CTI – A Business Transformer for SMEs?

8 min read Unified Comms
We are still surprised that many (mostly SMEs) firms have still not discovered the business productivity benefits of using CTI to link their phones and CRM applications to increase productivity. What’s the problem?

We ran a back to basics primer on CTI and CRM last year which was well received and so decided to re-visit the topic gain as despite the Millennials and Gen Y’s beloved BYOD the majority of desktops in the UK are traditional fixed line phone and boxy desktop PCs.

Yes, of course we now have better technology at home but it’s about time someone remembered the return on investment and asset sweating principles of managing costs too.

It is here that computer telephony integration can almost ‘at a stroke’ transform business processes for SMEs.

What do we need to enable basic CTI applications?

Ron Cottaar, Marketing Director at Gigaset pro, notes that the basic technology for CTI has been around for a long time.

“For example, Telephone Application Programing Interface (TAPI) which is found in all of the current Microsoft operating systems celebrates its 25th anniversary next year. It is now common for the core features for CTI to be included in both entry level and high end PABX’s as standard. The more interesting aspect is in ease of integration and raising customer awareness.

When it comes to the first point, for desktop applications and telephony equipment from established brands, it is a relatively straightforward integration process. Gigaset pro for example has supported TAPI and its derivatives since launch and have also embedded additional features to allow CTI connectivity with applications like Outlook and Salesforce via simple self-service wizards – straight out of the box.

Yet a bigger issue is still educating customers and especially smaller businesses as to the benefits of CTI. Many still assume that it is complicated and expensive and yes most of the costs are professional services fees, but the channel has an opportunity to win SME deals in a market that is still relatively untapped when it comes to CTI. Gigaset pro’s recently launched UC suite is an example of a complete UC solution designed for SME’s that have a simple pricing model, easy integration and the core features that customers desire.”

According to Paul Burn, Head of Category Sales at Nimans, the most basic issue to first address is an actual need for CTI.

“Once the impact has been assessed then actually implementing it is relatively simple. You need a database to reference, a phone system capable to interactive with and also a network fast enough to bring up the information before the call has finished. Most phone systems today have basic CTI applications built-in that makes the whole process even simpler to embrace especially when using standard industry tools such as Outlook. Where it can get complicated is when a customer has developed their own bespoke database.

In terms of general demand and trends it’s not one of those things I can easily put my finger on because CTI is not really spoken about that much anymore. It’s a bit like a de-facto standard. End users tend to assume it’s just there.”

 What is the entry point for applications and how far can we go before hitting the technology buffers?

Ron Cottaar, Marketing Director at Gigaset pro, “Simple CTI can effectively be delivered for zero additional cost especially for customers that have common off the shelf applications such as Microsoft Office, Outlook and most modern database platforms. The telephony channel has been doing CTI projects for a long time and the most common CTI use cases are relatively straightforward to implement.

Mobile applications are trickier, but not insurmountable as both Apple and Google provide a level of integration into things like diallers and caller ID. However, these API functions are less mature and the skill set within the wider telephony channel when it comes to mobile application CTI is less well developed.

The telephony and UC space is moving quickly and working with a partner that will ensure that CTI integration that works on day one will be continually developed to work with the next wave of operating systems, APIs and messaging standards is an absolutely vital consideration for both the channel and end customers.”

Paul Burn at Nimans says that the entry point is just one extension but the key question is does your customer need it?

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 10.52.22“It may be ‘a nice to have’ but it should be much more than just that. There needs to be a particular business benefit and that tends to be speed and accuracy. Database integrity and accuracy is crucial as any CTI solution is only as good as the database it’s ‘popping’. There’s no issue with hitting technology buffers, it comes down to the database and network capacity. The rest is easy.”

Reseller benefits is the starting point for Rob Pickering, CEO at IPCortex.

“Integrating comms with CRM systems makes deployments stickier, and in a much healthier way than holding customers hostage with lengthy contracts. If nothing else, end users are asking for it more than ever before.

Resellers do need to think their approach through carefully though, or the integration opportunity will go from profit to pain point in no time at all.

The first challenge - or more correctly put, opportunity - is in discovering what the customer actually wants to achieve with CTI, and exploring how that will fit in with their existing processes. It’s surprising how often end users haven’t thought that through - and it really matters, because not all integrations are equal. Canned integrations like click to dial are so very different from, say, adding call control or a web phone within the CRM interface itself.

By owning that conversation, and that process, you’re instantly unlocking higher margin opportunities - and possibly finding more opportunity in extending the integration to include other key business systems. So how do you develop an approach that’s efficient and repeatable?

Well firstly, it is unrealistic to expect canned integrations to provide the quality of customer experience that delivers the value you need to win really profitable opportunities. You’ll spend a long time looking for products that just don’t exist.

Secondly, the CRM market is becoming more fragmented every day, both in terms of products with a vertical focus and the thousands of smaller players stealing market share from the big names we all know.

Our resellers are sidestepping these pain points entirely by choosing to use a platform that’s inherently flexible and supported by an integration-friendly ecosystem. It’s not a completely tailored approach, but it’s close - I suppose they’re buying into a partnership rather than a product.”

What business benefits can users expect to see?

Matthew Marchant, Head of Sales at Gigaset pro, says the benefit that is the easiest to communicate to customers and realise quickly are operational efficiencies.

“In the simplest CTI applications such as call centre agent screen population with caller’s details; CTI can speed up the call, allowing more calls to take place per agent over time offering a simple cost benefit. In more complex applications, for example process driven IVR/CTI for booking a service engineer for a field repair; an intelligent solution can remove the need for an agent and also improve booking accuracy.

