Study Reveals UC's Potential�and Challenge�for Contact Centers

Scads of organizations are pondering UC adoption, but many are unsure about what it really is, and how, exactly, it will help.

By Adam Stone | Posted Aug 21, 2008
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In Aberdeen Group's latest round of research on unified communications, there is no bad news for the VoIP community. But the good news here may pose new business challenges.

In Unified Communications: Lifeblood of the Contact Center, researchers looked at UC adoption in over 190 enterprises. Fully half those companies say they are or will be evaluating UC within the next 18 months, a figure researchers call "astounding."

That's the good news. The challenge for VoIP has to do with the cost of entry. To make UC adoption happen in contact centers, VoIP vendors will have to do some heavy lifting, investing significant time and energy within prospect firms.

"Vendors need to help the customer develop a strong business case and then help sell the benefits of that business case to the other parties in the company," said Dave Boulanger, research director of customer management strategies at Aberdeen Group. To sell VoIP in a UC context, vendors need to help mid-level managers explain the business benefits to the C-suite.

"Right now the contact center director is having a real problem in trying to sell this new investment to the CEO and the CFO," Boulanger said. To get over the hurdle, the entire VoIP community needs to help that director take the language of UC outside its technology confines and place it squarely in the realm of business needs.

Explaining their desire for UC in the contact center, Aberdeen respondents didn't talk about the virtues of the technology as such. Rather, 45 percent said they hope UC will enhance the customer interaction, 35 percent want to increase revenue from the contact center, and 30 percent think UC will help them use customer service as a competitive differentiator.

All this should help set the tone for the VoIP community as the contact center space begins to open up. In the past, upgrades to the contact center were all about improved efficiency, Boulanger said. For potential buyers today, "it no longer is a story about technology for efficiency. It's a story about improving the business and improving the business processes," he said.

In addition to telling their story in terms of business processes, VoIP players may end up spending considerable time just defining what UC is.

Among those surveyed, 26 percent listed "New technology not fully understood" as among the central challenges to implementing UC in the contact center.

"There are 20 different interpretations of unified communications—20 different interpretations of what UC is—and so now the user community is really confused. They listen to IBM and they listen to Avaya and they listen to Cisco and in each case it is a totally different story," Boulanger said.

There are other factors holding back UC in contact centers. Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed cited budget constraints as a challenge; 21 percent pointed to a lack of internal expertise; and another 21 percent decried a lack of well-defined ROI metrics.

The latter, of course, takes us straight back to the need for VoIP to make its case more to the CFO than the CIO. "It should be all about the business. They need to hear the business benefits, they need to hear what UC will give them in terms of bottom-line revenue, bottom-line competitive advantage, bottom-line customer satisfaction," Boulanger said.

It takes an investment of time and effort to make that case. Before putting in that much work, vendors would do well to heed some additional Aberdeen findings.

Of companies surveyed, those with the best UC success records were also the most likely to have in place clear policies and resources designed to make sure the company's inward- and outward-facing personnel knew how to communicate.

"Without clear delineation of how to interact with each other internally to resolve customer issues and questions, company employees will be unable to work efficiently and effectively." As a result, UC efforts stutter.

Translation: UC won't work if the customer's internal policies are not up to the job.

The message for VoIP should be clear enough. Vet your prospects. If you plan on going deep into building the customer's internal business case, making the round of the C-suite and talking up ROI, start by looking for a client with solid internal processes in place, one who will have a success story to tell at the end of the day.

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