WebRTC and Standardization – An Interview with Our Man in the W3C, Dan Burnett

by Tobias Goebel on December 17th, 2014

Tobias GoebelI talked to Dan Burnett last week to hear the latest&greatest about WebRTC, the exciting technology that enables and standardizes real-time communication on the Web. While we tried to shorten the interview for quicker consumption, we found that almost all of what Dan said was too relevant to shorten.

What follows is a slightly abbreviated version of the interview below. You can also listen to the full recording of the interview. The full transcript is available here.

Tobias: Good morning. I’m here with Dan Burnett, a colleague who is not only our voice and ear in the standards bodies, but Dan, you are also one of the four authors of the new WebRTC standard in the W3C and actually also a co-author of one of the first books of the topic. To start the interview off, can you give us a 20,000 ft view of what WebRTC is from your perspective and what is being standardized?

Dan: Sure. WebRTC is a technology. It essentially provides 2 new capabilities for people who build webpages.

1)    it standardizes access to cameras, microphones and other devices like that. It’s always been possible using Flash or plug-ins, but this is the first time that this capability will be built into the browser. This can not only be used for communications, but also for adjusting audio or images in terms of virtual environments, ways in which you can enhance what you can see through your camera etc.

2)    a standardized way to send audio, video, and data; to stream media between 2 browsers. The whole Web model so far has been that a client talks only to a server. Now you can connect one browser to another browser, without a relay server in the middle. That’s what WebRTC adds: direct, peer-to-peer connections for audio, video, and data.

Tobias: You mentioned earlier that it is between 2 browsers. Is that really what this technology is about, or could one make a broader statement and say: between 2 endpoints.

Dan: That’s a great question. When we initially started working on WebRTC, the model that we used was a model of 2 Web browsers talking, as we wanted to make sure that that use case worked. But clearly, people want more than 2 web browsers to talk. The browsers have the capabilities built in, but both Google and Ericsson have both provided libraries that support WebRTC capabilities, so you can incorporate these into any other application that you want – in particular mobile devices.

Tobias: Interesting. Now, you’re part of the W3C, the standards body that standardizes a lot of things on the Web. Is that the only body involved?

Dan: No, there are 2 primary standards organizations. The WebRTC working group inside the W3C is who brought us the JavaScript APIs that I have been talking about. There is another organization, the IETF, that defines all the protocols for how information flows over the Internet (FTP, mail protocols, VoIP, SIP, RTP, etc.) There is an RTCWeb working group in the IETF that defines extensions to the existing VoIP protocols that make WebRTC work.

Tobias: Where do you think the standards stand now? We’re seeing a lot of adoption in the industry, which is great. Aspect just released an early adopter version of RTC Platform, which is our own product to leverage these new capabilities. So from your perspective, are things ready for prime time?

Dan: Clearly, it’s been possible to build applications using WebRTC, even today. You can absolutely build fully functional applications today. However, there are some edge cases that are still being worked on. But the core capabilities of being able to send audio, video, and data works just fine today. And there is nothing that says you can’t actually setup multiple such separate connections. So how ready is this? Interestingly, the W3C meeting I was at most recently, I would almost describe as boring. Same thing for the IETF meeting.

Tobias: …that’s a good thing right?

Dan: Yes.  What I mean by that is that we spent a lot of time going through change requests, discussing them, making a decision, and writing them down. That’s fabulous! We’re not having major disagreements anymore. So now there’s just work to do and it’s the edge cases. When you get to that point in standards development, things are on a really really really good track.

That doesn’t mean that things will be done in the next month, but it does mean they will be done in a reasonable time frame. Say e.g. the media capture piece, getting access to camera and microphone, I think will stabilize within the first quarter of 2015. And the WebRTC spec that defines the communication piece is probably running about 6 months beyond that. So I would never encourage anyone to hesitate at this point. If you have been waiting to do something with WebRTC, now is an absolutely great time to do it, because the APIs are really beginning to firm up in a nice way.”

Tobias: That’s great to hear. Now, we know that Mozilla and Google are the main organizations/businesses that drive this technology. Microsoft and Apple are a little behind if you like, and we’ve been wondering for the longest time what Microsoft is up to in particular. They made a couple of exciting announcements in the past few weeks that point to them embracing the technology in IE and elsewhere. Can you share your view and anything you’ve heard on this topic lately?

