Unified Communications Nation

November 27, 2019  9:59 AM

Why organizations need SIP services now

Katherine Finnell Katherine Finnell Profile: Katherine Finnell
IP telephony, SIP, SIP trunking, Unified Communications, VoIP

Whether you realize it or not, your company needs Session Initiation Protocol. As legacy telephony networks wind down and cloud-based voice services continue to grow, SIP services are necessary to support the transition to the cloud and ensure reliable communications infrastructure.

SIP is the protocol used to initiate, maintain, modify and terminate real-time communications sessions, like voice and video, over IP networks.

“Whether you are doing it yourself or being forced to by a provider, [SIP is] somewhat inevitable for businesses,” said IHS Markit analyst Diane Myers.

More than 50% of organizations are using SIP trunks today, Myers said. SIP trunking connects a PBX to the internet to facilitate calls. According to an IDC survey of midmarket and large enterprises, the benefits of SIP trunking include improved reliability, easier management, flexibility and speed of deployment.

Making the move to SIP

Vendors are partly driving the transition to SIP as they shut down their legacy time-division multiplexing (TDM) networks, while end-user organizations are turning to SIP services to support a hybrid cloud model for communications.

SIP enables organizations to control the connections between on-premises and cloud-based systems and services, such as managing routing, sessions and dial plans, she said.

SIP trunking

SIP trunking support real-time communications over IP networks.

“Businesses are not homogenous, there is no single solution through the business,” Myers said in a recent webinar. Most businesses have an average of three to five conferencing services, five to six PBXs, as well as moving to the cloud, she said.

SIP trunking becomes the glue that ties all these systems and services together, she said. It ensures all pieces of the communications puzzle are connected, regardless if they’re on premises or in the cloud.

Most organizations also use multiple providers for their communications needs, and providers have their own translations of SIP. Adopting SIP trunking ensures different flavors of SIP can communicate with each other for reliable performance, Myers said.

Deploy SIP based on business size and need

How an organization deploys SIP services depends on its size, infrastructure and equipment needs.

Organizations with legacy TDM systems and users who are more comfortable with handsets should consider a TDM-VoIP gateway. The gateway would convert legacy infrastructure to be compatible with VoIP and SIP trunking, according to James McCall, senior product manager at GTT Communications.

“You wouldn’t need to replace your PBX, which can be expensive,” he said.

Large organizations with dispersed offices should take a centralized approach by installing SIP trunks in one or two central locations that would support telephony requirements across the entire company, he said.

Smaller organizations that may not want the upfront costs of new voice equipment should consider a cloud-based telephony system with monthly subscription costs, McCall said.

Not all organizations onboard with SIP services

Organizations not moving to SIP are doing so out of complacency, Myers said. The two main reasons why organizations are not adopting SIP are because they have an existing contract that’s not up for renewal or they’re satisfied with their existing services. But that’s no excuse, Myers said.

“There’s not that much room to be complacent in managing a voice network because we have a lot of enhanced capability,” she said. “It’s not just voice anymore, it’s myriad UC apps and pieces that come together.”

Organizations need to be proactive in migrating to SIP rather than waiting to be forced by their provider, she said.

September 19, 2019  10:04 AM

Advanced huddle room technology improves experience

mlevine Profile: mlevine
Collaboration, UC, Video conferencing

Fitting huddle rooms with audio and video isn’t as simple as taking an offering meant for the boardroom and putting it in a smaller space. Due to their size, huddle rooms present a unique set of challenges such as camera framing and audio sensitivity. While an audio/video offering for a boardroom may not be the right fit, certain features considered native to the boardroom can enhance the UX for huddle rooms.

While huddle rooms may be growing in number, a study from San Antonio-based research firm, Frost & Sullivan, found fewer than 3% of these rooms are video equipped. Insufficient huddle room technology can lead to poor experiences that look like a small group of people crowded around a laptop. When huddle rooms provide a subpar UX it’s unlikely workers will leave their desks to use them.

Smart cameras for huddle rooms

Huddle room size makes finding the right video equipment difficult. Most rooms are small, but still require a field of view wide enough to encompass all meeting participants, as well as any whiteboards or other important visual information. Mounting a camera high on a wall may create a wide field of view but it doesn’t create a dynamic video experience, David Maldow, founder of market research firm Let’s Do Video in Davie, Fla., said in an interview.

