The Next Generation Customer Communication Platform

Saturday Sep 28th 2002 by Jonathan Eisenzopf
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In the not-too-distant future, we will begin seeing unified customer support platforms that allow companies and their customers to communicate seamlessly via the Web, telephone and wireless devices. In this article, we will learn how two evolutionary trends are creating a new generation of unified customer communication platforms.

In the not-too-distant future, we will begin seeing unified customer support platforms that allow companies and their customers to communicate seamlessly via the Web, telephone, and wireless devices.  In this article, we will learn how two evolutionary trends are creating a new generation of unified customer communication platforms.

 Overview

The lines between a phone customer and a Web customer are going to blur. Whether a customer is using a Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) telephone, a Voice over IP ( VoIP) telephone, or a VoIP connection on their computer, may not make much of a difference in the future, because all connections will be initiated over the Internet and voice calls will travel over a VoIP connection, accessing the same customer database as all other customer channels. This unification will enable companies to provide higher quality customer support through a single platform.

The two trends that are driving this innovation is the move from Public Switched Telephone Networks (PTSNs) to Internet-based VoIP. This trend will converge voice and data networks and provide a new range of unified services. The second trend is the adoption of wireless devices as an alternative access mechanism to Web browsers. This trend has driven software developers to create more flexible software designs that enable multi-model access to applications. This change in design philosophy has created new opportunities to expand application access to a myriad of devices including the telephone.

IP will replace the Public Switched Telephone Network

The widespread adoption of the Internet has spurred companies like AT&T and Qwest to invest huge sums of money into upgrading their networks with high-capacity fiber. Since the demand for this new capacity has fallen well below expectations, telecommunications providers are looking for new ways to generate revenue with their IP networks. Carriers and managed service providers have been bulking up their Voice over IP (VoIP) capabilities over the past couple years. A survey of VoIP equipment vendors conducted by Miercom reveled that an estimated eight percent of telephone calls currently placed over IP networks will increase to 30 percent within 5 years. WorldCom is one carrier that is moving forward with VoIP service, which will enable its IP Communication customers to plug a Pingtel or Cisco IP phone directly in their LAN.

VoIP has been gaining popularity for a number of reasons. First, with VoIP, telephones and computers use the same connection and network infrastructure. This simplifies the cost and complexity of running two separate wires for the network and telephones. Secondly, a converged voice/data network simplifies management of network resources. Third, using VoIP to contact remote offices instead of regular long-distance service can reduce costs by eliminating per-minute fees.

Even though the value-proposition for VoIP is strong, especially for companies that are upgrading their network or moving into a new office, the quality of VoIP falls short of most users' expectations. Vendors are working to solve this problem. In the short term, companies are using VoIP for inter-company long-distance calls and for customer support calls that originate from the Web.

In the longer term, as carriers begin to offer VoIP service, the need for separate phone and data lines may become unnecessary. With VoIP, carriers can carry voice and data traffic over a single line. Telephone numbers can be terminated at the carrier and routed directly to your IP phones. New phone numbers can be provisioned without having to wire new lines to a phone block. The challenge for the carriers will be creating an appropriate pricing model that doesn't cannibalize their existing revenue streams.

Running voice and data traffic on an all IP network means that customers can interact with customer support applications and be transferred to an IVR or customer support representative (CSR) anytime, anywhere; whether they're at a computer using a Web browser or on a cell phone using a WAP browser. With technologies like VoIP and SIP, the transition between data and voice interactions will be commonplace and seamless.

Companies will begin deploying multi-model applications

Multi-model applications provide access to multiple devices. For example, a new account management application may be accessible from a Web browser, WAP phone and telephone. The wireless revolution that started building steam in 2000 didn't provide the ground-breaking consumer adoption that some expected. That was due in part to the limiting factors of a telephone keypad as an input mechanism. Nevertheless, companies are increasingly deploying Web applications that are also accessible from cell phones, PDAs and two-way messaging devices like the RIM Blackberry. 

  The technique of designing and implementing multi-model applications has been around for a few years and is now being extended to the telephone through VoiceXML. Technology vendors including Oracle, HP, Microsoft, IBM and Motorola have also been supporting this trend by providing consolidated development tools that can output interface files for the Web, wireless devices and telephones.

As the discipline of multi-model application development becomes more widely used, companies will begin seeking new ways of extending their enterprise applications to new devices. A natural extension from the Web is the telephone, because of its ubiquitous 

What the future may bring

The days of maintaining telephone support separate from Web and email support are numbered. Companies like Cisco and WorldCom are forging ahead with a product vision that integrates customer communication channels into a single platform running on an IP network. Furthermore, with the insurgence of multi-model applications, the quality and consistency of business/customer communications may see a significant improvement in the coming years. These new developments will provide additional ways for companies to improve customer support while reducing the cost and complexity of managing multiple customer communication channels.

About Jonathan Eisenzopf

Jonathan is a member of the Ferrum Group, LLC  which specializes in Voice Web consulting and training. He has also written articles for other online and print publications including WebReference.com and WDVL.com. Feel free to send an email to eisen@ferrumgroup.com regarding questions or comments about the VoiceXML Strategy series, or for more information about training and consulting services.

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