Dan: This has been one of the big, million-dollar questions, or billion-dollar questions perhaps: whether or when Microsoft and Apple would participate and support the technology. Both companies tend to keep quiet until they are ready to announce something, Apple in particular. I can say that some really positive things have occurred in addition to the announcements recently. Earlier this year in May we had an interim standards meeting for WebRTC, and a couple of the key people of Microsoft were present at that meeting. They didn’t really participate, but they were at the meeting and observed. At the meeting that we just had in October, not only were they present, but they participated regularly in the discussion.

This is a very significant sign; companies don’t usually do that until they’re ready, or significantly interested in the outcome and progress of the standard. The other thing was that there was a representative from Apple in the meeting in October, who was there for much of the discussion. He didn’t participate much, but he was there, and again, that’s a fairly new thing, to have someone from Apple who is present for much of the discussion. I consider both of those good signs.

I think what we’re seeing now is enough of an increase in support and adoption of WebRTC that those 2 companies, Microsoft and Apple, will feel left out, and it will matter to them that they’re left out if they don’t participate, and quickly.

With respect to Microsoft, there is another effort, which I’ve avoided speaking about, because I didn’t want to give people the wrong impression about it or its status or significance, and that is the ORTC effort, or Object RTC effort. This was largely started by Hookflash, and then Microsoft joined. This was originally positioned as a competitor to WebRTC, along the lines of “don’t use that WebRTC thing, use our ORTC”. What’s happened over the last year or so is that that effort, which is being done at a community group at W3C, so a non-standards track group, has been focusing more recently on how to make what they do compatible with what’s being called WebRTC 1.0, so the official standard. I.e. many of the capabilities now of ORTC are ones that could be added onto WebRTC 1.0, either as part of 1.0, or a future version, like 1.1 or 2.0.

Some of that has actually started. There is a new capability that we just discussed in our October meeting, that has to do with finer granularity of control over what’s sent over a track. There are some new capabilities that are being added into WebRTC 1.0 that will be placeholders for those kinds of controls. So whether those controls will make it into 1.0 or a later version, we don’t know yet, it depends on how fast they progress and whether they would delay the completion of 1.0 or not. But at least the hooks are being put in there. The fact that the ORTC work has as a goal to merge well and stay consistent with the WebRTC 1.0 work today is a fabulous sign for the industry. What it means is that somewhere down the road we will have one unified version that everybody supports. It is not clear what Microsoft will support right out of the box. They have said they will support ORTC, I haven’t heard as clear a statement about WebRTC 1.0 from Microsoft.

Tobias: The way I understand ORTC is that it gives you a little more fine-grained, lower level access to some of the stuff you need to do for realtime communications, and it sounds like that what you just said that both groups and both technology specifications are approaching each other a little bit, trying to meet somewhere in the middle?

Dan: In practice that’s what’s happening; I need to be very clear that from a standards perspective only WebRTC is on a standards track. So the way that that merger is happening is the proper way from a standards perspective, meaning that proposals are being made into the WebRTC group for new capabilities. So it’s not that the WebRTC group is adopting ORTC, for example. But rather that people who are active in both groups are taking some of the features they consider most critical and proposing them within the WebRTC group, just like anyone can propose any feature. The difference is that these features obviously have been given a lot of thought by a lot of people, so they are at a better starting point than many other features that someone might consider for a proposal.

Tobias: Dan, this has been very informative for me, I hope for our audience as well, so thank you very much for talking to me this morning!

Dan: My pleasure, any time!

Disposable Apps and Their Place in Your Mobile Customer Care Strategy

by Tobias Goebel on December 15th, 2014

Tobias GoebelAspect MobilityWhen thinking of mobile customer care, most people tend to think of mobile apps. Mobile native apps are indeed a great way to expose pretty much all channels available on a smartphone (see my recent blog about why mobile isn’t a channel) and offer great self-service as well, but there are three main drawbacks with them:

  1. Change management can be costly with deployment complexities around app store approvals and the cost of specialized mobile app developers. If you rely on an outside firm to make changes to your mobile app, you additionally suffer from slower time to market.
  2. Customers need to download the app first. For some industries, the frequency of contact with a business is so low that having a piece of software on your phone that takes up precious screen and “disk” space cannot be justified. Your customers might refuse to install your app.
  3. While push notifications exist, users can choose to disable them, or easily overlook and thus miss them. Important updates do therefore not always reach the recipient in time or lead to the desired response.