Just as too little visual input can be confusing and prevent participants from getting a full and clear understanding of a meeting, too much visual input can be distracting.

“The problem with manual zoom cameras is that generally people fail to use them,” Maldow said. “The result is a meeting with a bad camera angle, zoomed out too much so the people are too small and far away, or zoomed in too much so people are out of view. The best thing about smart cameras is that they take care of this automatically so every meeting will be decently framed, greatly improving the typical experience.”

In a recent webinar on improving the huddle room video experience, Brian Phillips, product marketing manager at Poly, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., explained how focusing on advanced video and audio features can improve huddle room meeting experiences.

Huddle room design

What you need to design a huddle room

Smart cameras are the answer to finding the right framing without needing all users to be experts on video cameras. AI-enabled cameras can recognize who is speaking in the room and automatically move to focus only on the person who needs to be in frame, Phillips said.

Part of the Poly webinar included a demo of its Polycom Studio offering, which provides audio and video for huddle rooms and uses a smart camera to navigate framing visual information. Having the camera automatically frame only the necessary visual information creates a more focused meeting and eliminates the distraction of excessive visual information, Phillips said.

Adjusting audio for a smaller space

Audio is the most important part of any meeting. Without audio, it’s impossible to get work done, Maldow said. The right audio setup for a room helps cut down on distraction by creating an immersive experience.

“We are very aware of spatial audio,” he added. “If you are looking at someone in front of you and their voice is coming from a speaker behind you, it sends a clear signal to your brain that some technology is at play.”

To address the distraction technology can cause, speakers should be located in the same area as monitors to enhance meetings and cut down on distractions.

Microphone sensitivity also presents a unique struggle for huddle rooms. Rather than worry about whether the microphones can pick up on audio in the room to relay clear sound to those on the line, the smaller space of the huddle room can mean too much background noise.

Some best practices, such as not snacking during meetings and putting devices on silent, cut down on excess noise, but they are not a cure-all. Environmental sounds such as keyboard tapping and chair scraping can also distract from a meeting. In smaller rooms, these noises are easier for microphones to pick up on, so offerings with features focused on cutting out unwanted noise are key to minimizing audio distractions, Phillips said.

AI-enhanced audio devices limit the amount of distracting noise by silencing microphones when no one is speaking. Offerings that have a specific field of audio are also helpful in filtering out unwanted noise from outside of the huddle room, Phillips said.

August 13, 2019  11:44 AM

Quantifying success for team collaboration applications

mlevine Profile: mlevine
Collaboration tools, Team Collaboration

Organizations that deploy team collaboration applications are looking to achieve the greatest ROI possible. The struggle is in determining what metrics to quantify the success and ROI of these applications.

Most often factors, such as time and money, are used to measure success. In most cases, money is simple to quantify, organizations can compare pre- and post-deployment revenue or calculate the amount of money saved by deploying team collaboration applications. But, time can be a bit more complicated to quantify.

If a company says team collaboration tools saved 10 minutes of a meeting, that doesn’t necessarily mean the company can explain how that time may have been otherwise spent, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

While it may not be possible to calculate the productivity and value of time saved in meetings and conference calls, organizations can determine how productive the used time is by tracking efficiency gains, such as faster approvals, onboarding, change requests, as well as meeting reductions. The catch, according to Lazar, is that efficiency gains can only be measured in repeatable processes.

A Nemertes Research study on measuring the success of team collaboration identified increased revenue, decreased spending and more efficient business processes as the three metrics for measuring collaboration application ROI. The study also found that organizations with successful ROI for team collaboration deployments used one or more of three approaches.

Business approach

Some organizations will focus on how collaborations work broadly within the business. These organizations tend to have a centrally funded workplace collaboration budget rather having each area of a business handle its own collaboration budget. A centrally funded budget will simplify the process of measuring monetary gains and savings by limiting the number of budgets that need tracking.

Organizations that take this approach are more likely to increase the number of remote workers, and rely less on open work environments to cut down on distractions and increase productivity, as well as cutting brick and mortar costs, according to the study.

Rather than going through a single vendor for all communication and collaboration needs, the study showed that organizations that take a broader business approach to team collaboration deployments are more likely to choose vendors based on feature preferences.

