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May 20, 2013 in Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Cloud Computing, Customer & Contact Center, Operational Performance, Sales Performance | Tags: 360-degree view of the Customer, Agent Performance Management, Call Center, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Contact Center, Contact Center Analytics, CRM, Customer Analytics, Customer Experience Management, Customer Feedback Management, Customer Service, Desktop Analytics, Interactive Intelligence, Mobile apps, Self-service, Social CRM, Social Media, Speech Analytics, Text Analytics, Unified Communications, Voice of the Customer, Workforce Force Optimization | by Richard Snow | Leave a comment
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:
- Communications includes voice, email, fax, mail, chat, mobile access, instant messaging, portals, social media and universal queue for interaction routing.
- Workforce optimization covers interaction recording, agent quality monitoring, workforce management, e-learning, coaching, compensation management and agent-related analytics.
- CRM focuses on marketing, sales and service.
- Analytics includes structured and unstructured data, event monitoring and big data.
- Customer experience management deals with customer feedback, the agent desktop, natural-language processing, customer portals, mobile interaction and virtual agents.
Interactive Intelligence (InIn) offers products and services in most of these. Its flagship product is Customer Interaction Center (CIC). The core functionality includes a software-based PBX and IP-PBX, a software-based ACD, IVR, an outbound dialer and multimedia queuing and routing: These are all the core capabilities required to manage voice-based communications. Companies can add optional capabilities to manage email, chat and a customer portal, which give the product a multimedia dimension. CIC also supports workforce optimization with capabilities for multimedia recording, desktop screen recording, quality monitoring, workforce management and agent-related reporting. InIn enhanced its workforce management capabilities through the acquisition of Bay Bridge Decision Technology, which added long-term resource forecasting, planning and analysis of required agent numbers. CIC doesn’t include CRM per se, but it does support knowledge management and tools that enable integration with major CRM systems from Microsoft, Oracle/RightNow and salesforce.com. These tools support tight integration between the products, predominantly through CTI connectors, and companies can embed windows for CRM into CIC or vice versa.
As well as standard reports and analysis of contact center and agent performance, CIC includes a real-time speech analytics product. This is a recent addition that is just beginning to gain adoption. Companies first build a library of words and phrases that they want to spot while calls are taking place. Users can set up rules to trigger predefined action if a particular word or phrase is spotted; for example, a supervisor could be alerted to listen in to the call. The rules can also be set up to raise alternative actions if certain words or phrases are not spotted, such as if the agent fails to inform the caller of a required regulatory statement. The recordings of any calls in which designated words are spotted can be tagged for future analysis and use in quality assessments.
InIn now is taking a stronger position in the customer experience space where, in addition to managing multimedia communications, CIC includes a software-based IVR application that can be configured to request feedback from the caller. The results can be used in the quality management process and as input into analytics. InIn was one of several vendors that during 2012 announced a product that enables companies to build mobile customer service apps, an area in which demand is growing. This set of tools enables companies to build mobile apps that take advantage of smart device capabilities such as touch screens, integrate the app to back-office systems that use location information to enhance responses, and perhaps most importantly include a call-to-call button that allows callers to bypass IVR, route the call to the agent most qualified to handle the interaction, and keep the call in context by providing the agent with information the caller already entered into the app. I detected that, despite the exponential growth of smart devices, InIn, like other vendors, is disappointed by adoption rates for the product so far, but it did indicate that several customers have trials under way.
All these capabilities add up to InIn providing the broadest coverage of any vendor in the capabilities required to build a modern contact center. It is also important that these applications are tightly integrated which enables sharing of data between applications, common administration capabilities and a common user interface. InIn also has improved the underlying architecture to be more reliable, scalable and distributable. This last point is key to InIn’s strategy of making the system deployable on premises, in the cloud or as a combination of both, which it calls a hybrid environment. At the conference the company presented figures showing an increasing trend for organizations to opt for at least some capabilities in the cloud. In my own research into the contact center in the cloud, 40 percent of companies indicated they would be moving to cloud-based systems over the next few years and almost three quarters (73%) are doing this to improve agent performance through training and coaching. This seems to be particularly true in Europe where InIn said half of its new business is cloud-based. The improvements in architecture also enable InIn to offer a new option, CaaS Small Center. This is a version of the cloud-based option for communications as a service (CaaS) that is targeted at centers of up to 50 seats, although I suspect the size of user sites is likely to increase over time as new cloud-based hardware options become available. Small Center doesn’t include all the capabilities of the full version, but InIn said it has plans to expand capabilities to include everything currently available; even then, however, it will be in available only in the cloud, which for me begs the question which option is right for which.
