Merging technology – UC & CC

The Contact Centre is starting to see the world of Unified Communications creep into the technology stack as companies look for ways to improve Customer Experience and differentiate themselves. Comms Business spoke to the market to find out what this trend means for the Channel

Although 2020 will always be remembered for one thing, in the communications market it will also be remembered as the year Unified Communications took off in spectacular fashion. A small handful of vendors may have grabbed the headlines, but nearly everyone in the space has seen a significant uplift.

In the Contact Centre space, there was a mad rush this March to enable agents to work from home, with varying success, but also allow them to still provide a great Customer Experience (CX) to customers.
Is this the major driver behind UC entering the Contact Centre? Comms Business asked the market.

Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru commented, “Maintaining consistent external communication is more important than ever during the current COVID-19 outbreak. Customers are concerned about – and require immediate response on – issues ranging from finance, to travel and health. To tackle the increases in volumes and variety of contacts during these challenging times, it is vital for contact centre operators to call upon all the resources available to them, meaning both trained agents and other colleagues in the ‘back office’. This is particularly the case when all parties may well be in their respective homes.

“Back office employees can help by standing in as agents during periods of peak demand or front-office staff sickness, or by being a subject matter expert whom call agents can consult. To enable this shift to happen seamlessly, presence integration between CC and UC is key.

Tony Martino, CEO of Tollring, said “A key driver behind UC in the contact centre is to improve information flow and collaboration between teams. This is essential to deliver excellent customer experience, and the contact centre is a prime example of where fluid and open collaboration pays dividends.

One of the well-established metrics for contact centre performance is first contact resolution. However, FCR is notoriously difficult to achieve. One approach is to make sure that agents are both knowledgeable and empowered to make decisions. Another requires that teams can pass customers over to different departments for information, or to affect a resolution seamlessly. Both methods are potentially problematic, requiring either a skilled (and thus more expensive) workforce, or in the case of passing people over internally, the ability to know whether colleagues are available, having the resource available to field calls in a timely manner, and to pass on information so that the caller doesn’t need to repeat themselves to every new agent.

Comprehensive UC with monitoring delivers the much sought-after collaboration and solves many of the barriers to FCR. UC enables more fluid resourcing, easier access to internal expertise, and enhanced information sharing. As well as providing a more efficient service, and improving customer experience as a result, it means that there is inherently more flexibility across a team to deal with unexpected events.”

Justin Hamilton-Martin, Director at Centile commented “We are seeing are a change of thinking around the role of contact centres within enterprises. The purpose of contact centres is to service end users better, so any customer-facing function with an organisation arguably needs contact-centre-type functionality. However, that customer contact can come from all kinds of sources, for instance social media, websites and marketing campaigns, though of course inbound and outbound calls still need to be supported.

So, it is more logical for CRM to be the ‘hub’ — where everything is captured — to be the central point for all customer engagement. That removes the risk of fragmentation: for instance, users who have opted-out of marketing communications are recorded in the CRM, but that needs to be known in the call centre and without integration across the two, that may not have happened.

Integrating CRM with contact centre functionality is best achieved through UCaaS, and it has other benefits too. For instance, UCaaS enables ‘casual contact centres’, whereby partners can offer their customers contact centre functionality, but without having to invest in the skills and technology investment typical of larger, dedicated contact centre providers. There is a huge potential market for these much smaller contact centre requirements, and the customer benefits from having a lower-cost-per seat compared to many traditional contact centre environments.”

Joe Pratten, Hosted Sales Specialist – Mid Market and Enterprise at Gamma said “Consumer behaviour has driven companies to make managing brand reputation an imperative and to manage that brand reputation effectively, organisations need a customer facing arm to their business. To equip businesses with the tools they need to engage with their customers, manage relationships, and reflect on the exchanges that happen in the business environment to transform customers into long-term brand advocates.

Business continuity has been another key driver, particularly in the current predicament the world is living through. As employees shift to a remote setup, providing UC within a Contact Centre gives additional presence options as well as providing availability across all channels, ensuring high customer service levels can be maintained despite disruption.”


