Over the years, we’ve watched key players in contact center technology change their market positioning. They want the market to take notice as their core technology advances, their product portfolios offer more complete and innovative solutions, and/or they’ve found a new way to fulfill the next big customer need. And, of course, they want their ever-expanding product lines and associated messaging to resonate with buyers.
Unified Communications (UC) has been the “holy grail” of product positioning for many vendors (and analysts and consultants). It targets all voice communications (including call center solutions), as well as a variety of media and the related needs for enterprise and contact center users. UC also encompasses things like collaboration, presence, and IM, which often come from the data side of the Information Technology (IT) department and associated vendors like Microsoft. In our experience, this term worked for IT and telecom buyers, but not so much for contact center leaders.
In the latest attempt to describe the communications ecosystem, the buzz is all about “convergence” of UC and CC. Some are reviving and redefining an all-encompassing term—business communications—while other rumblings point to terminology that resonates with the “digital natives” who are increasingly the users and buyers. Whatever it’s called, the new grail quest is timely given the flurry of acquisitions, partnerships, and integrations to offer comprehensive corporate communications solutions and the need to address a broad range of media, not just voice. Vendors are also looking to take the concept of a “suite” or “one-stop-shopping” (and the associated “one neck to choke”) to a new level, thereby elevating the appeal to both buyer and seller.
Even with varying vendor labels, today’s solutions continue to include three primary components that have been around for years:
- Enterprise communication (dark blue)
- Collaboration (light green)
- Contact center (gold, gray and tan)
Enterprise communications includes voice communications (aka PBX) and messaging (voice mail, email, FAX), with integration or consolidation of all messaging in one place using enhanced and combined user interfaces (e.g., speak email, access voice mail from email, etc.). Collaboration can include workstream or business process management and communication components such as presence, IM, video, web presentation, web and video conferencing and document sharing. Many companies do just fine with an isolated IM/presence solution, with the most common being Microsoft Skype for Business (previously Lync). Some contact centers use the IM tool offered by their contact center application vendor when collaboration is only required within the contact center, and presence may be integrated with the workstate.
Most vendors throw customer experience or engagement (aka contact center) into the mix as part of their overall enterprise offering to show that they offer the whole package. Core contact center components (e.g., ACD, IVR, CTI, WFO, etc.) have expanded to include support for multimedia routing and reporting of voice, email, texting/SMS, chat, social media contacts. “Omnichannel” trumps “multichannel” as the catch-phrase to emphasize a seamless, integrated customer experience.
In a perfect world, the contact center’s technology procurement is part of an overarching IT strategy, and any purchase makes progress along a defined roadmap. The roadmap includes an end state vision that incorporates all the components we have been discussing, along with an integration plan to address process consistency. Very few companies replace all technology at once, so the plan ensures that each purchase progresses toward the end-state vision.
Short of a full roadmap, purchases should not be viewed in isolation. Think of how your current purchase fits with where you are and where you will be going (to the degree it’s defined). As you consider each purchase as part of a whole, don’t forget about collaboration. It’s an element often dealt with separately, but there are some considerations for how you collaborate within and outside the contact center.
Understanding your requirements and how they fit in the overall communications ecosystem ensures you retain control of your purchase and that current vendor labels and positioning won’t cause you to go astray.