Avaya Partners With Google For UC-Enabled Home Agents
As the "clouds" rapidly become the home for "mobile-first," software-based business applications and communications connectivity to support customer multimodal self-service interactions, there still remains the need to provide flexible access to live assistance. Legacy premise-based call and contact centers still are being used to provide such assistance, but virtual, "cloud"-based contact centers are now becoming the way organizations can quickly and flexibly support the customer assistance needs of mobile consumers.
Needless to say, legacy contact center technology providers are faced with the challenge of migrating their legacy, premise-based offerings to the new world of "cloud" services, especially for enabling customer service agents and subject matter experts to be flexibly location-independent. Avaya, a leading provider of contact center technologies, has recognized this requirement and recently announced its partnership with Google to use Google's Chromebooks for its Avaya Agent portable desktop that can be used anywhere for multimodal customer support. That also means that voice connections can be currently made flexibly with an Avaya Agent Chromebook through any one of these three types of agent endpoints:
- An Avaya phone in an existing contact center
- Any landline phone for working at a remote location
- Remote agents who want to use their Chromebook as a "softphone"
Such voice flexibility will be important to support the new requirement for customer service agents to dynamically switch to voice (or video) from an initial "click-for-assistance" IM connection initiated by a mobile customer who has been using an online self-service business application ("mobile app"). This is how UC comes into play for mobile customer services.
"Do You Work From Home Yet?" - "I wish!"
For the last several years I have personally been surveying contact center agents about working from home. Whenever I talked to a contact center agent, whether in the U.S., India, the Philippines, Dominican Republic, etc., I always asked them, "Do you work from home yet?" Ninety-nine percent of the time the response I always got was, "I wish!"
Lately, however, some agents said they were working from home or may soon be able to. In fact, according to a recent report:
- 80% of U.S. businesses with contact centers currently employ work-at-home agents
- 34% expanded their work-at-home agent pool in 2014
- Work-at-home agents in the U.S. are expected to grow from 100,000 to 160,000 by 2017
So, while there is always a security challenge for remote agent access to sensitive information displayed on their screens, there is no question in my mind that enabling remote home agents to support multimodal mobile customers will be top of the list for what I have been calling "Unified Business Interactions," rather than just "UC."
As mobile self-service applications increasingly become the contextual starting point for "click-for-assistance" options (using the likes of WebRTC), there will be an increased need for customer assistance agents to be skilled in handling detailed issues rather than just simple transactions that can be easily done directly by a customer. This, in turn, will require more flexibility in responding to a mobile customer's needs, e.g., using "virtual queuing" for a callback with voice or video from a busy "expert."
Empowering customer service agents to work from home and to be multimodal in their interactions with customers also requires operational management to have more visibility and control over all such activities. Google's Chrome Management Console provides remote controls over what capabilities the remote agents can use, as well being able to monitor all operational activities. So, the old contact center management game can now be played more easily, cost efficiently, and more dynamically.
Avaya Is Moving In The Right Direction - "Don't Fight Them - Join Them!"
As all business communications are in the throes of disruptive change, the legacy telephony vendors are scrambling to migrate to their future roles, more as service providers, rather than just suppliers of communication hardware and software. Since mobile customer services are increasingly gaining importance for exploiting UC in cloud environments, Avaya is in a good position to retain its large installed base of legacy telephony contact center customers who need to migrate gracefully to mobile, multimodal customer services that must be supported by flexible modes of live customer assistance.
The Avaya Agent announcement, partnering with Google, is a step in the right direction to exploit mobile endpoints, "cloud" applications, and IP connectivity to provide flexible live assistance whenever and wherever the mobile customer needs it. While there will be zillions of business-oriented "mobile apps" and proactive CEBP applications generated by organizations in different vertical markets, they must all provide flexible, "click-for-assistance" options that will connect them with an available customer service specialist immediately or on a callback basis.
As customer service staff increasingly works from home or even while mobile, they can also be given more control in selecting "callbacks" from a "virtual queue," based on their expertise and contextual data that can now be provided. This is also consistent with new "Informal Contact Center" concepts that innovative providers are starting to offer.
A recent study by IDC reports that responsibility for budgeting technology needs in customer service areas, including social networking, is already shifting from IT to Line of Business (LoB) management. So, step one will really be about selecting experienced third-party resources (consultants, channel partners) that can do the heavy lifting involved in the initial planning, implementation, and ongoing change management that will be required to move to mobile, "cloud"-based self-service applications, coupled with more flexible "click-for-assistance" options.
With the Avaya Agent announcement, Avaya channel partners are now in position to facilitate the move of location-based, contact center telephony agents to more flexible, cost-efficient, multimodal home working, that can also better accommodate the dynamic needs of the new generation of mobile customers.