At Aspect, we therefore believe in what we like to call disposable apps. Disposable apps are mobile Web apps written in HTML5 so they are usable on any smartphone without the need for a download. There are far more web developers with the knowledge to build HTML5-based apps than there are Objective C or Java developers for iOS and Android (let alone for other platforms such as Windows or BlackBerry).

A disposable app is “disposable” because it is outbound in nature and focuses on the task at hand – it only lives for the time of transaction. It is pushed as a link, typically via SMS, which can lead to an immediate action/response from the customer through the simple touch of an embedded URL. It leads them directly to a page offering either timely information or the option to respond and take action. Think of appointment reminders with the ability to reschedule right away, without having to call in as most one-way reminder apps function today. Or delivery notifications with the option to change the pickup location. Or payment reminders with the option to make the payment right then through a secure app.

Through the use of temporary security PINs and the HTTPS protocol, logging in to a disposable app is fast, convenient, and secure at the same time. Disposable apps have the customer’s immediate attention (studies show that 90% of SMS are read within 3 minutes, and 99% of all SMS are opened), offer a rich environment for a “dialog”, and can also offer ways to get in touch with a live agent if needed, e.g. through a callback option or an embedded call feature through the use of WebRTC.

Aspect Proactive Mobile, one of the solutions available in the Aspect Mobility suite launched last month, implements disposable apps. See the following example:

 Aspect Mobility - Self-service disposable apps

Disposable apps should be an integral part of your mobile customer experience strategy. They can help to give your customers “mobile moments,” a term coined by Forrester. Michel Falcon has introduced the term “micro customer experiences”, which also accurately reflects what disposable mobile apps can do for you.

Disposable apps do not replace your existing mobile assets, but complement them. They can be designed to follow the corporate look and feel of your mobile native apps. They belong in the contact center, due to their nature of being outbound reminders or notifications that might entail a response option or a way to seamlessly hand the conversation over to a live agent.

Aspect provides a platform on which to build and manage disposable mobile apps, together with your IVR and two-way SMS applications. Aspect’s Voxeo CXP has been supporting voice, text, social, and mobile self-service channels for seven years now, since the previously IVR-only platform was turned into an omni-channel platform. Talk to us today to find out how you can benefit from the use of Voxeo CXP, which is offered both in the convenient cloud and for on-premise deployment behind your firewall.

Is There a “Wrong” Channel for Customer Engagement?

by Evan Dobkin on December 12th, 2014

Evan DobkinRecently, Director of Emerging Technologies, Tobias Goebel, detailed how mobile is not a channel, but rather it is a platform that enables multiple methods of communication on the way to an appealing customer experience. Customers don’t differentiate between channels as companies do. Therefore, the new goals of customer engagement are not only focused on being available on all channels that customers want to use to engage with companies, but on making that experience seamless.

The cloud has enabled new channels to develop and deploy at such a rapid pace that companies may feel like they’re constantly playing catch-up with customers. Customers will adopt new channels first because there’s no risk in doing so. Not every channel is optimized for consumers to resolve customer service issues, but there’s no risk for the consumer in trying. This points directly to the biggest shift in customer service: that the customer now dictates to the business where and when they want to communicate, and not the other way around.

So if the customer dictates which channel they want to use and when they want to use it, is there such a thing as a “wrong” channel for customer service?

The answer is no, both for the customer and the business. Each channel has its own specific advantages over the others, and understanding how to best utilize each channel can help businesses optimize the overall customer experience. For example, it’s much easier to handle complex scenarios that need explanation over voice; SMS can get you quick access to small pieces of information; and native and mobile web apps provide a richer visual experience, especially for transactions. It’s up to the business to present a consistent, unified, seamless experience across each of these channels so the customer can feel confident using the channel most appropriate for resolving a specific issue.