Collaboration technologies approach

Organizations that take a technology-focused approach are looking to enhance the team collaboration environment using all of the tools available. A hybrid approach coupled with SD-WAN and SIP trunks is likely to be used in a technology-focused approach, with organizations making strategic decisions about which parts of the business to move to the cloud, Lazar said. In addition, IT using this approach will be more proactive about the security of their collaboration environment.

The collaboration technology approach uses vendor-provided management tools as well as third-party platforms. This approach works best when adopted across an entire enterprise since it ensures that all teams have access to compatible tools, and will likely have the greatest productivity ROI, according to the study. IT should have an open dialogue with end users to determine what tools are most valuable for an organization’s collaboration teams.

Digital transformation approach

The study found that organizations with successful collaboration deployments are more likely to adopt personal voice assistants and new technology, such as AI. These organizations focused on digital transformation as a whole, looking for new integrations to make business processes more efficient and save time, Lazar said. Overall, companies using this approach were seen as much more proactive about adopting emerging technologies as a means to enhance collaboration workflows.

All of these approaches contribute to the success of a team collaboration application deployment. Organizations can track efficiency before and after deployment as a method of calculating ROI. Organizations should also track ROI by measuring the costs saved due to collaboration deployments, as well as the revenue generated for the company by those deployments.

July 29, 2019  2:38 PM

5 best practices for cloud calling success

Katherine Finnell Katherine Finnell Profile: Katherine Finnell
cloud, UCaaS, Unified Communications, VoIP

Organizations looking to augment their communications features while also cutting costs and improving scalability are turning to the cloud for their calling services. But migrating to cloud calling takes more moving on from on-premises PBX system.

To achieve deployment success, organizations must ensure their network is ready for a cloud migration and that the new calling service will maintain quality for their end users. A Nemertes Research survey of 631 IT leaders identified five factors that contribute to the success of a cloud calling deployment.

1. Taking a hybrid approach. Adopting a hybrid model for cloud calling allows organizations to take a strategic approach toward the cloud, Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said in a webinar. A hybrid model reduces the disruption of a migration while providing faster access to cloud capabilities, such as team collaboration and meetings.

Organizations need to understand where the cloud makes sense for their business and end users. A large office, for example, with an on-premises PBX that’s fully depreciated, but still meets calling needs may not need to move to the cloud. But smaller, remote offices within the business could benefit from moving calling to the cloud.

2. Deploying software-defined WAN. The majority of successful organizations satisfied with cloud calling used SD-WAN to connect to their telephony provider, according to the study.

“The nice value of SD-WAN is it allows you to take the different ways you can connect to different services and applications, and pool them and virtualize them,” Lazar said. “If I’ve got a branch office where it has an internet connection and an MPLS connection … I can potentially layer on an SD-WAN service and virtualize the capabilities that are out there.”

SD-WAN enables IT to set a policy for voice traffic to travel over MPLS, for example, while other data goes over the public internet. IT could also use SD-WAN to automate traffic management by measuring the performance of various links and choosing the optimal path for calls to take.

3. Bring your own SIP. Organizations migrating to cloud-based communications are not necessarily giving up their SIP trunking services and PSTN access. In fact, SIP trunking services are continuing to grow even as cloud adoption grows, Lazar said.

The decision to maintain SIP is a little counterintuitive, Lazar added, but organizations are bringing their SIP services to cloud calling in order to continue owning their phone numbers, maintain PSTN contracts and experiment with cloud services while avoiding vendor lock-in.

Some cloud providers do support organizations bringing their own SIP services. For example, 82% of organizations adopting Microsoft Teams telephony are bringing their own SIP trunks rather than using Microsoft’s calling plan services, he said.

4. Proactive security policies. While a cloud migration means the cloud provider is responsible for overall security, organizations must do their due diligence. Organizations should audit their providers, review their security certifications and maintain communication in the event of a breach.

The components of a proactive security strategy include audits, penetration testing, patching, firewalls and session border controllers. More than one-third of successful organizations have a proactive security strategy, according to the study.

5. Proactive service management. Much like security, a cloud calling migration does not absolve organizations from managing their calling service and network.

“You still need to make sure you’re able to see what’s going on,” Lazar said. “A key part of managing voice quality is being able to have visibility into it.” Organizations can gain insight into their service with tools offered by their provider or they can deploy third-party network management tools.

Using management tools can also validate business metrics, such as usage and call volume, to help organizations determine if they’re saving money or meeting business goals. Management tools can also validate provider contracts and service-level agreements, so providers that guarantee a certain amount of uptime or performance are held accountable.

