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Aspect Adds Unified Communications

What I like about Aspect's approach is that the company is staying true to itself and not claiming to be "a leading UC vendor" or any such nonsense. Aspect is expanding its contact center offerings with UC technologies, but is staying within the realm of the contact center where the company's strength lies. The company is still focusing on what it does best and is still focused on customer service, collections, and sales & marketing. By tying in UC capabilities and technologies, Aspect is enabling the use of expert agents (or what Aspect calls "casual" agents) to assist formal contact center agents in serving customers and callers.

There is clearly a need to leverage outside expertise in order to quickly resolve customers' questions and problems more effectively and efficiently, leading to first call resolution (when the inquiry or problem is handled the first time the customer calls or contacts the company). Aspect sponsored a survey which showed that 10.3% of contact center agents' calls required expertise from someone outside the contact center, and after doing some extrapolation, Aspect found that its customers manage about 125 million interactions a day, which means they have to reach into the enterprise an average 12.5 million times.

The idea of going beyond the contact center and using expert or casual agents to either assist formal contact center agents or to deal directly with customers when needed is a subject I've been focused on for years. I strongly believe that companies need to go beyond formal agents to other people in the organization (i.e.; expert agents) who are subject matter experts that have the information agents and/or customers need. Aspect is not the only nor the first company to provide a solution that allows for the use of expert agents. Several contact center vendors, including Nortel and Genesys, which both have specific offerings, are also working to enable the use of expert agents. I'm glad to see Aspect join their ranks.

Using UC, agents can view the presence status of subject matter experts and either call or IM them to get the information needed. Aspect's Unified IP and PerformanceEdge solutions are being enhanced to bring UC capabilities to the contact center using open standards (including SIP) and predefined Web services. Aspect will be integrating with Microsoft OCS (summer 2008) and IBM Sametime (sometime after that) to provide the presence capabilities in the enterprise. Aspect's solution will enable contact center agents to search not just by the individual expert, but also by group or skill set. Agents can be routed to the individual who is available (based on presence information) and has the appropriate skills or knowledge. The first capabilities released will allow agents to look for someone via a presence engine and select someone from a dropdown menu and conference or chat with them. Other capabilities, such as scheduling/forecasting to schedule the expert agents will also be available this summer, followed by quality management recording and scoring of expert voice and IM activities.

Aspect has some hurdles to overcome since they're not an enterprise player and may have a hard time getting their foot in the door of the enterprise as opposed to the contact center. Being standards based will help, and the company states that they can let customers use the "pipes and plumbing" they already have or that they buy from any vendor, and that any SIP 2.0 compliant device will work with Aspect's Unified IP.

I've definitely seen an uptake in the number of enterprise companies that have embraced the concept of using expert agents. It'll be interesting to see how Aspect fares in this arena.