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by Technews
Issue Date: March 2008

Integration - contact centres' biggest bugbear

27 March 2008

Dave Paulding, Interactive Intelligence's regional sales manager for UK and Africa says customer service excellence is out of reach for many contact centres because of fundamental integration issues.
You call a contact centre and the agent who answers asks you a series of questions to identify yourself. You explain the reason for the call, and the agent tells you they need to put you through to another department.
The second agent asks you the same series of questions as the first, and, once you have explained your situation, he/she puts you through to another department. The third agent asks you the same series of questions... and on it goes.
Sound familiar? This is the unfortunate experience of many consumers calling contact centres. For consumers, the experience is frustrating, and for the contact centre this scenario reduces business efficiency and drives up costs.
So why do companies not change it? Mostly it comes down to integration.
Many companies have top contact centre technology, and leading-edge CRM technology but the two are not integrated. The reason is that integration cycles are generally long and costly because most systems are not supported by an underlying unified platform architecture.
This becomes increasingly problematic for contact centres who are aiming to follow the international trend of first-call resolution. First-call resolution, where a customer's enquiry is resolved the first time he/she makes contact with the centre, drives down the centre's costs and enhances customer satisfaction. But for many contact centres it is simply out of reach.
To successfully achieve first-call resolution, contact centre agents need to have the customer's full history and profile available as soon as they receive the call. They need to be able to silently communicate with a supervisor or team leader via instant messaging should they encounter any problems during the call. And to achieve these two tasks, the CRM and contact centre solutions need to be integrated, and agents need to have full unified communications capabilities.
It may sound simple, but if you talk to leading players in the South African industry, they will tell you another story. Some have an entire department working full time to integrate their systems. They have spent millions on integration, and are still not where they want to be - all because they do not have an all-in-one, unified platform supporting their solutions.
So what is the solution? The first step for most companies is to interrogate their strategy. Some SA financial institutions, for example, have a policy of only buying best-of-breed solutions. They end up with different boxes from a variety of vendors that are never truly integrated, and not integrated into their back-end.
The second critical step is that companies need to listen carefully to vendors when they are giving their pitch. If they do not mention back-end, give them a low score. Typical proprietary vendor-speak often sounds like, "we can handle the entire project and integrate to your existing PBX, third-party systems, etc to reduce implementation costs and protect your investment". The problem is that such vendor-speak focuses only on telephony-level integrations and not on the back-end systems integrations many contact centres rely on to manage information alongside customer interaction.
Many communications suites now on the market are supported by an underlying unified platform architecture, which, unlike multipoint legacy systems, allows an organisation to integrate an entire suite of applications through a single integration point. Moreover, that same central integration point is where business applications and back-office systems fit in, usually with little or no need for customisation or expensive programming.
As common technical and business sense will tell you, the single-point integration approach of an application suite and all-in-one communications platform makes it easier to administer an overall system and reduce costs. By 'overall' system, that means all the types of back-end systems a modern contact centre relies on from day to day, which makes a single point of integration invaluable.

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