July 16, 2019  2:39 PM

Know the ingredients for team collaboration app success

mlevine Profile: mlevine
Collaboration tools, Team Collaboration, Unified Communication

Team collaboration apps are everywhere, but deploying them isn’t an immediate recipe for success for organizations looking to improve workflow collaboration. Attitudes toward the role of team collaboration apps, as well as the method of deployment all play a role in the success of adopting team collaboration.

Deploying team collaboration apps can yield several benefits such as decreased meeting frequency, less reliance and use of email, and improved productivity, according to a study from Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.. Fewer than 18% of study participants, however, were successful in their team collaboration deployments based on the success metrics of increased revenue, lowered overall costs and improved business processes as a result of the app deployment.

In addition to the metrics used to determine success, the study identified other characteristics common among successful organizations. The attitudes a company has toward team collaboration app use, how many apps are used and whether the apps are deployed across an entire organization or deployed by individual groups within the company, all influence the success of a deployment.

Ingredients for a successful deployment

Many organizations that successfully deployed team collaboration apps chose company-wide deployments of their chosen apps. Rather than deploying platforms in small groups, successful organizations were more likely to give IT greater management control over team collaboration apps by choosing the applications workers could access.

Choosing a company-wide deployment strategy doesn’t mean that workers were limited to a single team collaboration app. The study found successful deployments could include up to two collaboration applications. Multiple team collaboration apps allow users to choose the app that works best for them. In some cases a second app worked to federate with outside applications, Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said in a webinar.

The most prominent characteristic of successful deployments was how the overall team collaboration apps were viewed. The majority of successful organizations treated team collaboration applications like a hub of business, rather than just a simple chat application. Organizations that treated team collaboration as a hub had more integrated applications, such as customer relationship management or productivity tools.

Keys to driving adoption

The study also identified several key factors that drive team collaboration success. IT should make an effort to understand the needs of employees when choosing a collaboration platform. Understanding employee needs is especially important for organizations looking at company-wide deployment. If employees feel their needs are not addressed by a chosen application, organizations will see lower rates of adoption. In addition, IT decision makers need to make sure they have executive buy-in. It’s far more likely that groups will want to use a platform if they know that upper management is also using it, Lazar said.

Providing training for employees on how to use a collaboration platform also increases the likelihood of user adoption. Workers are more likely to use a platform they know will improve their work processes. It’s incumbent upon IT decision makers to set up training to show the relevance of newly adopted team collaboration tools, and provide understanding on how these tools can improve workflows.

June 25, 2019  3:38 PM

UC adoption programs support users and business goals

Katherine Finnell Katherine Finnell Profile: Katherine Finnell
Collaboration, technology adoption, Unified Communications, Verizon

Transforming a business with unified communications takes more than deploying new apps and services. End users must adopt the services and incorporate them into their daily workflows. For many organizations, a formal adoption program educates and supports users through the deployment process and beyond to ensure UC adoption success.

“In understanding the business, the people in the roles are equally or more important than the technologies,” said Wainhouse Research analyst Marc Beattie.

The transition to new UC and collaboration services is not a one-and-done deployment. A formal adoption program and process will ensure any new technology helps the organization achieve its business goals, he said.

The key to a formal UC adoption program is to teach end users how the new tools can improve their workflows. But this education must be tailored to specific job roles to be successful.

Customize collaboration workflows

One example of UC adoption success involved a Verizon healthcare customer that upgraded its telephony and video meetings platform for its 2,000 employees, including doctors, nurses, physical therapists and support staff. Amid the rollout, Verizon worked closely with users across the organization to educate them on how the new technology contributed to their business goals, said Brian Gorney, managing director of strategy and program development at Verizon.

For example, the cardiology department needed to deliver training to third-party clinics and residents. Gorney said Verizon worked with the department to show how the new platform could improve the sharing of training information, as well as other information like MRIs and ultrasounds, in a HIPAA-compliant manner.

“To build a strong framework for your program, think about the different personas in your organization and customize the services appropriately,” Beattie said in a recent webinar.

Support UC adoption with vendor partner

A formal UC adoption program can’t always be done easily in-house. A Verizon-sponsored report from Wainhouse found organizations that use vendor-led adoption programs see more overall success than organizations with do-it-yourself programs.

