The Future of UC? Social Networking Integration

The whole world is communicating via social media. Enterprises ought to be doing the same: responding to customers and prospects, reaching out proactively through UC and call center applications tightly integrated to the universe of social networking.

So says Ross Sedgewick, Siemens Enterprise Communications‘ senior director of large enterprise solutions marketing. With social media reaching ubiquity, big business can’t afford to sit on the sidelines, he said. “If the enterprise chooses not to participate, there is not just the missed opportunity to interact in a positive way with customers and prospects, there is also the missed opportunity to contain negative sentiment about their products and brands.”

That’s the thinking behind the latest news from Siemens. The company on July 19 will announce a new set of tools intended to help enterprise make the leap into the world of Twitter, Facebook et al.

Offered as part of the OpenScape Fusion Social Media Integration solution, Siemens’ new tools are being released as prototypes, a proof of concept offering. These early-version tools include an SDK (software developer’s kit) and social media APIs (application programming interfaces).

There’s no packaged solution yet. Rather, enterprise users can build apps themselves or engage Siemens to build custom integrations. Sedgewick estimates it will be another five years before ready-made, off the shelf tools will be available to drive integration of social media in UC and call centers.

“These are the first stages. If we discuss this five years from now, we’ll find that social media are an integral part of enterprise communications,” Sedgewick said.

Siemens claims a range of capabilities in its emerging tools. It promises:

  • Seamless integration of social media interactions and data into existing contact center management, monitoring and reporting tools.
  • The ability to make available subject matter experts or customer assistance personnel via social networking sites.
  • Streamlined information sharing via blogs, corporate wikis and chat groups through UCC desktop integration.
  • Automated updates to presence status and conferencing abilities through social networking sites such as Twitter.

What does all that get you? In a very simple example, a Twitter user may Tweet a reference to Acme Corporation, perhaps complaining of a problem with a product. An automated trolling application will notice that message as soon as it hits the twittersphere. Then the call center will perk up, routing the message to sales, service or some other department best equipped to deal with the matter at hand.

Siemens engaged the Yankee Group to generate original research validating the need for such capabilities.

That research found that while 70 percent of consumers want to interact by social media, only 30 percent of companies are equipped to do so.

Seventy percent of consumers surveyed want to be able to leverage social media sites to see real-time availability of company experts in areas such as technical support and billing.

Enterprise employees say social networking would help them, too. For instance, 69 percent would like to be able to initiate a web conference automatically from a chat discussion.

Siemens says an interaction like this will improve team productivity and collaboration, and enhance customer interactions. In spite of its potential advantages, though, the integration of social networking has its potential pitfalls.

In the first place, there is the sheer multiplicity of the situation. “This is an intersection point of a number of different elements. There is the inbound and outbound element, there is the intersection of informal versus more formal interactions, and the intersection of sales, service, and marketing,” Sedgewick said.

Enterprises leaders will be challenged to hone their precise business objectives in approaching this “nine-dimensional cube,” he said.

In addition, the specific nature of social media presents a new set of service-related concerns. “It’s all in the public domain, and it can potentially go viral, as opposed to a phone call which is inherently private. So you need to be sensitive to how you communicate in that new kind of media.”

Siemens’ tools may only be in the prototype phase today, but it’s a good bet such capabilities will be penetrating the UC and call center marketplace at a brisk clip in the coming years. Sedgewick said half a dozen enterprise customers already are expressing interest in Siemens’ newly announced capabilities.

“Clearly we’re beginning the discussion,” he said.

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