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Intelligent cloud communications and collaboration to impact business in 2017

Rafael Cortes, Foehn Head of Marketing, gives an overview of the capabilities of cloud communications systems today and what to look out for in the future.
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Rafael Cortes, Foehn Head of Marketing, gives an overview of the capabilities of cloud communications systems today and what to look out for in the future.

Digitisation of business processes is everywhere. Companies, large and small, have discovered the cost reductions and profit growth achievable by adopting the intelligent operations offered by the latest wave of applications, cloud services and integration features. Nowhere are these factors more active than in the workings of modern phone and collaboration systems.

When taking into account the criticality of voice communications in the customer experience today, it’s no surprise that phone and collaboration systems are the focus of intensive development programmes by vendors intent on delivering new, intelligent features that enhance business operation and customer loyalty. The list of features available today is huge and still growing. Gartner list about 20 key features of contact centres (equally applicable to phone and collaboration systems), on which they base their Magic Quadrant assessment, and that’s just the standard ones. Many businesses create their own bespoke functionality and integrations across a diverse range of platforms.

Gartner contact centre feature set

Telephony infrastructure
Multimedia contact routing and prioritization engines with real-time and historical reporting
IVR and voice portals for self-service applications, including speech-enabled self-service
Outbound dialing/proactive contact
Virtual routing applications for multisite and work-at-home scenarios
Presence tools
Tools for integration with CRM software
Data mart and analytics systems
Email response management
Web chat
Collaborative browsing
Social media
Live and prerecorded video
Knowledge-based self-service
Workforce management scheduling tools
Session recording and quality monitoring, including speech analytics
Workflow routing and management
Mobile customer service applications
Computer-telephony integration/web services interfaces

What’s next for cloud communications?

The answer to this question lies in the big drivers of market demand. For example, the shifting of the technical boundaries between phone, contact centre and CRM platform are changing business requirements. No longer are businesses prepared to compromise on performance simply in order to source all systems from the same vendor. Equally, it is becoming increasingly simple to transport features across all three platforms. At the same time, the growing interest in Microsoft’s Skype for Business, which has no contact centre offering at the moment, is encouraging IT managers to think of phones and contact centres as separate entities.

For some years now, the move to cloud based systems has been shaping phone functionality. Scalability, accessibility, ease of integration and an opex pricing model all continue to drive vendors and customers towards cloud-based systems. In turn, these capabilities are accelerating the development of multi-channel communications and the provision of unified, so-called ‘omni-channel’ communications that seek to provide the customer with a consistent experience, no matter which channel or device is being used.

Big data and knowledge management applications are allowing the orchestration of customer-specific information across communication channels to equip the caller with customer intelligence that would normally be dispersed across the business. Similarly, Workforce Optimisation (WFO) is a more recent capability, offering integration between a suite of applications such as recording, quality assurance, analytics, e-learning and more. More progressive vendors are integrating these services seamlessly with other features rather than treating them as third-party plug-ins.

Where are cloud communications going?

For most of us, the mere mention of artificial intelligence (AI) conjures up images of Hollywood sci-fi movies. The association between AI and the phone systems of today seems light years apart. Surprisingly, that’s not the case. It’s exciting, or scary, to see how advances in computing power and machine-learning algorithms are driving AI, and a whole new set of functionality, towards a new generation of business communications.

Amongst those at the bleeding edge of this technology is IBM. Using their Watson Computer (which is anything but elementary) IBM is already offering AI development support and APIs for tools that add a whole new dimension to contact centre functionality. Here are a few examples:

• Conversation adds a natural language interface to applications to automate interactions with end users, allowing virtual agents or chat bots to integrate and communicate on any channel or device.
• Language Translator translates text from one language to another. For example, it could enable an English-speaking help desk representative to assist a Spanish-speaking customer through chat.
• Personality Insights extracts personality characteristics based on how a person writes. You can use the service to match individuals to other individuals or tailor their experience with personalised messaging and recommendations. For example, a call centre could improve customer care by matching customer and agent based on personality characteristics
• Retrieve and Rank can pull the most relevant information from the most heavyweight of documents, like product manuals, to help an employee quickly find answers and improve average call handle times.
• Text to Speech converts written text into natural sounding audio in a variety of languages and voices. You can customise and control the pronunciation of specific words to deliver a seamless voice interaction that caters for a specific audience.

Avoiding complexity of cloud communications

The development of applications around Service Oriented Architecture, micro services and APIs has opened the door to simple integration of communications and business applications. WebRTC has also created the opportunity to connect voice applications to a web browser, bringing a click to call capability to web based services. At Foehn, we are embracing these opportunities with cloud phone and call centre systems built on open source foundations that enable innovation.

Equally, we are aware that this explosion of functionality places increased pressures on the agent and system administrator to maintain, configure and manage the systems efficiently. That’s why we believe in giving greater control to the administrator, so business can reduce their costs on 3rd party specialist involvement and increase their competitive advantage. Furthermore, it will be important to simplify the growing challenge of managing the influx of intelligent features available now and in the future.

Discover more about the control, flexibility and cost savings of intelligent cloud communications and phone systems. See the Foehn Buyers Guide to Intelligent Cloud Phone System.

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