? How are the channels and any other applications surfaced on the agent’s desktop?
- Usability – How easy is the product to use for different types of users?
- Manageability – How easy is the service to set up from both IT’s and business users’ perspectives? What security capabilities does it support for users, applications and data?
- Reliability – What performance guarantees does the vendor provide for user, data and server performance? How scalable is the product from the perspectives of user, server and data?
- Adaptability – How easy is the product to configure for different users? Does the vendor support customization to individual company requirements? How does the system support your existing processes? Is it easy to integrate into your business and technical architecture?
- TCO and ROI – What services and cases does the vendor provide to show total cost of ownership, return on investment and likely business benefits?
- Validation – Does the vendor have success stories and a roadmap for future development? What services does it provide before and after the sale, including trials and training?
Our research shows the above criteria typically are important to all companies, with each category weighted in the order listed. In following this process of evaluation, you are likely to find the product and vendor best suited to your requirements.
At Call Centre Expo it was easy to be overwhelmed by the number of vendors in one space, but I did take away one other important observation: Unlike in previous years none of the big workforce optimization (WFO) vendors was present at the show, and although some of the companies I noted above include WFO as part of their product portfolios, there was far less focus on WFO than on multichannel communications. This is not a good trend, as my research into next-generation workforce optimization shows. many companies are still struggling with managing the workforce that handles their customer interactions, so it would have been nice to see more vendors that provide such systems.
My research shows that the number of communication channels a company has to support is still growing, and high customer expectations require them to manage all of these channels in an integrated manner. Otherwise customers will hop across channels until they get the answers they are looking for, and that’s not good for the customer experience nor for holding down operational costs. Taking everything into account, I believe the only way to achieve this objective is to use communications in the cloud. In the near future I will produce a Value Index to help you identify the top vendors in what has become a highly competitive market. Meanwhile, there are many solutions out there, so I wish you well in your efforts to find the one that best fits your needs.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director