Contact Center Technologies: Four Types of Products to Run Your Operation.

Updated: December 15, 2009

Background and Disclosures

While I currently head Focus Research (see my Focus profile and Linkedin Profile) in an official capacity, I spent a number of years in product and marketing roles at a product and services provider for contact centers at Global 2000 companies. Although I don't officially cover contact center products here at Focus, I wanted to provide an overview of contact center products used to set up and manage contact center.

Types of Contact Centers

There are three core types of contact centers. Determining the type of contact center you have will help determine the types of products you need and in some cases specific features you need within those products. Note: Many environments are blended from the below types.

  • Inbound Customer Service - handle incoming calls from customers for reasons of customer inquiry
  • Outbound Contact Center - primarily involve proactive calling from the contact center to existing customers and prospect. Outbound contact center are primarily use for sales, telemarketing and debt collection purposes
  • Technical Support Contact Center - distinct from general customer service contact service, these contact center are specifically designed for technical support of products.

Four Categories of Contact Center Products

Contact centers happen to be one of the most technology intensive business functions within companies. As such, it's important to have an overview of the types of products you may be dealing with in setting up a new contact center or optimizing an existing contact center. I've split contact centers into the four categories detailed below: 1) communication management, 2) transaction management, 3) people management and 4) cross-product reporting and analysis.

Despite the large list of products below, significant market consolidation has led to a number of vendors being able to offer "contact center suites" especially for small and mid-size business. That said, most well run call centers have a variety of best-in-breed products from a variety of vendors.

Communication management products

This category includes technology to manage the means of communicating with a customer via any number of channels (phone, email, chat web site). Products considerations:

  • Business phone system or private branch exchange (PBX) - allows a company to connect its internal phone to the public switch telephone next (PSTN). The benefit of a PBX is that the company doesn't need a dedicated line for each telephone extension. Of course, the today technology is mostly IP-based as well.
  • Automatic call distributor (ACD) - allows the configuration of business rules and logic to route incoming calls to specific types of agents based on the call type
  • Outbound dialers - similar to ACD except for outbound contact center, this device queues, dials and connected calls to outbound agents
  • Interactive voice response systems (IVRs) - allow contact centers to provide self-service via the phone to inbound customers via a menu of options and filtering logic
  • Computer telephony integration (CTI) - allow the integration of contact channels, such as a phone call, to be integrated with software applications, such as CRM.

Vendor examples include: Alcatel-Lucent, Aspect Software, Avaya, Cisco, Genesys Labs and Nortel

Transaction management applications and systems

This category includes applications and systems to record and support the actual management of the customer interaction. These applications are often part of larger corporate wide systems but may have contact center-specific modules. These systems can include:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) - provide contact center agents with a way to record their interaction with the customer (or prospect), as well as a history of past interactions with the customer
  • Case management system - think helpdesk software; these systems provide specific views and workflows for tech support agents to create and route cases.
  • Billing and financial management systems - provide contact center agents a way to view and resolve customer billing and payment issues
  • Knowledge management systems - provide information and support to agents as well as directly to consumers to help them access institutional and community knowledge to resolve issues

Vendor examples include: Amdocs, BMC software, Microsoft Dynamics, Netsuite, Oracle, RightNow and Salesforce.com.

People management applications and systems

This category includes applications and systems to support the management of contact center employees. Especially if you're not outsourcing your entire contact center operation, the contact center is an extremely people-intensive exercise.

  • Workforce management systems (WFM) - these systems help contact centers create and manage employee schedules based on forecast of demand and contact volume
  • Quality management systems (QM) - these systems have multiple components but typically include a call recording and storage mechanism as well as a call quality scoring tool
  • Training systems - these system provide platforms to coordinate and deliver training to new and existing contact center employees
  • Performance management and Talent management systems - these systems support agent performance reporting, goal setting, coaching and performance improvement planning
  • HR and incentive management systems

Vendor examples include: Aspect software, Autonomy/eTalk, Merced Systems, Nice Systems, SAP, Success Factors and Verint.

Reporting, planning and insight applications

While many contact center applications have their own reporting modules, these applications focus on helping contact center managers analyze and plan across the entire contact center application. Functionality includes reporting and analysis

  • Business intelligence and reporting tools - this also includes performance management tools and provide managers with complete visibility into metric performance by integrating data from across all source
  • Data mining tools - tools that look across data, conduct pattern analysis and help provide root cause analysis
  • Planning tools - this include people, budget, forecasting and resource planning tools

Vendor examples include: SAP, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Microstrategy

Outsourcing Your Contact Center

While most large companies outsource percentage of their contact seats, many small to medium size businesses may outsource their entire operation. Remember - when you're outsourcing your contact center operation, you're also outsourcing technology support for those agents as well. You'll be using the outsourcer's telephony and people management tools, for example.

Sample outsourcers include: ACS, Convergys, eTelecare, Sitel, Telus, and Telvista

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