ShoreTel Sky Interviews Sheila McGee-Smith About Contact Centers, Part 1

    Recently, ShoreTel Sky sat down with leading communications industry analyst and strategic consultant Sheila McGee-Smith, the founder of McGee-Smith Analytics, to discuss the evolving trends taking place in the contact center. In the interview, we asked McGee-Smith to share her views on what circumstances are evolving in the enterprise communications landscape.

    ShoreTel Sky: With voice in the telecom industry, there is a big question of whether voice is dying, including Voice over IP, because of the emergence of video conferencing, web chat and all this kind of stuff. So what's your opinion on the whole voice aspect of the contact center?

    Sheila McGee-Smith: Ok, so, Dimension Data, a global reseller of contact center solutions, does an annual study reaching out to contact center managers and asking about what channels are being supported in the contact center and the most recent study, when the data was published in 2013, shows that 98.7 percent of contact centers support voice. Now, 89 percent of them support email, 60 percent of them support web chat, 30 percent support social. What we're finding is that the new media is getting added to existing media.

    Voice is not going away; 98.7 percent means that 1.3 percent of contact centers may not be doing voice. So there is that very small percentage of centers that have a business that is so Internet focused that perhaps they choose to just do email or web chat, but the overwhelming majority of contact centers continue to support voice because customers still want to support voice.

    So voice is not disappearing in the contact center market. Is there a shift of some interaction traffic to other channels? Yes, I would say that's the case.

    ShoreTel Sky: Is that the same thing that happened with email? How we kind of moved away from email but its still a very popular channel for communication?

    McGee-Smith: Right. I mean, I'm sitting in front of an inbox that has 3,800 items in it. So email is still a big part of our life. If you go back to your initial question about things like video and chat, there perhaps is a difference internal to businesses, as opposed to external. I think internally, especially at tech companies, there is a lot more video, there is a lot more chat, but I think in terms of external communication, voice is even more important than it is internally. I think you have to make that distinction: internal and external communication.

    ShoreTel Sky: So kind of tagging onto that is this big idea of consumerization, where everybody now in the workplace is using the same kind of platforms that people use in their personal lives. The biggest one, obviously, has to be mobility. Are contact centers embracing this idea? Not necessarily BYOD, but using smartphones rather than deskphones. And is that bringing in this remote connectivity/remote working concept?

    McGee-Smith: So again, there are two sides to the question. One is, what happens internally at the contact center? Second, what is happening in terms of companies reaching out and communicating with their customers. To me, the latter is intrinsically more interesting, so I'll address that first.

    How does BYOD impact how companies interact with their customers? In two ways. One, mobility is a very big topic right now in contact centers. With 50 percent of interactions coming into a contact center from mobile devices, the question becomes "how can we support that customer better?" They're sitting there with a platform that can do more for them and one way we do this is by giving them applications for their mobile devices. But from a contact center perspective, that's not the end of the story.

    If you're on a mobile device and you have a problem, you want to call the contact center. So you call the contact center and usually you can find an 800-number, click on it and your phone dials it. But then you start all over again when talking to the company. The best case scenario - and the one that is just now emerging as an application opportunity for contact center vendors - is when that call comes in from a mobile device, it brings with it to the contact center that context of what has been going on.

    So, for example, I'm in the middle of a flight because something got canceled, I don't want an IVR to start asking me what I want to do, it should know what I want to do. It should know exactly who I am and since I'm already authenticated, I should come right into somebody prepared to handle the very specific thing that I was working on. So that's number one: From a mobility standpoint, we want to do a better job supporting those applications and supporting customers coming in on those applications.

    The other part of mobile is, "How do we do a better job of using multimedia capabilities of [mobility] from a contact center perspective?" For example, I have a broken bike and a smartphone. I have to figure out some way to get the gear reattached. I call into the contact center for the bike company and instead of trying to describe what's wrong, I show them what's wrong. Instead of them trying to tell me how to do it, they show me a video of how to do it. These are emerging application areas for contact center solution providers, but it's not hard to see the immediate applicability of it.

    So where else is BYOD playing? The other part of BYOD that's really having an impact - and 2013 is really just the beginning of it - is video communications in general. Everybody is walking around with a camera. There seems to be this huge technical barrier to people putting a webcam on their PC, but between laptops increasingly shipping 100 percent with web cameras and all the smartphones with cameras, it really does open up video in the contact center. With everybody getting so used to video, the barriers are breaking down to, why aren't we doing this?

    I did a [No Jitter] piece last month about video in the contact center. Just do it!

    Read Part 2 of our Interview with Sheila McGee-Smith

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