CBM: How do you the Contact Centre market transforming in 2020 and beyond?

Nigel Dunn, Managing Director EMEA North – Jabra

“Typically, the contact centre industry tends to thoroughly investigate new technology, which can take time. While the speed of digital transformation in the contact centre has increased, there is still cation around what the right solution is. The power of the case study is crucial in decision making around new tech. Leaders will take on board recommendations from other contact centres of similar sizes and verticals who are running trials and POC’s, before making the commitment to invest in big changes. Seeing successful deployment elsewhere will drive change and adoption at a much faster rate.

It is also true that as traditional contact centre PBX solutions become obsolete, replaced or support contracts expire, CCaaS & CPaaS solutions are being more widely explored and deployed to provide greater flexibility, reporting and customisation for users. Clearly, the need for flexible solutions which are cost effective and help contact centres become more productive has grown exponentially in the last few weeks. On top of this, the drive to improve customer service, even during these trying times, is motivating leaders in the contact centre to adopt new solutions.

Of course, many contact centres used to be targeted on metrics such as AHT (average handle time) or FCR (first call resolution). This has changed. Contact centres are now moving to measuring the emotions and satisfaction of customers instead by using CSAT & NPS as metrics. UC solutions naturally lend themselves to a greater range of metrics than PBX solutions can measure.

Now contact centres have proof that a WFH model can work, the acceleration seen now to adopt new technology will maintain momentum and transform the sector beyond this unprecedented period.”


Complexity problems?

The ongoing battle for vendors that develop UC and CC technology has always been between developing ever increasingly complex solutions whilst at the same time trying to make them easily consumable for the Channel to sell into their customers. With the Contact Centre now being a hotbed of innovation for technology such as Artificial Intelligence and IoT are they still palatable for partners to take on?

Ian Rowan, Channel Sales Manager, Wildix UK says “The bigger danger is they don’t have these tools today and miss the opportunities that they can’t convert without them, If we look at the real differences between UC and CC, the real difference is monitoring and assessing agent performance, the underlying technology of UC allows the same methods of communications as the CC stack but many lack the ability to monitor the agent performance both live and retrospectively. With the lockdown and rising acceptance of smart home working as the new normal, having the ability to monitor that performance has become even more critical. Partners that sell UC will be able to supply CC that is part of that solution they already know and understand, having a complex third party solution is still viable but has to be through vendor allegiance with CC products that take the same route to market. There will be times when the UC CC solution is not able to compete with the established CC players and its import for the vendors to know their limits.”

Keith Jackson, EMEA Channel Sales Director at 8×8 commented “We provide our partners with the options of self-paced, Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) or classroom training to suit their needs and in as little as 2.5 hours, channel partners have the knowledge and understanding to sell, configure and build their own tenants for our Virtual Office solution – thanks to the simplicity of the product and the different opportunities to participate in our training.

Successful training means accelerated partner sales and deployment cycles – which is the new battleground for businesses. The team can carry out a 100-seat deployment within 3-5 days, from design right through to build and configuration, testing and implementation, all remotely.”

CX for everyone

As UC tools enable all parts of the Contact Centre to collaborate and share information the traditional roles of back office staff and front facing agents are potentially blurring. Customer Experience has become the focal point for many organisations, but does the technology now allow everyone in the business to impact that experience?

Simon Horton, VP of Sales, Europe at Sangoma said “I don’t know about every employee (depending on the company of course), but certainly more employees. Let’s start with routing to the appropriate person or department. When a call comes in, the call should be able to get to the right place easily. And this means the UC system should have basic IVR functionality. So now the call is going to somebody in your company, but what does that mean? Is it a receptionist, an agent who is trained to take calls, or some round robin approach of sales people? It depends on the company size, but no matter what, the somebody should be able to work remotely. Operating with a softphone on your smartphone or laptop is a must.

The contact centre functionality would enable call flow to be set up, experts to be named, etc. It can widen the net of people available to help customers. But even if an employee isn’t trained to ‘talk’ to a customer, the person on the phone can certainly instant message an expert they know of, or is on some list. I’ve seen this happen in Sangoma, and I’ve even been on the end of a couple of these instant messages when a sales/support person is on the line.”

