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Cisco, Salesforce Kick It Up in the Contact Center

On Sept. 22, Cisco and Salesforce announced a strategic alliance, the broad themes of which Zeus Kerravala, of ZK Research, discussed in a No Jitter post that day. At the time, the companies had made little information available on integration of their contact center and CRM solutions, but now have more details to share.

Last week I had an opportunity to sit down with Chris Botting, GM of Cisco's customer care business unit, and John Hernandez, Salesforce COO for Service Cloud. We talked while at Cisco's seventh-annual Contact Center Sales Summit for the Americas in Phoenix, Ariz., attended by almost 700 Cisco contact center partners and salespeople.

Hernandez took to the stage at the event to a huge round of applause, no surprise since he previously had served as head of Cisco's contact center business unit for six years. Under his leadership, Cisco held the very first contact center sales summit was held in 2010. Enabling the customer experience is one of the key tenets behind the Cisco/Salesforce alliance, Hernandez explained during his presentation as well as in our discussion. He used the below slide to show how each company is bringing pieces of the puzzle it believes can be combined to create an exceptional overall customer experience solution.

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Some of the specific ways that the portfolios of Cisco Customer Care and Salesforce Service Cloud can or could work together include:

At first glance, it would seem the Salesforce Service Cloud and Cisco contact center portfolios overlap at two primary points. Both offer digital interaction channels (e.g., email and chat) and both offer an agent desktop. The alliance means that instead of fighting for dominance, the two sales teams will work collaboratively, based on the preferences and best solutions for customers, Hernandez and Botting said.

We've all seen alliances like this and sceptics will think, "Ah, nice in theory but it will never happen." At the summit, however, longtime Cisco contact center customer, Scott Dresser, director of customer experience for Republic Services, described how the alliance has already benefitted the waste disposal services company.

Republic Services has been using Cisco's Unified CCE since 2009. Until two years ago, it had over 1,200 reps handling customer interactions in 100 locations using the Cisco Finesse desktop.

Working with Cisco partner Bucher + Suter and its out-of-box Connects for Salesforce integration solution, Republic Services is transitioning agents to a more centralized operation and from a legacy CRM system to Salesforce Service Cloud. Agents are now using the Salesforce console and digital channels. Connects for Salesforce provides integration to the Cisco contact center to enable the voice channel and manage shared agent state.

As Dresser described, even before the official Cisco/Salesforce strategic announcement, partners and customers have been successfully combining the two portfolios.

In addition to the technical aspects of the Cisco Contact Center and Salesforce Service Cloud alliance, there is a personal link as well. Hernandez and Botting worked together for 10 years at Cisco in various roles. As Hernandez noted, "I think one other item that makes this partnership so perfect, beyond the technical and go-to-market aspects, is the mutual respect and trust Chris and I have for one another. This is really important as we continue to align the teams. You can't fake that. This will assure we see growth from this alliance right from the get-go."

I'm reminded of an adage from my sales days -- people buy from people. The same could be said about alliances -- they may be forged by companies, but they are executed by people.

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