In addition to covering call and contact center I also cover telecom, including hardware, software and services. Lately I've noticed a slew of interoperability announcements coming from the major IP PBX vendors -- especially Avaya and Toshiba -- a lot of them SIP Trunking interoperability announcements, but also some product interoperability announcements as well. There are a lot of ITSPs out there competing in the SIP Trunking space right now. They bring a separate Internet connection into your facility and, there you go -- a dedicated IP connection to any end point you want, PSTN, Internet, mobile. It's fast and easy to deploy and brings cost savings and other benefits immediately. But fast deployment also means companies can switch their service more easily - and this is where the interoperability announcements are key for the service providers. The service providers know no one is going to rip and replace their PBX just to be able to use a service that is "certified interoperable" -- and the vendors know you don't drive customer satisfaction in today's world by locking customers into proprietary systems that don't interoperate with a wide range of services. So, giving customers the freedom to choose from a range of "certified interoperable" solutions, fosters adoption, and gives them peace of mind. On the other hand, everyone knows that most products and services are only interoperable "to a degree." By saying their products and services are interoperable, really what most vendors and service providers are saying is that they are "interoperable in terms of the testing we did," but not necessarily all-inclusively of every network scenario out there. In the case of PBX/SIP Trunking it's arguably easier to achieve (and proclaim) true interoperability compared to other software -- but organizations still have to consider interoperability with other systems such as ACD, IVR, CRM or even back office systems they might want to hold onto.
Salesforce has introduced a new social networking platform for the workplace called Chatter. The idea is to have sales teams use social networking for communication and collaboration - and to give company management a new way to monitor employee activity. Explaining how he got the idea for this first-of-its-kind business application during a speech at Dreamforce this week, Salesforce.com Chief Executive Marc Benioff said: "I know more about these strangers on Facebook than I do about my own employees and what they're working on. I know when my friends went to the movies, but not when my VP of sales visited our top customer." Due out in February, Chatter is a Web-based business collaboration tool that takes draws on the features and functionality of social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. The solution, which works with Salesforce's cloud-based CRM software, is used to display "profiles" of employees and posts about projects they're working on or the customers they've visited. This seems like a cool idea and could go a long way to make the workplace more appealing to Millennials who are already accustomed to social networking and using alternate channels of communication. It also will no doubt help organizations further reduce their communications costs. The thing is, though, is that I'm not so sure it will be all that "efficient," as there are "manual processes" involved -- and by this I mean the amount of time it takes to craft, type and post messages.
We've been getting flooded with catalogs at my house during the past couple of weeks. It seems like some merchants are doing a little more prospecting this year: Although I didn't take an official count, I would say we definitely received more catalogs so far this year than we did in 2008, which is surprising. Every time I get a catalog in the mail, I think about the call center agents that are somewhere out there in the proverbial call center services "cloud" (I use that term because let's face it, with today's virtualized call centers, it might as well be a "cloud," as far as the consumer is concerned, since they don't know where the agent is located), all fired up a ready to take a flood of calls. I also think about how those agents fit in with the long chain of events that makes up every merchant transaction: The manufacturing of the products; the sourcing of the products; the merchandising; the development of marketing campaigns, both around the brand and the products; the advertising; the mailing of the catalogs and building of Web sites and new Web pages; the handling of orders in the call center and the rest of the fulfillment process - it's all a rather intricate and fascinating process, the way consumers buy all this "stuff" every holiday season. I also think about call center managers pacing wildly up and down the aisles as the clock ticks down -- as the agents sit idly, waiting for contacts to come in. This is the point where it becomes like a game of "cat and mouse" between the merchant and the customer - a game the merchant wins when the mouse is "caught," "cross-selled" and "upselled," the interaction is completed, the transaction is closed, and the wrap-up is, well, "wrapped up." On the other hand, if the holiday season turns out to be better than these merchants expected, and they already cut their call center staffing to the bone, there will be customer service hell to pay on both ends of the wire. By the way, the topic of whether or not the call center industry is ready to handle an unexpected spike in volume due to the start of an economic rebound this holiday season was explored during day one of the Frost & Sullivan Customer Contact Philippines summit 2009, being held Nov. 25-26 in Manila. During the event, regional thought leaders convene and discuss the challenges that the contact center industry faces in delivering exceptional customer experience whilst reducing costs. The overall consensus at the event, according to a release, is that as economic conditions begin to improve "the contact center industry will need to increase its focus on customer acquisition and delivering exceptional customer experience with people, processes and technology." "The recession shifted the focus in the contact center industry towards efficiency such as cost reduction and optimizing resources," said Shivanu Shukla, industry manager, ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan, in the release. "As the economy begins to revive, efficiency will continue to be a driving factor; however focus on effectiveness will return and re-assign importance on customer satisfaction, customer acquisition and revenue generation activities The Asian contact center industry is expected to see steady growth driven by increased investments by enterprises on beefing up their customer service infrastructure, as well as increased levels of outsourcing expected in 2010." Regional thought leaders at the summit included representatives from Thomson Reuters, SAP, Genesys Labs, NICE, DSM Manila LLC, Hong Kong Call Center Association, Western Union Financial Services, Gulf Bank of Kuwait, e-LOAN Division of Banco Popular, Business Processing Association of Philippines (BPAP) and Salesforce.com, amongst Frost & Sullivan senior analysts. For more information, check out the release.