But what if a company hasn’t adopted all of these channels fully or there are emerging channels that aren’t mature enough to have developed a strategy? At this point, it’s critical to make sure that these channels are being monitored for the benefit of the business to understand how it’s being used. Monitoring a channel will reveal whether customers are merely talking about your company or trying to elicit a response to get support. While it may not make sense to have a staffed Instagram account, it’s easy for an employee to check it over the course of the day to see if their company is being mentioned. Or to a greater degree, maybe a user has posted a picture of a product that isn’t working for them. If needed, the company can reach out to that user and suggest another channel through which they can receive support. This kind of highly personalized experience can make up for the lack of presence on the originating channel.

We know that there are exceptions to the adage that the customer is always right, but there is no wrong channel for a customer to engage with your company. The key is being able to listen and respond when they do.

Cautionary Tales from 5 Customer Care Personas

by Tim Dreyer on December 10th, 2014

Tim Dreyer, Director, Public Relations and Analyst Relations, AspectHow do you approach customer service? As an opportunity to delight and reward your customers or as more of a business necessity just to make sure your customers hang around, happy or not? Are you big on personal touch, but short on technology? Or do you have tons of technology but no solid or sensible measurements in place? Do you know where you’re succeeding and where you’re falling short? Perhaps the cautionary tales from the company personas of customer care can give you some insight.

Aspect recently commissioned a study of customer service decision makers identifying five groups or Personas that represent distinct approaches to, and execution of, customer care. These Personas range from “The Traditionalist” who is all about the relationship but not the technology to “The Selfie” who innovates primarily to serve its own corporate agenda and “The Stickler” who’s focused solely on following its well-defined protocol.

Now don’t skip to the end. The study didn’t find a single Persona that is absolutely perfect in its approach to customer service – everyone segment has room for improvement. So whether your business is just a startup or you’re in the middle of a full customer engagement evaluation, these Company Personas, and their approached to customer service, can help you avoid the common mistakes that those who have gone before have made. Have you heard of the show, ‘What Not to Wear?” Think of this as “How Not to Customer Care” – tips on what not to do when planning and executing on a successful customer service strategy.Persona Image

The Traditionalist’s Agent overreliance:  Don’t get me wrong, the traditional approach to customer service, the approach focused on building long-lasting personal relationships is a proven method to build loyalty.  The Traditionalist Persona puts too much emphasis on personal touch and not enough on technology such as mobile and self-service and this can be a problem. Customers, especially millennials, increasingly prefer self-service applications to resolve issues (not to mention the expense of a one-to-one real-time touch for each customer can be high). The companies who recognize that a comprehensive customer care strategy is a mix of technology and agent-based service are those who will avoid falling into this trap.

Learn from The Honcho: Make sure your technology isn’t anti-social: There are some companies with committed leadership who truly see the value of customer service as part of the overall corporate strategy. They agree that customer service technology investment has a strong correlation to improved consumer interaction but companies in the Honcho segment haven’t fully grasped how to integrate this technology into its operations and use it effectively. It’s not enough for leadership to just value customer service—put words into practice by encouraging the entire organization to continuously innovate and explore new channels for engagement.

Go ahead and take a selfie, just don’t be The Selfie: A brand is nothing without its customers. A company can be on the forefront of technology, ahead of the curve in customer service innovation and functionality but if a company does this purely to save money, it risks neglecting even frustrating customers and their actual needs. And brands, like those that fall into the Selfie segment, that have an amplified sense of self and believe they can do no wrong are especially at risk. It’s difficult to master something that is always changing, and any belief otherwise is a surefire way to alienate and lose what sustains a business – its customers.

Don’t take customer service lightly, unlike The Casualist: An overly casual approach to customer service – in everything from leadership involvement and metrics to technology and customer service prioritization defines the Casualist persona. This segment suffers from a ‘light’s on, but no one’s home’ care strategy, which is one reason why they see their customer service performance worsening. Casual can be good sometimes—it can be a sign of flexibility and the ability to handle surprises—but casual to the point of no return leaves customers with unresolved issues and agents unsure of how to proceed. Flexibility is critical in providing a personalized approach to customer care, but some structure is still necessary to actually resolve the issue, which is key for the most superior customer experiences.

Protecting the protocol of The Stickler: On the opposite end of the spectrum is The Stickler company which gets too bogged down by rules, procedures and a formalized approach to customer service. While rules and protocol are good, even needed, companies also need to be flexible to meet the needs of every unique customer. When it comes down to it, the customer cares less about the corporate policy and more about an experience that is not one size fits all.