The report, which surveyed 197 IT project managers, found that vendor-led programs were more robust than do-it-yourself programs and offered more services to support UC adoption, such as pre-boarding and onboarding, performance optimization services, and integrated app assistance.

Organizations should also look to vendor-led programs that offer lifecycle support, which is focused on business outcomes and ensuring organizations achieve the results they want by deploying new technology, said Michelle Emerson-Russell, global director of collaboration sales at Verizon. Identifying business goals and establishing key performance indicators to measure against during and after a deployment can determine the deployment’s success and the lifecycle support needed.

The majority of survey respondents said using adoption and lifecycle services led to better outcomes for both IT and end users. IT saw faster adoption of new capabilities, lowered costs and better ROI. End users were able to get work done faster, get more work done and made better decisions, according to the report.

“Both adoption and lifecycle starts with the end users and how the tools can improve their ability to do their job,” Gorney said.

April 29, 2019  10:54 AM

Why the UCC market needs AI to improve the user experience

Katherine Finnell Katherine Finnell Profile: Katherine Finnell
ai, Collaboration, Unified Communications

The future of work is increasingly remote as employees work across branch offices, cities and time zones. Consequently, unified communications and collaboration technology needs to provide users with a seamless experience that allows them to do their work better and faster.

“It’s a race in the market for who can blend all these [technologies] and offer a more compelling user experience,” said Aragon Research analyst Jim Lundy.

The global unified communications market is expected to increase from $39 billion in 2017 to more than $65 billion by 2023, according to Lundy. The UCC market is experiencing major growth as various technologies converge, such as video conferencing, business intelligence and contact center.

For many UCC vendors, the convergence of communication and collaboration technology is driven by the need for what Lundy calls people-centric collaboration, where the technology doesn’t get in the way of people communicating and collaborating.

“A lot of tech platforms dictate how to do work because they’re fixed and don’t give flexibility,” Lundy said in a recent webinar that examined the future of the UCC market.

An employee on a phone call with two other people, for example, may want to escalate the call to video. But to do so, everyone on the call must hang up the phone and join a video call. A people-centric approach to collaboration would allow the users to seamlessly transition from voice to video without interruption.

But how do UCC vendors achieve people-centric collaboration in their services? The answer, according to Lundy, lies in AI.

AI could automate collaboration workflows

The introduction of AI to unified communications and collaboration can support more seamless collaboration by automating certain workflows, such as switching communication modes.

By 2021, 40% of UCC providers will offer AI-based digital assistants to support more seamless collaboration experiences, Lundy said. Organizations should start to evaluate where AI digital assistants can benefit their employees and question their UCC providers on their plans for AI.

“Why is conversational AI so important? Many of those assistants are going to help you with getting meetings scheduled and established,” Lundy said.

Chatbots and digital assistants will become more intelligent as the technology matures and function as work assistants. Some UC providers are starting to introduce digital assistants and chatbots to their services, including Amazon’s Alexa for Business, Microsoft’s Cortana and Cisco Webex Assistant.

Intelligent content analytics is another area where AI can improve UCC technology and the user experience. Intelligent content analytics covers four areas: document analytics, voice analytics, video analytics and image analytics. Voice and video analytics in particular are emerging in the UCC market, he said.

Voice analytics includes capabilities such as meeting transcriptions, key meeting insights and sentiment analysis. Video analytics include capabilities such as facial recognition, intelligent meeting rooms and security.

“You can start to see that intelligence is creeping into your meeting and communications experiences,” Lundy said.

December 26, 2018  10:38 AM

Breaking down chat apps adoption by business size

mlevine Profile: mlevine
Collaboration, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Team Collaboration, Unified Communications

When planning a team collaboration strategy, chat apps are a necessary part of the conversation.  Team chat apps adoption has ramped up in the last two years, across organizations of all sizes, according to a study from technology marketplace company Spiceworks.

While businesses are hopping on the chat app train, the vendor offerings they deploy appear to be linked to company size. Several factors influence which apps organizations deploy, such as security, reliability, integration with existing platforms, cost and user interface, according to Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar.

The Spiceworks study, which surveyed 900 IT professionals, focused on the adoption of Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Hangouts and Workplace by Facebook. As the study focused on vendor offerings that are considered primarily chat-focused, Cisco’s offering was not included, said Spiceworks analyst and report author, Peter Tsai.

