Analyst Interview Cisco


Chris Botting, Senior Director Product Development, Customer Collaboration, Cisco and Ross Daniels, Director of Marketing, Customer Collaboration, Cisco.

Cisco Directors, Chris Botting and Ross Daniels, stated that Cisco is globally the number two contact centre infrastructure provider with an estimated ACD market share of 18% globally, lagging number one provider Avaya who currently own an estimated share of over 35%. However, Cisco claims to be making inroads into Avaya's dominance. In the IVR market Cisco state they are ranked number one, and research from Gartner places Cisco in the 'Leaders' category within the Contact Centre Infrastructure Magic Quadrant.

Daniels highlighted Cisco's business performance within the ACD market. "Within the ACD business our share gains over the last couple of years have been impressive. We have jumped from number three or four to number two worldwide, and in certain markets, such as the US, we have closed the gap significantly on Avaya where Cisco has a market share of 29%."

Daniels continued, "Our projections have Cisco as number one in North America in the next 1-2 years. Our objective will then to be number one globally in the next 3-4 years."

When asked about Cisco's business focus Daniels confirmed that contact centres is now a key priority for Cisco. Daniels stated, "Cisco went through its own corporate struggles in 2011. Cisco came out of that having identified there had been too many priorities and too many things distracting us. There are now five priorities for the company, and the second of those priorities is Collaboration. There are four pillars under Collaboration, one of which is contact centre-or as we call it Customer Collaboration."

But Daniels admitted that the contact centres still struggle for attention across the broader Cisco business. He added, "For twenty years Cisco have been very successful selling and marketing 'boxes', talking to technical people about hardware solutions. Contact centre is about as opposite to that as you can get. First of all you do need people who can talk technology, but it is a bit more software oriented. Then you have to able to talk the Contact Centre Manager's and the Operations Manager's lingo."

In terms of Australia, Daniels and Botting highlighted that Australia is one market that has been recognised as one with significant opportunity for Cisco. Daniels stated, "We have lots of good things in place in this (Australian) market, a good solid product, good sales teams on the ground and a good set of partners. We have a lot things working on our side from a product, marketing, channel and sales point of view. With a little bit of extra investment we feel we can accelerate growth."

Along with greater support from Cisco's executive team and greater investment in the contact centre business, Daniels and Botting highlighted the role that product innovation has played in driving the positive contact centre business performance for Cisco. Daniels added, "We had a strong focus on innovation in 2010. We launched significant new products to the portfolio in November 2010 including our social solution, SocialMiner, a new agent desktop called Finesse and a new recording infrastructure called MediaSense. These were all big projects, and all wrapped around significant innovation. We hadn't been out to the Australian market with that much concentrated innovation in a long time." Daniels continued, "It was very well received."

Daniels went on to discuss how Cisco's focus has shifted. He stated, "As we have gone through 2011 our focus and message has shifted to innovation balanced with execution. This means focusing on the core products and developing solutions that are aimed at simplification to take advantage of the more 'mass market' opportunities."

Botting added, "There is more of a focus on operational simplification." Botting added, "Cisco Unified Contact Centre Express is a good example. For companies for whom contact centre is not their primary differentiator, Contact Centre Express is a nice turn-key all in one solution."

Botting continued, "What we have found is a section of the market that wants the attributes of our more powerful Cisco Unified Contact Centre Enterprise product but with the simplicity of Contact Centre Express. To target this need we have launched Packaged Contact Centre Enterprise in the last few months."

Botting concluded, "We think we have a really good opportunity, with Packaged Contact Centre Enterprise, in the Australian marketplace and the ability to deliver an easy sales cycle. Feedback from our Partner community has been very positive. We have turned what was traditionally a 12 month sales cycle into a four month cycle."

Cisco has identified the importance of simplification as a key message and has developed products and sales process to match. The contact centre world is becoming more complicated as the plethora of channels expands and customers demand better service. Therefore anything that makes life simpler for the contact centre should be welcome news.