While there’s no perfect Persona, it’s important to find a balance between delivering superior customer service and bottom line results. The first step is to recognize the potential customer service traps and pitfalls a business can fall into, avoid them, and then develop a strategy that takes into account the company, the technology, the agent and ultimately, the customer.

 

 

Get the Facts for a Successful Cloud Contact Center Investment

by Christine OBrien on December 10th, 2014

Chris O'Brien, Marketing Communications Writer, AspectOur recent Ask a CFO webinar and Q&A touched on many of the economic considerations affecting whether a cloud contact center might be right for your business. If cloud deployment is something you’ve been exploring, or even if you’re just interested in understanding why so many people in the contact center space have started talking about “cloud,” it’s worth looking at both the potential benefits and real-world business impacts before you find yourself swayed by any one cloud provider’s seemingly too-good-to-be-true promotional offer.

Aspect’s CFO Bob Krakauer and Drew Wright, Co-founder and Principal of Technology Finance Partners, drilled down into a few of the more salient points during our discussion last week. If you weren’t able to listen live, you can watch the replay now on-demand.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Why would a business choose cloud over premises for their contact center?

One reason might be to leverage strategic opportunities – to take advantage of technologies and features that might otherwise be out of reach or cost-prohibitive with a premises investment, or to ensure that they are at the forefront of ongoing technology upgrades without interruptions caused by reinstalls and redeployments. There is also the P&L impact, the opportunity to take advantage of usage-based pricing. Moving from a large CAPEX model to a consumption-based OPEX model can mean great things for operational agility.

What are some of the ways cloud technology can be used toward driving real innovation in the contact center space?

Consider cost savings and efficiency that can be achieved through seasonal burstability and scalability for unpredictable peaks and valleys. There are also opportunities to apply cloud usage at the application level, such as applications for speech recognition, PCI-compliant credit card data handling (with considerations given to which data must remain on premises for regulatory compliance), and voice biometrics.

Ready to take a closer look at your own organization’s needs, and whether you’re best suited to a cloud or premises solution? With the help of a knowledgeable Aspect representative, we can walk you through our Value Analyzer assessment to compare the TCO and benefits of premises vs. cloud so you can make the best informed decision based on real data, capabilities, and your own requirements.

Get started now, and understand how the cloud can help you meet your goals!

Agent Capacity in an Omni-Channel World

by Alyx Kaczuwka on December 8th, 2014

Alyx KaczuwkaIn a modern contact center that accepts voice, web chat, email and even video inquiries from customers, it can be even more complicated to correctly manage a blended queue. When all of your agents are busy, does that incoming web chat need to stay in queue or can it be routed to one of your skilled agents? While a one-on-one voice or video chat might command an agent’s undivided attention, emails and web chats will often have significant lag time between the agent and customer portions of the conversation. We think of the latter as asynchronous interactions due to the expected latency.

When you know an agent is handling asynchronous conversations, you know they can help more than one customer at the same time – but you want to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed (for your agents’ and your customers’ well-being). The thought of too many chats being pushed to one agent makes me think of the “conveyor belt” scene from I Love Lucy:

The algorithm we use to go beyond binary “busy” and “ready” states in our omni-channel cloud contact center, Zipwire, is called media concurrency, and it takes agent attention and the priority of inbound inquiries into account to ensure lower idle times for agents and shorter queueing time for customers, while providing high-quality service.
To learn more about how media concurrency intelligently routes interactions based on channel types and agent abilities, read our latest white paper: How Many Customers Can You Help At The Same Time? How Media Concurrency In Omni-Channel Contact Centers Maximizes Agents’ Interactions.

Patient Engagement in an mWorld

by Kathleen Schroeder on December 4th, 2014

Kathleen SchroederBy Aspect Software and Healthcare Intelligence

How Are Mobile Devices Used?

The use of mobile devices in healthcare is gaining noticeable traction. According to the Brookings Center for Technology Innovation, mobile technology offers ways to help improve access to care and ultimately your patient’s experience. Through mobile health applications, sensors, medical devices, and remote patient monitoring products, there are avenues through which health care delivery can be improved. These technologies can help lower costs by facilitating the delivery of care and connecting people to their health care providers. Applications allow both patients and providers to have access to reference materials, lab tests, and their electronic medical records using mobile devices.  In fact, it is estimated that greater than 80% of family practice physicians are using an electronic medical record that can be accessed by their patients.