Large businesses with more than 500 employees favored Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts, according to the study. More than half of large businesses have adopted Skype for Business. While Hangouts saw lower overall adoption, large business adoption grew from 11% in 2016 to 18% in 2018 as the app added more enterprise functionality, such as video conferencing.

Larger businesses tend to put more emphasis on reliability, security, manageability and compatibility when evaluating team chat apps. Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams ranked highly, making them popular choices for large businesses, according to the study.

The study also showed mid-size businesses, between 100 and 499 employees, follow in the footsteps of larger businesses but at a slightly lower rate of adoption, with just under half adopting Skype for Business.

Slack saw the most adoption in small businesses with fewer than 100 employees, likely due to the perception that Slack is the most innovative in the chat apps market, according to survey respondents. Slack has a robust developer ecosystem with more than 1,500 third-party integrations. The study also found many IT professionals view Slack to be user friendly, which can reduce the amount of user training needed for deployment.

Adoption of Workplace by Facebook is lagging with businesses of all sizes. Lazar said organizations seem to be buying into Workplace as an enterprise portal or social platform rather than a team collaboration app.

“They are competing more with the likes of Yammer and Jive,” he said. ” As they continue to add capabilities like voice and video, meetings and integrations, they should continue to compete more effectively with other teams.”

November 19, 2018  4:13 PM

4 UCaaS market trends driving vendor offerings

mlevine Profile: mlevine
Artificial intelligence, Cisco Unified Communications, Collaboration, Gartner Magic Quadrant, Team Collaboration, UCaaS

The features users are looking for in UCaaS platforms are ever-evolving. Vendors are focusing on adding and improving features based on market demand and trying to keep up with alternative UC offerings. This year’s Gartner UCaaS Magic Quadrant identified four key UCaaS market trends that are driving vendor offerings.

  1. Improved dashboards, portals and tools

UCaaS providers put a heavy emphasis on dashboards, portals and tools this year. The investment in these features is an attempt to catch up to application specialists that have mature offerings containing these features. The tools getting the most attention are focused on onboarding new customers, IT self-administration, and measuring service quality and performance.

  1. Team Collaboration

The majority of UCaaS providers include team collaboration offerings as part of their UCaaS portfolios. Shared conversational workspaces and content and file sharing are becoming ubiquitous across team collaboration offerings. More users are placing value on team collaboration as they look for applications that allow them to share, converse and track progress. Many of the offerings from UCaaS vendors are still evolving, and have not caught up to more mature  platforms like Slack. But the UCaaS market trend toward team collaboration is pushing vendors to close the gap.

  1. Globalization

Over the past year, UCaaS providers have focused on building out their global capacity to address growing markets in non-English speaking countries. This UCaaS market trend focuses on expanding  multilingual services and support staff in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America. While English-speaking countries remain the strongest for services, the gap is beginning to shrink.  While most providers feature documentation in multiple languages, 24/7 support for non-English languages has yet to become the norm.

  1. Video-focused user experience

Video isn’t exactly a new UCaaS market trend, but attitudes and approaches toward the user experience are changing. While vendors have focused on developing and enhancing video capabilities such as screen sharing and whiteboarding, now they’re focusing on improving the user experience through video-friendly design, such as embedded video. These UCaaS platform updates also include interfaces that allow users to hide menus not in use, making it easier to focus on participants and shared content.

On the Horizon

While Gartner identified four main UCaaS market trends, some trends are on the horizon. Virtual assistants, AI capabilities, IoT integration and conversational user interfaces have only recently garnered attention in the UCaaS market. A select few providers that have either already embraced these technologies, or have a road map that includes them in future offerings. According to Gartner, chatbots are an indicator that some of these features may become trends in the near future, as several providers have incorporated chatbots into their team collaboration and contact offerings.

November 8, 2018  11:15 AM

The time for the omnichannel contact center is now

Zeus Kerravala Profile: Zeus Kerravala
Contact center, multichannel, Omnichannel

Editor’s note: In this opinion piece, industry analyst Zeus Kerravala shares his thoughts on the omnichannel contact center and Talkdesk’s latest approach.

After years of discussion but low adoption, the use of omnichannel contact centers got a boost this week when contact-center-as-a-service provider Talkdesk launched Talkdesk iQ, an AI-focused tool.

