Cisco Spark Meets Customer Care

Long suspected to be in development, Cisco chose Enterprise Connect 2017 to announce Spark Care, customer care capabilities for companies using Spark. While the news was revealed yesterday in a press release alongside additional Cisco Spark announcements that have to do with devices and security enhancements, for a contact center maven like myself, it is the roughly 150 words devoted to Spark Care that are most relevant.

In supplement to the information in the release, contact center industry analysts were briefed on Cisco Spark Care last week by Cisco director of customer care product management, Tod Famous. As many will jump to incorrect conclusions when they hear there is now a Spark customer care offer, it is perhaps best to describe from the outset what Spark Care is NOT:

  • Spark Care is NOT a replacement for Cisco's existing contact center solutions, Unified Contact Center Express and Enterprise or Hosted Collaboration Service – Contact Center.
  • In fact, Spark Care is NOT a replacement for any existing contact center solution, premises or cloud based.
  • Spark Care is NOT, at least today, a competitor to Five9, inContact, Serenova or any other multi-tenant cloud contact center solution.

On then, to what Spark Care IS:

  • Cisco describes Spark Care as a digital customer support solution for help desks and small teams. The target market is teams with up to 20 agents, who service either internal or external customers, such as internal help desk or external technical support operations.
  • When made available on April 6, customers will be able to quickly embed auto-generated Spark Care code on their websites to offer chat and callback services.
  • The initial competitors for Spark Care, as Famous explained, are companies that specifically target the Web chat market, including Zendesk Chat (formerly Zopim), Live Person and FreshChat.

The accompanying screen shot of the Cisco Spark Care agent desktop gives a sense of the various elements that are displayed to the user, which include a mini key performance indicators (KPI) dashboard at the top. On the right, you can see that Spark Care allows an agent to support multiple simultaneous chats.

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But while Spark Care is best compared to existing Web chat platforms, Famous was clear to point out that there are attributes of the product that clearly distinguish it from competitor offers. The first and most obvious differentiator is that Spark Care is only being sold as an add-on to Cisco Spark. That means that like the Spark Board, it can be used by Cisco to help incentivize customers to upgrade to the required release of Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) and to deploy Spark.

Spark Care callback capability is powered by Spark Call, which means it supports both voice and video escalation from chat. Built on the Spark platform, Spark Care inherits all the security and IT management features of Spark, including single sign-on. Spark Care also uses Context Services, a Spark-based repository of historical customer interactions.

While the initial capabilities may seem modest, Famous ended the briefing by saying, "We are just getting started. It is not our ambition to be the number one vendor in the live chat market. ...Our ambitions are much bigger than that." Without tipping his hand with specifics, Famous's "stay-tuned" message could not have been more clear.

Partners for Customer Care

Spark Care was not the only contact center-related solution working on the Cisco Spark platform that was announced at Enterprise Connect yesterday. Altocloud announced a Sales Communications Solution built on the Spark platform. With this new Sales Communications Solution, Altocloud extends a context-based, customer journey approach to sales professionals. Both inside and outside sales teams will be able to provide easy, persistent communications to customers, and the company will have one place to prioritize, track, and share these interactions.

Altocloud also announced today a deeper integration with Cisco's Unified Contact Center Enterprise Platform (UCCE), using the power of customer journey analytics to enhance Cisco's Enterprise Chat and Email (ECE). With the Altocloud integration, agents will now be able to view customer journey history when an incoming chat occurs and businesses will be able to trigger proactive and predictive ECE chats at the right time in the customer journey. In addition, agents will be able to escalate from ECE chat to a Spark video call with the customer.

Clearly, Cisco's Enterprise Connect announcements centered on Spark. The Altocloud announcement reinforces that Cisco's partner community is also investing, building applications that extend the Spark platform. Both are presumably hoping for a big payoff.

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