Healthcare Mobile Apps for Internal TasksMobile Device Growth

However, in a recent study conducted by Spok, it was found that the majority of today’s healthcare organizations surveyed use mobile technology internally for accessing their patient’s electronic medical records. According to this study that although recognized as a valuable tool for improving patient access, mobile technology for use in patient-provider engagement outside of the four walls of the health system did not make the cut.

Closing the mGap

In 2014, there were 6,931,000,000 mobile subscribers globally, 306,204,000 in the U.S. alone.  Of those users, 32 percent said they prefer to communicate through their mobile device.

According to Issues in Technology Innovation, there has been “an explosion of mHealth activities around the world.  The most common activity was the creation of healthcare contact centers, which respond to patient inquiries. This was followed by using SMS for appointment reminders, using telemedicine, accessing patient records, measuring treatment compliance, raising health awareness, monitoring patients, and physician decision support.”

This movement is narrowing the gap between patients and providers but does not significantly improve patient access to services. Healthcare systems are figuring out that, at times, a more effective way to help patients get healthy is to actively engage them to take care of themselves. Patient engagement is the key to patient adherence – a prerequisite to achieving better patient outcomes. The vast number and complexity of healthcare guidelines makes it nearly impossible to successfully monitor patients’ status manually. Proactive mobile outreach solves this problem by automating the entire process—leveraging intelligent technology to proactively identify patients who need recommended care and initiate customizable notifications regarding visits, tests, procedures or other follow-up care. Aspect Healthcare can help you develop proactive engagement strategies that create superior patient experiences.

Successful Patient Engagements

Healthcare organizations need to leverage mobile technology to improve patient access and engagement through initiatives such as on-line scheduling, on-line chat, and user friendly patient portals to name a few. One of the three key components of the IHI Triple Aim is to improve the patient experience of care, which includes the entire continuum of care from the first point of contact. Integrating mobile technology into this continuum of care gives patients a means to communicate with their healthcare provider in a manner they are comfortable and familiar with. In this very competitive industry, healthcare systems that encourage patient engagement will be successful.

Learn how Aspect Healthcare Solutions can help, and discover how Aspect Mobility can help you bridge the mhealth divide with your patients! You only have one opportunity to create successful patient engagements. Make it count!

Customer Experience Metrics, Cloud Delivery Drive WFM Demand

by Paul Stockford, Chief Analyst, Saddletree Research on December 3rd, 2014

Paul Stockford, Chief Analyst, Saddletree ResearchA couple of weeks ago I received a call from Leonard Klie at CRM Magazine.  He was writing an article about how customer experience could be maximized and wait time in the queue could be minimized given the current state of contact center solutions.  The idea for this story came about as a result of an old idea that seems to be once again rearing its ugly head.

About a month ago EE, the U.K.’s largest digital communications company, began offering customers the option of jumping to the front of the contact center queue in exchange for a small fee, in this case about 80 cents.  Leonard was calling asking for my opinion regarding how a contact center could optimize a customer experience in terms of offering reasonable wait times without resorting to the airline and hospitality industry hat trick of charging customers an additional fee.  Happy to share my opinion, as all analysts seem to be, I told Leonard I thought the answer to the problem wasn’t in charging fees, it was in efficient utilization of the contact center’s workforce management solution.

It’s no secret that there are lots of workforce management programs in the installed base today that are severely underutilized.  A lot of that underutilization is a result of turnover among administrators and the loss of knowledge about a particular workforce management solution that often goes with them when they leave.  Underutilized workforce management software means inaccurate forecasting scheduling, which means not enough agents in seats, which means longer queue times which means… you get the picture.

But, you say, what about all those contact centers that don’t have workforce management software because it’s too costly for their small operation?  That argument has been nullified by the advent of contact center workforce management in the cloud.  With the shift from a software purchase to a software service, the cloud has made workforce management software financially feasible for contact centers of virtually every size.  Small contact centers are no longer excluded.

