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Snapping Context Into the Contact Center

As communications industry analyst Sheila McGee-Smith mentioned in a No Jitter post last week, customers who reach out to a live agent are most likely already several steps into their journey for information. The last thing they want is to feel as if they're back at square one once they initiate contact with the company's live-agent call center.

McGee-Smith's journey reference brought me back to a conversation I had late last year with a couple of folks from Avaya -- Val Matula, senior director and head of Emerging Products and Technology, and Karen Hardy, senior director, product management. In the wake of Avaya's "era of engagement" analyst briefing, we talked about how the common call center is maturing into a customer engagement center using next-generation capabilities enabled by Avaya's open development platform.

Context in Motion
In general, companies know they need better information on their customers and, when those customers reach out, they need to understand the context of that interaction. Avaya talks about this in terms of the "contextual customer experience."

"A company has to be able to figure out how to move all of the contextual information about a customer who is logged into its website and does a click-to-call or click-to-video from that website to the agent," she said. "As you learn how to do that, you move from a call center to a contact center to something that's contextual, as well. Ultimately, yes, that becomes a customer engagement center."



Val Matula, Avaya

As an example, Matula pointed to the engagement that Egencia, the business travel services arm of Expedia, enabled for users of its mobile app. When a user clicks within the app to talk to an agent, all of the contextual information from his or her session gets transmitted to the agent automatically as part of the request to set up the call.

"By bringing the session to the agent, Egencia reduced the average handling time by the agent by 8% -- a huge number in the contact center business," Matula said. "Furthermore, it found that the net satisfaction of customers went up. Customers liked it because the agent would come on the line and say, 'I see you're on a trip, but you're looking at tomorrow's reservation. How can I help you with it?'"



Karen Hardy, Avaya


In this case, Egencia pulled the context along via an app riding on top of the Avaya Aura Experience Portal (essentially its IVR). The Avaya Engagement Development Platform will allow organizations to take contextual experience to a whole other level, Matula said.

It's a Snap... In
The goal, he added, is to make the context sharing easy and repeatable instead of every opportunity being a science project. For this, Avaya uses what it calls "Snap-ins" -- applications that run within the Avaya Engagement Environment (formerly called the Avaya Collaboration Environment) and provide functionality within a call, or that reach out to external applications.

"We're making it so that all the infrastructure is there," he explained. "You have context? I know where to put it. The next guy wants it, it's right here -- I'll just give you a pointer to it. You have two Snap-ins that want to talk to each other? We have a communications bus for that. You want SMS notification? Call this service and, boop!, out it goes. Once organizations have this rich set of capabilities, they can begin building these kinds of applications."

While some enterprises will undoubtedly develop proprietary Snap-ins, channel partners and others will create apps for anybody's use. What Avaya ultimately would essentially like to do with Snap-ins is what Apple has done with iTunes -- develop a marketplace, a delivery mechanism, and a way to collect payment, Matula said. If a Snap-in is reusable, "for sure it'll be in the Snap-in store so people can find out what is available. It will be a delivery mechanism, especially if the Snap-in is standalone and repeatable. And the financial may be tied to it in terms of licensing, with a contract structure that runs around it," he added.

Over time, an enterprise will be able to bring an "endless number" of Snap-ins together. "They'll know nothing about each other, but can work in harmony to provide a solution," Hardy said. And then, by leveraging the Avaya Engagement Designer, organizations will be able to visually create end-to-end workflows that complete a customer journey... which is back to where we started.