On another front, InIn has released Communications-Based Process Automation (CBPA), which I covered recently. In summary CBPA routes work items to the employees best suited to handle them, tracks progress in performing them and provides an analysis of the end-to-end process. Looking ahead, InIn announced a new product, Interactive Content Management, that will provide management of all forms of content such as text images and video; it’s an enhanced version of document management for today’s needs.
As well has giving a company overview update, InIn CEO Don Brown hosted a session on new developments that he said in his view will have the most impact on contact centers in the future. There were a couple of in-house developments and a three from partners. There was a demonstration of the integration with salesforce.com. This essentially uses the new salesforce.com CTI connector to share data, and allow configurations that either allows ININ to be a window in a CRM screen or vice versa. There was also a demonstration of a new mobile application for contact center supervisors that will enable them not only to access performance information about those they manage but also to carry out certain configuration tasks such as routing of interactions to different queues and locations.
There was an intriguing demonstration from a partner called Orgspan that describes its product as “cloud-based employee directory on steroids.” Using it companies can extract data from any number of internal data sources and build profiles of employees and their place in the organization. Integration with CIC offers the option for callers to see a profile of who is available to take their call and then to select the person they prefer; this is a complete reversal of skills-based routing that I am not sure will appeal to many contact center managers. There was also a demonstration from Vidyo of its video platform which when integrated with CIC can add video as a channel to support some forms of interaction. In the example the presenters used (not as funny as I think they thought it would be) a biker called in asking how to blow up a tire; the agent used video not only to communicate with the biker but to point to where the valve was. This is perhaps not the most valuable application of the tool, but, as my research on the contact center in the cloud shows, video is an emerging channel, and as consumers use video more on their smart devices, it is probably a channel for the near future.
Against the background of all these product announcements, case studies from selected customers and news off a growing ecosystem of partners, Don Brown expressed concern about “the innovator’s dilemma.” InIn has grown from a startup that brought innovations to the communications marketplace to a successful big vendor with a growing portfolio of products. Even though it goes against what his financial advisors would like, Brown said, the company continues to invest 20 percent of its revenue in R&D. The dilemma is whether this is enough to prevent another little innovative company coming along to pull the rug from under it. I doubt that will occur because InIn pays close attention to what is happening in the market and is working hard to stay ahead.
If I have concerns, they relate to whether it is trying to do too much. As this discussion has shown, InIn now has a very large portfolio of products and it is trying to be the best in class” with each of them. In my sphere will always be small innovative companies with niche products that excel at a few capabilities. The trick for a “portfolio” company is integration. All my research shows that organizations face an increasing challenge to be more customer-centric. To achieve that they must break down barriers between the lines of business (especially marketing, sales and service), allow processes to flow across different activities (as from marketing to sales to service, agent performance to customer satisfaction, and quality monitoring to training and coaching) and be consistent across communication channels, all in a quest to deliver quality customer experiences. As saleforce.com has done and continues to do in disrupting the CRM market, I believe InIn should focus on doing the same in the contact center and customer engagement markets and retain its reputation as a vendor to watch.
Richard J. Snow
May 1, 2013 in Operational Performance, Customer & Contact Center, Business Analytics, Cloud Computing, Social Media | Tags: 360-degree view of the Customer, Agent Performance Management, Call Center, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Contact Center, Contact Center Analytics, CRM, Customer Analytics, Customer Experience Management, Customer Feedback Management, Customer Service, Desktop Analytics, Mobile apps, NICE ssytems, Self-service, Social CRM, Social Media, Speech Analytics, Text Analytics, Unified Communications, Voice of the Customer, Workforce Force Optimization | by Richard Snow | Leave a comment
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.
As I delved deeper into the products, it became obvious that NICE has shifted from selling product lines to selling solutions to key business issues. Supporting this shift are greater integration of products, new user interfaces and core products targeted at business solutions. This was most obvious in the new release of customer engagement analytics (CEA). This major product announcement emphasized that it enables companies to bring together structured and unstructured data to complete a fuller picture of the customer. As well as the now obligatory tools to support the visualization of customer information, trends and hot issues, a major capability is the ability to map and analyze the customer journey. As my research into customer relationship maturity revealed, the most customer-centric companies now use customer journey mapping techniques to determine how they expect different customers to engage with the company at different times and through multiple channels. Our research finds many departments including the contact center (77%) involved with inbound interactions increasing the need to gain consistency across channels. Customer engagement analytics takes this one step further by capturing interaction data from all touch points, combining it with other customer data and visualizing (or mapping) how customers actually engage with the company – how frequently, at what times, for what reasons, through which channels (and across channels), and with what outcomes. It also analyzes the causes that drive customers to interact with the company. Combining both sides of the analysis, companies can work proactively to improve interactions, in the moment while a call is taking place or in the future (by changing processes and refocusing training of agents).
