When buying contact center applications, don't be oversold

When buying contact center applications, some enterprises will need to focus on basic functionality instead of the bells and whistles.

In contact centers, sometimes less is more. Not every business will use multiple communication channels to communicate with customers. At the same time, not every customer is going to want to text, instant message or video chat with a contact center agent. Many businesses are refreshing their customer service strategies by evaluating existing contact center applications and features, from the basics -- such call routing and tracking -- to flashier innovations like multichannel communication modes and social analytics. But some enterprises won't need – or want -- all the bells and whistles contact center application vendors have to offer. They want to buy only what they need.

Contact center applications: More customization needed

Some vendors offer large contact center platforms with a broad suite of integrated applications while others chose to specialize in certain features -- like outbound dialing. Smaller companies with a handful of dedicated contact center agents might be interested in a contact center package from one vendor like Cisco or Avaya, but larger companies that are growing their customer care strategies are more likely to buy third-party add-on features "a la carte-style" -- such as analytics, reporting and mobile tools, said Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of COMMfusion LLC.

"Businesses are realizing that customers want to contact them in different ways, and they have to be prepared," Pleasant said.

Many companies want more customization and they can't always get it from vendors who sell big contact center packages with features they may or may not use. At the same time, some of these packages won't have every contact center application a business needs, but if they buy third-party applications -- like social analytics or call reporting and metrics tools -- to fill the gap, they encounter integration challenges.

"Unless companies are throwing out their legacy [contact center tools] or a new company [is] starting from the very beginning, [businesses] struggle when they add a new channel or feature," said Nancy Jamison, principal analyst of contact centers and information and communications for San Antonio-based Frost and Sullivan Inc.

CorvisaCloud, a provider of cloud-based call center software, recently introduced its first hosted voice and SMS platform for the contact center. The platform gives customers the ability to pick and choose, and then implement any existing features -- like Web chat -- into the CorvisaCloud platform so those applications don't have to be rebuilt, said Matt Lautz, president of CorvisaCloud. Unlike Web service-based platforms that allow enterprises to build their own application programming interfaces for the addition of voice and video apps, CorvisaCloud can also change code and provide testing for customers so enterprises don't need the expertise or to hire their own developer to create their applications.

"It's not about every feature that we have, it's about what features do [businesses] want," Lautz said. "Businesses can buy the [contact center] product pre-built from us, or they can modify our platform to fit their needs and write their own custom voice and SMS contact center applications. But it's all on one scalable platform," he said. The platform is hosted and supported by CorvisaCloud, eliminating the need for businesses to buy or manage their own infrastructure.

Emerging contact center applications are nice, but keep an eye on the basics

Customers want to pick up a phone and connect with an agent as quickly as possible, and they are easily frustrated when basic features fail for lack of proper integration -- like the failure of data transferring between automated and live agents. While basic contact center features may not be as exciting as newer capabilities, like social media integration and live video chatting, ensuring a smooth and satisfying experience for customers should be the number one priority, Jamison said.

"You're only as good as your worst channel," she said. "We have had data transferring and IVR [interactive voice response] capabilities for 30 years, yet we are still struggling with the adoption of this basic ability to transfer information that callers put into the system to an agent's screen."

Only after the basics are ironed out can enterprises begin exploring newer features and deploying new applications, depending on their customers, COMMfusion's Pleasant said. "Not every company is going to decide they need video contact center agents now, the right use case has to be there because seeing an agent won't add value to every situation. But I think because of tools like Amazon's Mayday, more companies are looking into it, but it's still very limited," she said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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