According to the survey of end users Saddletree Research conducted in conjunction with the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) at The University of Southern Mississippi at the beginning of the year, workforce management market penetration has reached about 73 percent.  The majority of those without workforce management solutions tend to be contact centers with 50 or fewer seats – those contact centers that typically found workforce management software to be too costly for their small operation.

It’s also interesting to note that of those contact centers currently using workforce management software, about a quarter of them indicated their intent to replace that software with something newer sometime this year.   There are a surprising number of older workforce management solutions still being used by contact centers.  It’s not unusual for me to hear, during the course of a normal conversation, an NACC member mentioning something about their Blue Pumpkin system.  Even though these systems have been in place long enough to be fully depreciated two times over, users hang on to them due to the cost of replacement.  Workforce management in the cloud makes this concern obsolete.

As Mike Bourke said in a recent Aspect blog post, workforce management has for decades been the most valuable tool in the contact center’s low cost/high productivity arsenal.  (See “Taking Workforce Management to the Cloud” blog post of 11/11/14).  Taking workforce management to the cloud only increases its value proposition.

In a nutshell, I believe the answer to minimizing customer wait time in the queue and optimizing the customer experience lies in the efficient utilization of the contact center’s workforce management software.   For those previously excluded from the world of workforce management due to the prohibitive cost of the software, workforce management in the cloud means that this scheduling software is now within the financial reach of any contact center no matter the size.  For those contact centers hanging on to old, potentially obsolete workforce management systems, workforce management in the cloud enables any contact center to have state-of-the-art software without the previously required capital outlay.  No excuses.

Problem solved.

Hear more from Paul Stockford at the Saddletree Research Blog

Experience Continuity: How to Define an Exit Strategy for Your Self-Service

by Tobias Goebel on December 1st, 2014

Tobias GoebelSelf-service is on the rise. And with the mobility revolution started by Apple’s introduction of the iPhone, consumers around the world have realized the potential of finding answers to their business questions themselves, by asking peers, on the go, or whenever they want, instead of relying on call center staff operating by business hours. While self-help has the advantage of quick and convenient access to information when needed for the customer, it also shows quick ROI for businesses that can have their contact center staff focus on more elaborate inquiries or for customer retention efforts. This is a win-win for both company and customer, but not a be-all and end-all. The need for live assistance from knowledgeable staff will not go away as only certain types of inquiries are self-serviceable. Complex account inquiries or the desire to understand a company’s business processes will continue to have customers reach out for human help. For simple inquiries, however, self-service is now usually preferred, as studies show.

With the explosion of customer care channels available in the age of pervasive mobile computing, a smooth handover from self to live service is more crucial than ever to providing excellent support. We call it Aspect Experience ContinuityTM. It’s essentially providing continuity when moving from self to live service, when switching between channels and when switching between proactive outbound communication and inbound service inquiries. Effective execution of Experience Continuity creates a customer care mantra of “I shall never have to repeat myself again.

When it comes to self-service, the question for companies becomes: what is your exit strategy?

Three aspects should be the foundation of your self-service planning as it relates to handover to live service:

1. Ubiquitous Accessibility

Older implementations of IVR systems, often by design, hide agent access for reasons of cost savings. Customers tend to respond with an increased willingness to take their business elsewhere when they feel locked in or poorly served. To address this, businesses should open up and allow access to live service anywhere in self-service portals, be it on the voice (IVR) channel, on the Web, in mobile apps, SMS services, or even social networks. At the same time, quality functionality and an excellent user experience (UX) should always be a priority to keep users engaged in self-service as much as possible.

2. Channel Stickiness

As new service communication channels emerge, such as mobile apps, SMS, or via the Web, access to live service within these channels typically lags behind. This shows human inertia at work: new channels are easier to adapt for self-service as it is “only” software systems that are affected, whereas adding a new channel in the contact center requires (re-)training of staff. Consumers, however, quickly embrace new channels with ease, using their mobile devices more often for customer support. According to Gartner’s Six Best Practices to Deliver Powerful Mobile Consumer-Facing Applications report (June 2014), by 2017, 35 percent of all customer support interaction will take place on a mobile device, an increase of 300 percent (See The ROI of Great Customer Service). Driving this change is a desire for convenient access to live assistance when needed, whether the customer journey started with a self-service attempt or not. Businesses should therefore strive to offer live assistance on the same channel that the customer used for self-service. For example, an agent conversation should stay on SMS if this is where the customer started asking questions, and not force the user to switch to a phone call. After all, there is always a reason why the customer selected SMS as their preferred channel for their inquiry to begin with.

