Not many years ago, building and running a contact center was a complex task. Organizations typically had to license all the systems they required (most of them proprietary and on-premises), customize them to meet their requirements and integrate them into a workable architecture. But beyond all the systems issues, the key to running the center was forecasting the right number of skilled agents that would be needed to handle expected interaction patterns and then routing calls to the most skilled agent for that specific interaction.
Today things are even more complex. First, organizations must support many more channels of engagement; our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows the average is now around eight. Second, customers now expect personalized responses to every interaction – they expect organizations to “know” them so responses are put into the context of the overall relationship, they expect to be given the same information regardless of which channel they use, and above all, they expect resolution at the first point of contact.
Third, agents now expect to have more control over their working day as well as access to systems that support them as they attempt to keep customers satisfied. Finally, interactions are now being handled by more employees outside the contact center, including experts working in other business groups (marketing, sales, customer service) and home-based and mobile employees, so forecasting and routing have become even more complex.
In many respects, though, finding the right systems has become easier because today, more vendors are providing better-integrated, richer systems as cloud-based services. Don’t get me wrong, though; it is still not easy, as other factors come into play.
Aspect Software has been a vendor in the contact center market for more than 40 years, providing on-premises telephony management systems, workforce management and BI systems. Like many other vendors, Aspect Software has been expanding its portfolio of products and migrating to providing these as cloud-based services. When I last wrote about the company, it was in the process of launching its new customer engagement center in the cloud, Aspect Via. Via, it turns out, is not a product name but the architectural backbone for all the cloud-based capabilities that make up its complete customer engagement center – assisted and digital customer engagement, workforce management, quality management, performance management, IVR and omnichannel engagement. This is still a work in progress but the company now offers some software packages that it says provide assisted customer engagement and workforce management.
The design principle behind all Via systems is they will be designed exclusively for the cloud – more specifically, to run on Amazon Web Services. They will have a common user interface for both users and administrators and, overall, will offer a tightly integrated, open architecture with APIs that allow seamless integration with third-party systems. There will also be real-time reporting across all capabilities. Software components also will be available individually so organizations can gradually build a technology structure that fits their needs.
One of the first available packages is Aspect Via WFM. This is a reworking of the well-proven existing on-premises system to run on and take advantage of AWS microservices. Being cloud-based, it is easy to implement, highly scalable and available and inexpensive to run. Functionally, it is intended to provide an advanced version of core WFM capabilities without lots of bells and whistles. Still, users can forecast staffing requirements across all customer-facing inbound, outbound, and back-office resources and for voice, multi-session chat, email, social media and other interaction channels. It uses actual interaction patterns to update historical models so that future forecasts are more accurate, and includes what-if scenarios to understand the impact of staff, budget and demand variations. It also supports real-time alerts when performance is out of tolerance. There is an agent portal that allows agents to input their personal work preferences (such as hours per week, shift length, start/stop times, workday patterns, days per week, lunch time preference, etc.) on their mobile devices.
All of this along with reporting and analysis is accessed through an intuitive, engaging user interface, which should ensure wide adoption and use. From my perspective, this system supports all the core capabilities organizations need to ensure they have the right profile of skilled employees in place to handle expected interaction patterns and, as I saw in a recent demonstration, it looks good.
Our benchmark research into next generation customer engagement finds organizations face three key challenges as they attempt to provide omnichannel customer engagement: difficulty integrating systems, engagement channels managed as silos, and not being able to provide consistent responses across touchpoints. In my view, the only way to address all three challenges is by deploying a closely integrated customer engagement hub – a combination of systems to manage assisted and digital channels of engagement, workforce optimization, analytics and integration with core business applications such as CRM.
Aspect Software has started the journey to produce such a solution under the Via umbrella, and Aspect Via WFM is a step in the right direction. But as I wrote above, finding the right technology is only part of the answer. Consumer research and my own experiences tell me most organizations don’t get what it means to be customer-centric, as many focus on chasing internal performance metrics that quite often are business-group focused. To provide a consistent, enterprise-wide customer experience, organizations are going to have to start their own journey by changing processes, retraining employees, reassessing key metrics and finding technology to support that journey.
Aspect Software has experienced professional service teams that can help organizations along that journey, and as it rolls out more systems under the Via umbrella, it will have the technology to support those efforts. As I have said many times, not changing is not an option, so I recommend organizations ready to start the journey assess how Aspect Software can support them.
VP & Research Director, Customer Engagement