The UC Contact Center Conundrum

It all starts in the contact center.

That’s my contention anyway. When you look for the obvious launch point for unified communications in the enterprise, it has to be the contact center. Almost all discussions about UC in the enterprise include a mention of Presence, the UC concept that provides users with an overview of the availability and status of other knowledge workers in the organization and a means to efficiently tap into those resources as necessary.

If you think about it, the contact center is the most logical place for the initial use of Presence and UC in the enterprise. The goal of most, if not all, customer contact centers is first call resolution. In other words, the folks in charge of running customer service generally prefer to have a customer issue resolved in one call. There are two reasons for this, the first of which is customer satisfaction. As a consumer or customer, aren’t you generally happier if the company you call can resolve your issue in one call without repeated call transfers or without asking you to call back in order to speak with someone else later? Everyone’s time is valuable these days and no one likes to have to make repeated phone calls to get a question answered or an issue resolved.

Presence would allow an agent the ability to pull in enterprise resources from outside the contact center in order to resolve a customer call. Agents would be able to identify which internal subject matter experts might be available and the best way to reach them. While still engaging the customer, contact center agents would have the additional resources at their fingertips to keep the customer happy or at least resolve an issue without repeated call transfers or callbacks.

The second reason customer service professionals strive for first call resolution in the contact center is cost. Each time a customer service agent picks up the phone, it costs the contact center in terms of salary, benefits, etc., and if they’re paying for an agent to address the same problem with the same customer more than once, that is usually money down the drain. UC in the contact center makes absolute sense from a cost savings perspective. Here’s where we run into our conundrum, though.
If you’ve been around the contact center long enough you’ve undoubtedly heard the discussions about the strategic importance of the customer service center in terms of its value to operational success and profitability. To hear some people talk you’d believe that the business universe revolved around the contact center. If you haven’t been around the contact center and heard this talk, trust me when I tell you that it’s mostly lip service.
The truth is, the contact center is as important as all the pundits claim it is but the fact is that most businesses look at the contact center as a cost center. As you probably know, it is generally very difficult to get a business to invest in a cost center. Thus our conundrum: an investment in UC on the contact center would undoubtedly lead to cost savings and a tangible return on investment, but there is a general reluctance to invest in cost centers such as the contact center.
I think we may be able to find our way out of this potential quagmire if the industry in general follows the lead of the small percentage of companies who really do view their customer service function as a strategic advantage or differentiator and will invest in UC in order to provide their agents with Presence functionality. It’s going to take time and there will still be those executives who will drag their contact centers into the 21st century kicking, screaming and protesting the whole way.

Any other ideas?

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