3. Context Preservation

Once access to live assistance is offered, it is important to preserve any context and data collected during a self-service interaction; a continuity of experience. This means having the ability to seamlessly continue a customer service conversation when switching between channels, or from self-service to live service. An Aspect study from late 2013 showed that 89% of consumers say they are annoyed when they have to repeat themselves about the same issue. (See The Omni-Channel Challenge)

To implement a concept like Experience Continuity, companies need an easily accessible data store that can memorize past transactions on any channel. At Aspect, we call it Continuity Server, and it allows developers of websites, mobile apps, or IVR systems, to store so-called Context Cookies – small traces of information about the journey of a customer. Examples would be:

  • Dropout points in IVR interactions, i.e. incomplete business tasks
  • Last transaction performed in a mobile app
  • Last time the customer talked to an agent
  • Last issue discussed with an agent
  • Most recent page of your website the customer visited

While some of this information might already be stored in a traditional CRM system, the data might not always be easily accessible cross-channel. Aspect’s Continuity Server features a simple REST API for read & write access and can thus be consumed by any developer wanting to improve the omni-channel customer experience.

The beauty of embracing the idea of Context Cookies, similar in function to web cookies, is that you do not have to introduce them on a grand scale. Adding cookies here and there to a customer interaction trail and leveraging them to provide select continuity experiences will create those little “wow” moments you are looking for while engaging your customers. For an example of how this concept can bring IVR to new life and how to deliver these “wow” moments, please see How Omni-Channel Techniques Can Help Make IVR Sexy.

Got Cloud Questions? Ask a CFO

by Christine OBrien on November 24th, 2014

Chris O'Brien, Marketing Communications Writer, AspectIs a cloud contact center right for your business? You are thinking that it is probably is – and that the time to make the move is rapidly approaching. But sifting through all the cloud marketing hype and drilling down to the real benefits and financial implications is no easy task.

The best thing to do is ask for clarification on a wide range of variables that need to be carefully considered, from customer expectations to internal processes, long-range and short-term objectives, as well as costs, contracts, incentives and more. Better yet, Ask a CFO.

The Ask a CFO program was developed by CFOs for anyone in need of CFO-level decision making guidance regarding cloud-based contact center technology. At our upcoming Ask a CFO webinar on December 2nd, Contact Center Economics and the Cloud, CFO Bob Krakauer and Drew Wright, co-founder and principal at Technology Finance Partners, will provide insights and direct, no-nonsense answers to your cloud questions.

In the meantime, you can find Bob’s answers to many frequently asked cloud questions, including:

Ask a CFO - Get Answers to Cloud QuestionsQ: How can the cloud drive bottom line results for the contact center?

A: As traditional competitive advantages become commoditized, the customer experience is emerging as the new battleground for winning business and maintaining consumer loyalty. Additionally, research continues to show a clear correlation between customer experience and loyalty metrics and profitability… (Read Bob’s full answer)

Q: How do we know if we’re getting the right capabilities at the right price?

A: Find a vendor who can be a trusted partner in tailoring your contact center solution to your customer journey, thus ensuring you’re delivering the right customer experience on the right channels, with pricing that’s competitive. Once you have an understanding of the features that you require, do a side-by-side comparison and be sure you understand where there are charges for advanced services. Finally, make sure the pricing you are looking at includes a strong Service Level Agreement for high availability.

Q: What costs are often not included in “pay-as-you-go” cloud pricing?

A: You know you’ll be paying for agent seats – but you should ensure there won’t be hidden charges for product support, administrative fees for increasing capacity during seasonal traffic spikes, or expensive riders to ensure the uptime service level you need. Also, ensure you understand both inbound and outbound telco charges if you aren’t bringing your own lines.

Q: If I go cloud, will a change in the weather affect my data latency?

A: If a vendor tries to add on a charge for waterproofing your packets or blames their downtime on sunspots, you should probably stop returning their calls.

See more common cloud questions in Bob’s FAQ, then tune in to the replay of our recent Ask a CFO webinar. Watch it now!