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August 23, 2016

Attention Companies with Call Center Software - Communications-as-a-Feature: How Salesforce Will Replace Your ACD

Whether your organization uses WebRTC or not, software developers are clearly beginning to seize the opportunity afforded by including communications tools in their interfaces -- a la "communications as a feature." Look no further than CRM giant Salesforce.com to see the potential of this business model.

Salesforce has introduced three solutions that follow the communications-as-a-feature theme -Live Agent for real-time chat, Omni-Channel for skills-based routing, and SOS video chat and screen sharing. This is the first in a series of articles that will outline the path that Salesforce is blazing.

In short, all should note including call center software companies, if you thought you would always have automatic call distribution (ACD) from Aspect, Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, or Unify in your contact center, then think again -- and start following Salesforce, because it is going to unplug a lot of these systems. At a minimum, the availability of these solutions from Salesforce will cause traditional contact center vendors to lose market share.

For contact center operators, this may be a rapid transition because Salesforce has been very aggressive. It is including Live Agent and Omni-Channel in most contracts. It positions these offerings as "free," with the cost amounting to little more than rounding error in the overall deals.

For now, I will focus on Live Agent and leave the Omni-Channel and SOS (comparable to Amazon MayDay in name and function, and with extensive use of WebRTC) for future posts. Do note, however, that if an organization has provisioned these capabilities, entitled users get access to Omni-Channel and SOS content and sessions by logging in to Live Agent (in other words, it works like a complete solution for chat, audio, video, and screen sharing).

Further, SOS is only available in mobile interfaces at this time. Salesforce has said browser support will be available in late 2017.

A Look at Live Agent
Live Agent is a well-integrated text chat-based solution for websites. Here is a summary of what contact centers can do with Live Agent:

  • Offer text chat as a static or dynamic element on a Web page, depending on logical conditions. When no agents are logged in or available, for example, the contact center can dynamically turn this feature off by removing it from the customer's Web interface

  • Use performance reporting tools to manage agent and queue productivity; includes average speed of answer, average handle time, wrap-up, and abandonment

  • Provision a record button in the customer's interface, if so desired

  • Import a chat session into Salesforce case or customer interfaces using pre-built APIs

  • Implement logical masking of fields to support security rules (PCI and HIPAA). Syntax and page coordinates can be part of the logic

  • Provide supervisor monitoring, assist, and whisper functions. Supervisors have visibility into every chat engagement for agents they oversee, and can intervene at will

  • Provide blended queues so agents can handle chats and ACD calls in sequence; requires some integration between the telephony system and Salesforce to prevent ACD and chat engagement calls arriving at the same time. ACD manufacturers are not making this easy

  • Allow agents to reach experts who may not have full Salesforce license entitlement using Chatter, Salesforce's enterprise social and workflow messaging platform. This is surfaced with a separate window, and not necessarily integrated into the Live Agent transcript

  • Use automatic screen populations triggered by chat engagements for any Salesforce interface

  • Implement pre-chat pages for input of customer information like account numbers or authentication values. Security-minded buyers will find that this type of asymmetrical authentication is much harder for hackers to crack

  • Optionally, integrate Social Queue for real-time alerting and response to social posts on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.

  • Enable Boolean searches on chat content via an integration with Salesforce Knowledge. This is a powerful tool for assisting agents at the moment of need

  • Establish pre-set responses for automatic or manual "quick" texts

  • Provide context for and insight into the customer's journey by sending agents the information about the pages a customer viewed prior to initiating a chat

  • Better prepare agents to address customer needs via a type-ahead feature that allows them to see what a customer is typing before hitting "Enter"

  • Allow agents to block abusive customers

  • Give administrators the ability to configure the number of concurrent chats each agent can handle

  • Direct customers to post-chat pages for Web-based information or surveys. Survey results can feed into Salesforce

These features and functions are just the high-level elements. Contact centers (call center software) can invoke myriad other utilities and features.

A word of caution: Neither Avaya nor Genesys make it easy to automate the management of state (available, unavailable, aux-work, etc.) at the agent desktop, particularly at scale. This means that blended queues that support interleaved engagement/call assignment are problematic. In other words, in the absence of CTI-based state management, agents will need to be scheduled for either Live Agent interactions or ACD (voice) interactions.

Land and Expand
You can find many stand-alone contact center chat solutions today, but Live Agent is one of the better ones. A skilled Salesforce developer should be able to assemble a prototype within hours, and many Salesforce customers have put this "free" communications feature into production.

Once Live Agent is in use, Omni-Channel and SOS are much simpler to implement. This is a classic "land and expand" play that allows contact center operators to begin the process of migrating the control of real-time media away from the PSTN and toward a WebRTC-based text, audio, and video automatic engagement distribution, or AED, system.

Communications-as-a-feature is the next logical step for many software manufactures. We in the communications business have created barriers to truly integrated information and communications systems with complex CTI solutions for the last 25 years. Clever programmers will use.