Adam Wilson, Regional Channel Manager at Vonage commented “Yes, absolutely. With the right infrastructure in place, every employee can be an ‘agent’ of their organisation. Why implement separate customer contact and collaboration solutions if you’re required to escalate a customer problem to the head of sales or head of engineering for example and they also need to communicate with the end customer to provide a response? A single collaboration and customer contact platform provides a consistent and unified experience, benefitting employees and their customers.”

Justin Hamilton-Martin said “The convergence of UC and CC represents a sea-change in how companies can communicate with their audiences: everyone who engages with a customer is in effect a sort-of contact centre agent, but without needing to be in a dedicated contact centre. The channel has the opportunity to sell into organisations who have CRM, rather than sell contact centres, and to save them cost-per-seat at the same time. Of course, there is still a role for traditional and dedicated contact centre solutions, but the ‘casual contact centre’ is definitely a market with a lot of untapped potential.”

Richard Potts, Managing Director of North Supply commented “From personal experience I can attest to a certain amount of latitude being afforded to remote workers when I call a firm with a query – I know they are at home and probably don’t yet have all the tools they need to deliver the level of CX I want or had become used to. Usually my calls would be passed on to an expert for resolution if the CC agent could not solve the problem and every caller wants a swift resolution.

At the other end of the scale, most organisations that turned on a sixpence on 24 March and dusted down their business continuity plans found to their horror two problems with their plans; firstly, most BC plans are geared towards a maximum of a 14-day disruption to their business and secondly, there was little thought given to having a dispersed workforce of the scale needed. No storm lasts that long.

Looking ahead

The analysts have been scrambling to adjust their predictions for 2020 for obvious reasons. The pandemic has suddenly offered up a future which may be here sooner than we think. We asked the market for their predictions over the next six to twelve months.

Adam Wilson at Vonage said “As we return to workplaces and offices I expect businesses to accelerate plans and decision making in relation to support of 1. remote working for their employees, 2. remote delivery of the services such as telehealth and remote education and 3. business continuity. These decisions will drive greater adoption of cloud services and public cloud delivered communications to ensure organisations are better prepared when their employees work and serve customers remotely.

In terms of how technology can help, I expect the post-pandemic world to drive a greater appetite for application programming interfaces (APIs) and artificial intelligence (AI) powered Virtual Assistants. APIs to embed voice, messaging and video into telehealth and e-learning platforms and Virtual Assistants to automate customer contact, so businesses are not faced with having to close contact centres next time we’re faced with the need to work remotely.”

Gamma’s Joe Pratten commented, “In regards to the technologies themselves, we see vendors making it even easier to consume, understand and price. We also predict further enhancements and integrations to be made particularly focussed around self-service, AI and IoT. The current period will see many brands try new ways of working to deliver an enhanced customers experience and we see this driving innovation from technology providers to meet this requirement and to support better internal communications and new ways of working within their business.”

Keith Jackson added “We’ll also see AI solutions become more commonplace and integrated into products. Initially, AI solutions in the contact centre were often focused on call deflection and automation, to reduce the overall labour cost. However, these solutions became a communication barrier between the customer and the business, which negatively impacted the overall customer experience. Now, we are seeing the emergence of a more potent form of AI, focused on enhancing the capabilities of agents during calls and enabling them to better serve customers in real time.

By leveraging the ability to extract intent from conversations, AI is able to make real time recommendations to agents. These recommendations extend from – suggesting relevant information, appropriate responses, the best actions to take – to who is the most appropriate person to talk to inside the company for further information. By enhancing the capabilities of individual agents, AI is able to not only increase the efficiency of the contact centre but also to improve the customer experience provided.”


These two technologies blurring in the Contact Centre is significant for the market as customers look to compete in an increasingly digital world. Those partners which specialise need to think about their vendor relationships carefully, taking on someone with a foot in both camps (UC and CC) might be advantageous.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine