Most organizations have separate platforms for their business UC and for their contact center, but this doesn’t allow the contact center to take advantage of UC for customer care. One of these challenges is the inability of subject-matter experts (SMEs) to help with customer interactions. This guest blog from our partners at CallTower explains this in greater detail.

However, thanks in part to the widespread adoption of Microsoft Skype for Business, this is starting to change. When businesses use a UC-integrated contact center product, they can benefit from the new “collaborative contact center” model.

Here’s some background: Over 10 percent of all telephone inquiries handled by contact center agents require some sort of assistance from knowledge workers or SMEs in various parts of the organization. Examples could include a claims adjuster helping with a call about an insurance claim, a financial expert giving assistance for a bank loan, or a sales engineer answering a technical question about a product. In the past, the agent would have to put the caller on hold while tracking down the SME, which could be a time-consuming process. Often times the agent would have to call the customer back once they found the information they needed. This can result in lengthy calls and multiple customer interactions, which can be costly to the organization. Reducing the time it takes to resolve a customer’s issue can save contact centers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Going Outside the Walls of the Contact Center

The solution is to enable contact center agents to get help immediately from a SME in order to respond to a customer’s inquiry quickly and seamlessly. This concept, which I initially called “the contact center without walls,” began thanks to computer-telephony integration (CTI), and became more promising with the advent of IP communication. The original idea was that contact center agents could reach SMEs outside of the contact center who could provide information while the agent is on the phone with the customer. While in theory this is great, in many cases it can be challenging, since contact center technologies are usually separate from the enterprise business communication technologies, making it difficult to have seamless interactions between the agent and the SME.

The next phase of evolution is what I call the collaborative contact center, which adds unified communications capabilities to the mix, both inside the enterprise and the contact center. Using presence-awareness technology, contact center agents can see the availability of SMEs elsewhere within the organization, and can contact the expert in real time to either get the information they need via IM or the phone. However, as in the previous phase, this is challenging if the contact center technologies and platform are separate from or not well integrated with the business UC platform.

Moving forward, more and more businesses will deploy the same platform for business communications, UC, collaboration, and contact center, making it even easier for companies to have a collaborative contact center. In the collaborative contact center, contact center agents can easily identify the right SME, determine whether or not they’re available, send an instant message to get information, and where appropriate, share documents and even have a one- or two-way video interaction with the customer, regardless of where the agent or SME is located. This makes it easier for the agents and SMEs to work together to solve customers’ issues and provide immediate results.

Why the Collaborative Contact Center

Integrating UC and contact center in the collaborative contact center leads to higher customer satisfaction or CSAT scores, reduced operational costs, and increased first contact resolution (FCR), which ultimately saves companies money.

When using the same UC platform, agents can launch an IM, voice call, and even screen-sharing session from the agent desktop, without having to find the right tools for communicating with people outside of the contact center. Callers don’t have to be placed on hold while the agent is calling an expert for information, and the agent can engage with the customer while sending and receiving the textual messages from the SME. Collaboration between agents and SMEs is enhanced, facilitating knowledge sharing and resulting in better results for the customer.

Many centers already use IM to enable backchannel communications between agents and specialists or supervisors. But implementing the ability to use presence to find experts outside the center to bring into a conversation has been challenging. By using the same platform for contact center agents and enterprise-knowledge workers, providing unified communications applications including presence, IM, conferencing and collaboration tools to the contact center, agents can easily reach and access experts throughout the enterprise. The result is reduced call handling time, reduced call transfers, decreased costs, improved first call resolution, and more satisfied customers.

Other benefits of integrating UC with contact center is that the contact center agents get advanced UC tools such as screen sharing, document sharing, and even video in some cases. Using screen sharing, agents can visually guide callers through a process, such as filling out a complicate tax form or using an online ordering system.

Let’s look at a scenario with and without UC. In a typical contact center (without UC), if the agent doesn’t know the answer or have the information needed to solve a customer’s problem, they would either transfer the caller to someone else (who may or may not have the information, and may not even be at their desk), or take down the customer’s phone number, do some research, and then call back the customer – possibly hours later. This is frustrating to both the customer and the agent.

Today, with the use of UC tools like presence and IM, when an agent needs to get additional information in order to answer a customer’s question, they can use presence to see which SMEs are available, and send an IM to ask an available expert for information while on the call with the customer. In some cases, the expert may need to send documents or information to the agent, and can easily do so using the same UC platform.

In other situations, it may make more sense for the SME to speak with or interact with the customer directly. Rather than blindly transferring the customer to a SME who may not be available, and have the call end up in voicemail or back in the queue, agents on the same UC platform can see which individuals and experts are available, and even send a quick IM before transferring the customer call. By being able to view the presence status of SMEs and individuals throughout the organization from within the agent dashboard, the agent can quickly determine how to more expediently handle a customer interaction. Whether it’s an insurance claims agent who needs to interact with a claims adjuster, or a contact center agent who needs to get confirmation from the sales department about a new sales promotion to adjust the price of an item, interacting with SMEs via UC tools can help agents provide a better customer experience.