Yet a benefit that often is forgotten is the social, human element. When you answer any call and you know something about your customer, admittedly triggered by a CTI screen pop, you can engage in a proper conversation and build a rapport. In an age where some think technology is in many ways ‘taking over’, CTI can help businesses keep that human touch alive but still gain the operational benefits.”

Paul Burn at Nimans believes increased productivity is the main benefit.

“In today’s evolving world hosted adds a new dimension to the conversation. It throws up some interesting technical questions but they can be overcome. It’s not an all or nothing conversation in terms of on and off premise. You can mix and match. But the key starting point is does your customer need it?”

Case Study

old-folksTraditionally, social housing providers like housing associations have found it difficult to maintain contact with older residents because only a small number of older people fully engage with mobile telephony, email or social media. Housing Proactive resolves this problem, both by dramatically increasing contact for residents and by giving housing providers information that they can use to run their service more efficiently.

Thousands of elderly and other vulnerable people in social housing use their technology on a daily basis. This includes the OKEachDay button, which allows residents to confirm that everything is OK with them and their home whilst giving them control over the level of contact they have and the freedom to get on with their day.

If a resident doesn’t press their OKEachDay button by the pre-agreed time, a friendly phone call is made to the resident. Customers can call in advance if they know that they won’t be able to press the button for any reason.

In addition to confirming that everything is OK, the system also allows housing providers to improve resident engagement by informing them of events and other notices. This includes reminders to check smoke alarms, attend appointments and pay rent, and all residents can receive friendly calls and greetings cards on their birthday.

The challenge for Housing Proactive was that their service was doubling in size every year. They needed to find ways to increase agent efficiency and reduce staff training overheads without losing the personal, attentive and community-minded manner that they had built their brand around.

Cognitive Insight

Housing Proactive’s 24x7 contact centre uses the IPCortex comms platform as its telephony engine. It has been tightly integrated with Housing Proactive’s own purpose built in-house software via the IPCortex API.

When a call is received, Housing Proactive’s system automatically loads up the relevant customer record to help authenticate the call and deal with customer service requests faster. It also presents operators with the information most likely to be relevant to the call; for example by loading up the holiday and away input screen by default in the days running up to Christmas time.

Housing Proactive also uses real time information from the IPCortex system and their own software to determine when the cognitive state, memory or other needs of an individual are changing based on previous trends. This allows Housing Proactive operators to identify when a resident might be more vulnerable than usual and adjust their approach accordingly. Furthermore, at the point of an inbound call details of the caller can be profiled against previous trends to create, on the fly, a predictive assessment about various needs of the caller before the call is even answered.

The IPCortex telephony integration has reduced call handling time, increased accuracy and allowed operatives to authenticate callers with ease - all of which are critical elements in ensuring their service runs well.

The IPCortex solution and its APIs are web based, just like Housing Proactive’s own platform. This allows for seamless integration with Housing Proactive’s system meaning that operatives only have to learn to use one application, making it easier and less costly to train new members of staff. This is particularly important for Housing Proactive, whose operatives already have to undergo comprehensive training due to the critical and sensitive nature of some of the decisions that need to be made regarding residents.

Additionally, integration has made it easy to greet callers in the friendly, personal and attentive manner that Housing Proactive have gained an excellent reputation for.

Cloud is best

Martin Taylor, CMO of Content Guru, says that with the importance and volume of enterprise-related data continuing to rise in tandem, organisations no longer have a choice – they simply have to connect their information siloes, and also communications enable that information.

“For the best customer experience, information and communications in the customer engagement hub must interoperate seamlessly to enable swift delivery of relevant data, not just to human agents, but to machines, into algorithms and into other information systems. That seamless interworking of machines and people is the essence of today’s digitalized workplace. Successful CTI and CRM integration is therefore key, and can transform the efficiency and customer engagement capabilities of an organisation. For provision of basic CTI, the cloud model offers a straightforward solution. Today’s cloud providers will offer scalable CTI services ranging from simple, cost-effective screen-pop deployments through to far more complex read/write and decision-support implementations.

Cloud-based CTI represents a tremendous opportunity for resellers. Additional features are simple to bolt on, adding value to the end-customer whilst building revenues and engagement for the reseller, who will quickly become the client’s first port of call when new information systems, such as CRM, WFM and ERP, are being considered. Advanced elements of CTI, together with more plug-ins for information systems, are readily available from the leading cloud platforms, with all features already live and ready to deploy, just waiting to be unlocked rather than requiring case-by-case deployment. Integration with Salesforce, for example, can be offered as a standard off-the-shelf feature, avoiding time-consuming custom integrations for most sales opportunities.

The benefits of CTI and CRM convergence through cloud are obvious. Organisations can leverage their legacy investments by overlaying their existing and future information systems with advanced, multi-channel cloud communications, avoiding costly rip-and-replace practices of the past. The cloud model, with its seat-by-seat licence basis, adds to this flexibility by allowing enterprises to pay only for what they use. In the challenging economic times ahead, this ensures organisations can provide a consistent and constructive customer experience across both digital and traditional channels of engagement, creating differentiation through service whilst driving efficiency to the max.”

Ed Says… You’d think that with the Microsoft TAPI protocol being 25 years old (thank you Gigaset pro) that computer telephony would really be just another tick in the requirement box for companies looking to use technology to improve their productivity. It seems that a significant proportion of users are amazingly still unaware of the potential of neither the phones on their desktop nor the applications on their PCs. Some people would say that there’s money to made here…