For anyone not familiar with the differences between contact centers, multichannel contact centers allow customers to use a wide range of communications methods, such as voice, chat or email. Omnichannel is similar except the channels are tied together, making it seamless to move from one channel to another.

With multichannel, a customer might start a conversation in a chat and then decide to call. When the call is made, the agent doesn’t know what was said in the chat. With omnichannel, communications modes are bonded together so information can flow between them. This helps agents provide better service and saves the customer from the burden of entering information multiple times.

Talkdesk iQ, announced at Talkdesk’s Opentalk18 customer event in San Francisco, unifies several features, including omnichannel capabilities. With its new release, Talkdesk has expanded the definition of omnichannel beyond traditional email, chat, voice and text to include the following:

  • Social listening enables businesses to listen across all social channels to help contact centers be proactive in responding to urgent posts. The feature uses defined keywords or hashtags to act as triggers. Social posts are automatically routed as inbound contacts, then given priority for resolution.
  • Chatbot builder gives businesses the ability to build a Talkdesk iQ bot to automate customer inquiries and issues. Chatbot builder can identify when a live agent should be brought into the conversation.
  • Reporting provides a deep understanding of the contact center team’s performance with reporting across all interaction channels.

Why the holdup with omnichannel adoption?

Currently, omnichannel is in a strange place. It’s been discussed for about a decade, but adoption is low. I estimate fewer than 10% of contact centers have actual omnichannel capabilities. This begs the question: If it has so much value and customer service is a top priority, why hasn’t adoption been stronger?

One reason is a lack of awareness of the value it can bring. I recently interviewed the contact center manager of an entertainment venue that still has voice-only capabilities. When I asked about other channels, the manager said its audience only wants to communicate via voice, but there was no real research to back that up.

To that point, I caution company leaders never to assume they know what their customers want. Last year I interviewed the IT director at a mobile payment app company. He said the company had bypassed voice as a channel because it was targeting millennials and others who think mobile first and felt voice wouldn’t be a priority. He found out later he was wrong, and voice wound up being a significant channel.

According to my research, more than 80% of customer interactions start via a non-voice channel, and customers use an average of three channels per contact with a company, with voice part of the mix. So, voice is important, but voice only is limiting. Evolving from voice-only to multichannel doesn’t make any sense because it puts the heavy lifting on the customer, and that’s bad for business.

Make the shift to omnichannel

Another reason multichannel has its shortcomings is the transition can be technically challenging and requires a disruption in customer service. The contact center is important to most organizations. But there’s an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality with the platform. This is where a cloud platform can help because there are no upfront costs, and implementation is as easy as going to a web browser. Training, reporting and other issues still need to be addressed, but those issues exist on premises, too.

One of the benefits of the cloud is innovation and product updates are handled by the CCaaS provider, which allows customers to stay current more easily.

Talkdesk, for instance, announced several new features, and customers have access to those immediately. With an on-premises product, every update requires some disruption while the system is upgraded. This wasn’t overly disruptive when updates came once a year, but in this era of microservices and containers, updates can happen multiple times a day. And the range of channels continues to grow so the definition of omnichannel tomorrow won’t be the same as it is today.

I strongly urge businesses of all sizes to make the shift to omnichannel, as there is great risk in standing still. We are in the digital era and customer service is the top brand differentiator. Making customers input the same information over and over creates frustration and can make a 1-minute conversation take 30 minutes.

Omnichannel meets AI and analytics

Research I conducted last year revealed two-thirds of millennials had changed loyalty to a brand because of a bad customer service experience. This isn’t tied entirely to the contact center, but every time customers need to enter a credit card number twice or explain a problem again, they might just hang up and use someone else.

Another point to consider is omnichannel and AI-based analytics go hand in hand. Every business leader I talk to wants to mine company data to find interesting insights. Omnichannel contact centers provide more data from communications tools that can be analyzed to discover game-changing insights.

While machine learning states “good data leads to good insights,” a voice-only or multichannel system creates silos of data that give a partial view. In that case, you can extend the statement to “partial data leads to partial insights.” Long term, this can create a serious competitive issue where the business will risk falling further behind.

The time for excuses is over. The value proposition of omnichannel is clear — better customer service, more data, improved insights. Cloud services can simplify the transition from legacy contact centers to omnichannel. With that understanding, I ask, what are you waiting for? The time for omnichannel contact centers is now.

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