The Internet of Everything Invades the Contact Center
What is new is the ubiquity of IoE types of services, and the potential for integration of M2M systems into customer engagement.
"The Internet of Everything" was a major theme at this week's Cisco Customer Collaboration analyst conference in Boston. Cisco has evangelized this concept for some time now (see: http://www.cisco.com/web/about/ac79/innov/IoE.html), arguing that the Internet is rapidly transforming from a connected network of user devices, to one dominated by machines. Nemertes has written extensively on this topic, noting that the rise of Internet-connected devices is transforming IT into "ET" or Enterprise Technology, where IT is embedded directly into business organizations to help drive innovation, rather than simply providing back-office services.
It's not difficult to see how the IoE ties into the contact center. While process control and automation systems have long existed in enterprises of all kinds, the transition of these technologies to IP, coupled with the expansion of Internet connectivity into consumer devices, creates all sorts of possibilities for customer engagement. A few examples discussed at the event include cars that, after an accident, alert your insurance agent who calls you to start the claims process; or the HVAC system that has your service contractor call you when there's a problem. For more examples, check out Dr. Michio Kaku's book "The Physics of the Future" (not coincidentally, Dr. Kaku was a featured speaker at last year's Cisco Collaboration Summit in Los Angeles.)
These examples aren't new. I remember meeting with Stratus Technologies almost 20 years ago and hearing how their servers phoned home when there was an issue, resulting in a technician arriving at your door with a part in hand, without any customer involvement. According to Wikipedia, Kevin Ashton defined "The Internet of Things" in 1999. GE calls their M2M initiative the "Industrial Internet." But what is new is the ubiquity of these types of services, and the potential for integration of M2M systems into customer engagement.
So that leads us to the contact center, and how the IoE mates with contact center technologies to improve customer service. The example I cited earlier is pretty clear: An event triggers a call. But while it seems simple on the surface, the reality is that mating the IoE with the contact center creates a fair amount of complexity. Challenges include:
* Where does the process control reside? Contact center platforms are capable of managing the entire customer interaction process from end-to-end, and delivering sophisticated management reports. But many companies already have other process automation and control systems. IT leaders will need to re-think their architectures and determine what process resides where, and most likely, how to integrate disparate systems (this is good news for the SIs out there).
* What are the interfaces? Cisco and its competitors talk a lot about REST, Web objects, gadgets, and the like. Protocols such as SNMP and XMPP can provide notification and messaging between systems. But these are protocols that most contact center managers don't worry much about, so creating integration of process control/automation and contact center requires a new way of thinking
* How do I manage this? Again, more good news for the SIs. Creating interfaces between disparate applications, especially ones that may support critical operations, requires proactive management and response. Messages that get stuck in a queue, get dropped, or aren't properly processed must drive a rapid response.
* Who owns this? Customer collaboration and engagement goes beyond just the contact center, into marketing, sales, customer service, order fulfillment, and other related groups. Creating a customer service strategy to support the IoE requires careful coordination among a lot of different groups. It also requires a different mindset among IT as they shift from "how do I ensure reliability and performance?" to "how do I drive innovation into the BUs?"
* What do I measure? "Big Data" and analytics are weaving themselves into just about every aspect of business operations. Contact center managers who have been used to focusing on metrics such as first call resolution, average hold time, and staff optimization may need to shift into managing performance based on metrics such as Net Promoter Score, customer retention, and post-event customer survey scores.
Ultimately the growing range of connected devices offers considerable opportunity for first mover advantage for those who are able to harness various technologies to drive change. If you haven't already, start thinking about how customer engagement will change, and organize accordingly.