Building a contact center is growing in complexity as companies struggle to support customers’ ever-higher expectations. Customers now insist on engaging with companies through the channel of their choice, often from a mobile device, and at a time of their choosing. If they interact with a person, they expect that person to have the social and technical skills to resolve their issues quickly and effectively. If they use any form of self-service, they expect the technology to help rather get in the way of speaking with a person. And of course many disgruntled customers don’t hesitate to publish their views on social media.
To meet these demands companies need advanced technology. That includes a multichannel architecture that supports an integrated set of communication channels. They also need workforce optimization systems to ensure the right number of skilled employees are available to interact with customers at any time, and they need customer analytics that help them develop a complete view of their customers, their interactions and the outcomes of those interactions. Interactive Intelligence works to provide these systems as I have analyzed their efforts in advancing customer service to helps organizations meet demanding interactions across channels. Originally the company focused on the communications infrastructure with products supporting telephony “in the cloud,” which was innovative at the time. During its 20 years of operation, Interactive Intelligence has expanded into other areas, building a successful business in the global contact center market, and now has more than 6,000 customers in a variety of vertical industries. During a recent briefing I learned that its ambitions haven’t diminished as it continues to invest in its product portfolio and ecosystem of partners.
The cloud continues to be at the heart of the company’s business proposition: It now accounts for more than half of its business, and that percentage is expected to grow. This comes as no surprise to me because in my benchmark research into the contact center in the cloud nearly two-thirds (63%) of participating companies said that investing in contact center applications in the cloud would improve customer interactions, and just under half (44%) said investing in communications technology in the cloud would help. I have often advised companies to invest in cloud-based systems because they don’t have the time or resources to achieve the same goals by integrating on-premises systems; cloud-based systems also enable innovation. To keep ahead of the game, Interactive Intelligence is investing to base its underlying architecture on Web services, which can improve scalability, reliability, compliance with regulations and security, while also enabling it to release new versions of the products quickly. Interactive Intelligence also made significant changes to its user interfaces, making them all Web-based so users can access the systems through any browser. The interfaces also are more intuitive to use, which reduces training time. Most of our Ventana Research benchmark research projects find that usability is the leading criterion for companies evaluating new systems, so Interactive Intelligence is right to invest in this area. It should continue to do so, especially supporting more access to key functions through smart devices.
In addition to improving its technical base, Interactive Intelligence is also investing in functional capabilities, and here it has moved furthest away from its original products. Its support for telephony has now been extended to email, chat, instant messaging, video and social media; my benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that all these are key customer channels of choice. That research also shows that a key concern for nearly half (49%) of companies is the integration of channels; without it customers are likely to be annoyed by receiving inconsistent responses. In this respect Interactive Intelligence has the advantage of developing all its products in-house on a single code base, so it can ensure tight integration between products. Its new user interfaces also help agents and supervisors access different channels.
Interactive Intelligence also has invested in expanding its workforce optimization suite. It now includes quality management (with interaction recording), workforce management, speech and agent-related analytics, and customer feedback management. The company also has added new capabilities to its analytics suite; a key one is mobile access that gives supervisors real-time information while on the move. Last but by no means least, it continues to invest in its business process automation suite.
My research shows that companies must have an integrated multichannel architecture to manage customer interactions and deliver superior customer experiences. In addition, the top seven applications companies plan to invest in to improve customer engagement are collaboration, mobile apps, analytics (especially multichannel analytics that shows the customer journey), interaction routing (to the best-qualified agent), smart desktop technology (to make it easier for employees to access information), business process management and workforce optimization. Except for specific collaboration tools, Interactive Intelligence is investing in all of these, while at the same time improving and expanding its communication management systems. Each of these applications is a competitive market on its own, and most vendors focus on only one or two applications. The breadth of applications to support next generation customer engagement presents both opportunities and challenges for Interactive Intelligence.
The challenges are whether it has sufficient resources to continue to support all these products and just as important is the question of how much of the overall market will trust a single supplier to provide all these systems. Its stated intent is to make each product best in class, but I think this is less important than having an integrated suite that supports core capabilities. In my view in order to deliver superior customer experiences companies need to connect their processes, communication channels, business applications, and analytics systems; so integration of systems with a common user interface should be a top priority. Interactive Intelligence is one of only a few vendors attempting to make all these connections, so organizations seeking to improve customer service and the customer experience should include Interactive Intelligence in their evaluations.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director