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ShoreTel Sky Interviews Sheila McGee-Smith About Contact Centers, Part 2

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ShoreTel Sky recently spoke with leading communications industry analyst and strategic consultant Sheila McGee-Smith about the changing contact center landscape. This is the second part of the series, which picks up in our discussion about video and other emerging technologies.

ShoreTel Sky: I've spoken to other people and they say that it might be the mindset of just not moving away from these legacy applications, like voice and email, and they're timid bringing in video, which I believe - like you said, everyone has access to video now - should be a no brainer. There still seems to be some sort of tentativeness in the industry, do you think that will go away in time?

Sheila McGee-Smith: Right. I'm old enough to remember the days when there were nay-sayers saying that agents would never figure out how to use keyboards. This was a real concern. I think over time we figure this stuff out and things change.

They shift slowly. But it's funny because I've been on the road with one of the cloud contact center companies for the last couple of weeks and I've been ending my talk by saying, "Who in this room is using a laptop from 1995? And yet your contact center might be from 1995." Maybe it's time to get a new one.

ShoreTel Sky: On that same page, what about the whole social media movement? Using social media you can obviously watch what people are saying about your company and you can have service reps go in and fix these problems in real time. Again, some companies say they're not entirely sure how social media and social collaboration will have an impact on their organization. But social media will probably become incorporated into the contact center at some point.

McGee-Smith: In 2013, [social] has probably taken a backseat to mobility. When you think about it, mobility is actually much more ubiquitous than people who are heavy social users. That's one thing I think that has slowed the movement of social interactions in the contact center. The other is that there are a number of different departments and functions within a company that want "to own social," and there is good reason for that, as there are lots of things that can be done with social. I think that diffusion in a company has kept [social] from being directly brought into the contact center.

My theory on this is, for any business, as traffic gets to a certain point, it just makes logical sense to bring those interactions into the contact center because these are people who know how to handle repeated interactions and have knowledge bases that show them how to get consistent answers to questions. You want people to have a journey with a business, visit a website, go to a mobile app, perhaps have an interaction over social and have that be a continuous journey that can be tracked. Once a business' social interactions get to a certain point where the receptionist and PR can't really handle it all, then it's time to create a process around the handling of social interactions, which is done in the contact center.

I'm not out there saying that everybody has to bring social interactions into the contact center, but what we find is that the first companies that are doing it are those with lots of B2C traffic, like big tech consumer companies.

ShoreTel Sky: I think you briefly touched on it, but do you think a big part of it is that companies can't communicate with all of their customers [on social platforms] because some of the - for lack of a better term - "older generations" don't really know how to use social media?

McGee-Smith: A lot of people who aren't necessarily Boomers are also not big social people. I have a friend who is in the tech industry, who is in his mid-forties, very high tech but has a real reaction to Big Brother and doesn't want his life to be fully tracked. So social has a lot of implications and a lot of them are privacy, though some people just choose not to participate.

ShoreTel Sky: I'll end it real quick with unified communications and this whole idea of bringing everything in together into one platform. Is that going to be the future of communication in the contact center or do you think there is still going to be a mix-and-match of social, mobile, cloud and voice?

McGee-Smith: My personal theory is that the movement of software applications to the cloud is certainly happening - it's not going to be 100 percent movement - but I've been out there on the speaking circuit encouraging people to think about the world having moved from mainframes to PCs to client server to web and cloud is the next frontier; it is the next natural evolution. I think that actually opens the opportunity to not have the contact center so tightly weaved to unified communications and PBX. I think that in the '80s and '90s, the preponderance of contact center sales were as an attachment to PBX sales and I think we're actually shifting away from that because virtualized applications and cloud-based services and cloud-to-cloud integration of applications allows companies to make independent decisions and the company that is your best UC company is not necessarily your best contact center company.

This notion of a broker of clouds also can be applied to the IT executive in any business. Over time, one of the things that people say is that the IT department will go out of business. No. They will be able to spend more of their time worrying about the specific company issues opposed to when their server went down. Being able to help the business go forward, as opposed to just nuts and bolts kinds of issues. So that IT executive can go out to the world and say, "We've chosen to stay with our CPE but we want to do mobility, so let's go to ShoreTel Sky and do our mobility that way."

People are looking at that hybrid model and saying, "Is there a way to get into that cloud without doing everything in the cloud?" People add new types of applications and specifically mobile is a great opportunity to add that via cloud-based services.

Read Part 1 of our Interview with Sheila McGee-Smith