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Speech recognition technology is more pervasive than ever. Smart TVs, smart phones, computers and even cars are rolling off the production lines with voice-activated interfaces. Technology giant Google is putting it at the core of its search-engine technology, while Apple is putting it wherever people need it, thanks to the iPhone's voice-activated personal assistant, Siri. You'd be justified in thinking speech technology is the most ground-breaking invention of the 21st century.

Except that speech technology isn't new. It's been deployed by leading contact centres for over a decade in the form of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology. So have we gone back to the future? Or is consumer technology driving speech technology to new heights, and leaving businesses behind?

Whichever way you look at it, one thing is clear: unlike consumer technology leaders, many companies still aren't fully exploiting the potential of IVR technology to power a better customer experience, and improve their contact centre's performance.

And with apps like Siri raising the bar on a daily basis, this is more important than ever.

The chicken or the egg?

What few people realise when they ask Siri to set their alarm, schedule their next appointment or call their loved ones, is that they are interacting with a technology that's existed long before Apple put it in their pockets.

Speech technology can be traced back to the 50s and 60s, at the height of the Cold War, when the USA, Japan, Britain and the Soviet Union were secretly beavering away at speech recognition hardware to boost their defences. But it was contact centres that introduced it to the masses. In fact Siri itself is powered by a computer software provider that develops technology and algorithms for IVR platforms for contact centres.

So why the sudden renewed interest in speech recognition technology? It comes down in part to the rapid evolution of computing capabilities and mobile communication. Now more than ever, enterprises are realising the potential of speech technology to make things happen.

A Question of Trust

Siri and its Android counterparts have allowed speech technology to reach people on a more personal level by becoming part of their everyday lives. This helps set the stage for a generation that is more accepting of, and comfortable interacting with, an automated voice system. After all, if they put in the effort to interact with the technology, the thinking is that they will benefit in the form of increased productivity. And with acceptance comes trust, which is good news for businesses using IVR technology – but only if they use it well.

The same trust callers feel when asking Siri to organise their lives should form the foundation of their interactions with your contact centre. But currently, their trust is being undermined by substandard IVR technology solutions. From the user's point of view, traditional IVRs often don't deliver a benefit. They follow the often complex and misleading instructions, but don't receive much or any reward for their efforts. Instead, menus and sub menus can act like a virtual prison for customers, resulting in up to a third of all calls answered by traditional IVRs being sent to the wrong place. For the caller, this defeats the whole purpose of the traditional IVR – after all, their reason for being is to ensure you speak to a specialist who can address your issue.

Great Expectations

At the same time, Siri and friends have laid down the gauntlet for businesses. They have not only made speech systems more accessible and familiar to users, they've also raised consumers' expectations. Today's consumers are acutely aware of the full potential of speech technology – how it can get their questions answered faster, provide trustworthy navigation, and generally make their lives easier.

This expectation translates directly to your contact centre. When customers call your contact centre and are greeted by IVR technology, they expect the technology to be used to deliver an effortless experience, one that will result in their queries being directed to the right place, quickly and seamlessly. It's difficult to say whether these “great expectations” are being driven by speech recognition technologies such as Siri, or whether they are part of the overall higher expectations today's consumers have when it comes to customer experience. Consumers are paying closer attention to brands, examining which brands work for long-term relationships and which are after a quick win. They expect more from every interaction – more personalised service, more value, more convenience. Whichever way we look at it, for contact centres the implications are the same: improving the ability for their customers to reach the right person as quickly as possible on the phone is a priority to achieve ongoing consumer satisfaction.

With powerful technology comes great responsibility. Consumer technology leaders are driving speech technology to exciting new heights, and it's time for contact centres to do the same. Only then can you expect to deliver precisely the kind of customer experience that will set your business apart from its competitors. more

Dr Catriona Wallace defines Customer Experience Strategy. more


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