NICE presenters also featured customer engagement analytics as supporting other solutions or business processes. In this context, they frequently used the phrase “closed loop,” which showed the influence of the Merced acquisition. When it was independent Merced had been a pioneer of closed-loop processes that complete the circle of capturing data, analyzing it to understand what happened or is happening, and finally ensuring that relevant actions are taken to improve future decisions and activities. One of the moist common examples is capturing interactions (for example, call recordings), analyzing how agents handled calls and then using this information to impact quality scores, training, coaching and call-handling techniques.
NICE’s new focus on business solutions goes beyond closing the loop, which tends to remain within a business unit and/or focused business process such as agent quality monitoring. Its approach supports what I call “joined up” thinking and processes. We all know, and my research confirms, that most companies still run as silos: Each line of business does things its own way, has its own systems and takes its own view of the customer. Joining up crosses business units, and while it doesn’t necessarily use a single source of customer data, it does at least share a single view of the customer across processes, decisions and actions. A joined-up approach also crosses communication channels to ensure customers get a consistent, personalized, in-context experience, no matter which channel, person (contact center agents) or technology (Web-based self-service) they use. NICE does this by using customer engagement analytics and bundling different products into a variety of business solutions. One of the first of these is call volume reduction, which is a bundle tuned to reduce the number of inbound calls. Another NICE is calling service-to-sales, which aims to maximize sales opportunities from service interactions. Through an increasing number of partnerships, NICE also is using CEA to influence call routing, helping companies perform smarter call-routing based on the customer’s profile, the context of the interaction and the skills required by the person handling the interaction.
Discussions about multichannel interactions inevitably led to use of a second popular phrase – big data. NICE executives insisted the company isn’t about to become a major big data player for the sake of being seen as such; rather they said it needed to place big data at the heart of what it is doing because much of that involves processing huge volumes of data, especially in the form of millions of call recordings and social media transactions, as well as video recordings. This emphasis agrees with comments by my colleague Tony Cosentino and mirrors my own view that big data per se is not the issue; what matters is what you do with it. The reality of multichannel customer service is that it produces millions and millions of bytes of data. Companies not only have to process these volumes, but much of customer service, customer experience or custom engagement happens in real-time – a phone call, a chat session, an in-store or branch office meeting or a social media post, for instance. The person or technology handling those interactions needs up-to-date information there and then to make a response based on the most up-to-date information, putting the interaction in context and perhaps most importantly personalizing it based on a complete view of the customer. Old techniques didn’t allow companies to support this approach, so I find it significant that NICE is building big data into its business-related solutions.
One such example is Mobile Reach. This product supports what NICE calls hybrid customer service or what I am tending to call connected service. We are used to hearing about assisted service, person-to-person interaction, and self-service (person-to-technology interaction). Connected service includes both, and mobile interaction is a good example. What I call the 2.0 customer is increasingly turning to mobile apps for self-service. However most mobile apps have limitations and cannot complete some types of complex interactions, even on a smart device. Connected mobile service addresses this issue by allowing certain steps to be completed on the device (such as entering basic data), then integrates that data with business applications to provide more information and/or drive next steps; if these steps don’t complete the interaction, it supports seamless connection to a live agent in a smart way; for example, it might bypass IVR because the system knows who the customer is and which person is best equipped to complete the interaction. NICE Mobile Reach is one of the smarter mobile app platforms, and I recommend that companies evaluate it as they step into this brave new world.
Also at the conference, I heard and met with several NICE customers. Of course, they were chosen because they are the most successful in using the products, but as a group they expressed two common themes. First of all becoming customer-centric starts at the top; the CEO must want to do it and support initiatives and actions that deliver a customer-focused approach. Second, employees, including contact center agents, have to buy in to the approach, commit to it and live it. To achieve this, companies must support those employees, give them the tools and information they need, and reward those who meet expectations. To do this most companies will have to re-evaluate processes and technology to determine whether they can support such an approach; they need as well to develop new customer–related metrics and not continue to rely on just those that show how efficiently things are running.
NICE is rapidly evolving to utilize technology innovations that are priorities in organizations today. Our research found analytics and mobile technology are part of the top three today, and with the growing demand on big data that NICE is beginning to exploit. All the messages I heard from NICE were encouraging and a million miles from the old-style marketing of products that do x, y and z, and insisting they are the best. Is NICE all the way there yet? By management’s own admission, not yet. However, compared what I have seen in the past, it has come a long way on the journey and so is certainly a vendor to watch over the next few years.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director