By Jeremy Payne
The adoption of collaboration tools within many enterprises has created a revolution that’s driving a new age of customer service. This revolution is shifting to an evolution as businesses seek to extract added value from services such as Microsoft Lync and now Skype for Business. These changes are impacting how businesses approach unified communications as they embrace omnichannel customer interaction.
We’re on the cusp of a major brand shift in Microsoft’s roadmap of collaboration tools for the enterprise. Depending on who you ask, the shift in name is about brand recognition and market position, and is indicative of a significant shift in focus and strategy, or both. Microsoft’s own Corporate VP for the Skype for Business team, Zig Serafin, calls the shift a key step in Microsoft’s mission to “connect people everywhere.”
Collaboration tools centred on video interaction offer the potential for companies to provide a much more personalised service. For businesses that are taking the steps to support customers using Skype through their contact centre, it also makes sense to have that capability in-house. This is increasingly extending as far as providing customer experts who can show a caller how to solve their problem by demonstrating the solution visually and in some cases sharing desktops and screens.
One of the key considerations for many businesses and is often deemed mission-critical, is how Skype for Business relates to the contact centre. In today’s evolving digital environment where customer touch points increasingly need to be delivered across a unified, omnichannel platform, allowing your help desk, customer service team, sales department, HR department or collections group all to be available for customer interaction. It’s no longer just about answering calls, or even emails. Your customer increasingly expects to be able to seek help via instant messaging or text from any device, and demand their enquiry to be handled effectively and seamlessly often by someone who doesn’t traditionally think of themselves as doing customer service.
The use of tools like Skype can also significantly reduce the cost of interaction for customers, especially when compared with calls from mobile devices. The ability to interact free of charge with Skype can significantly lessen the frustration users experience when kept waiting. By companies accepting Skype interaction, this can increase the chance of the engagement progressing smoothly.
The adoption of Skype for Business needs to be looked at as part of a wider unified communication strategy. As the lines between various forms of communication are blurring (voice or video for example), businesses need to offer accessible self-service options, route interactions intelligently, provide productivity tools to agents and managers, and constantly manage quality for customers. The fundamentals of the contact centre, in this sense, haven’t changed.
Skype for Business is at the heart of the omnichannel revolution. But how important is the brand shift from Lync to Skype to contact centres? Let’s explore two possible answers to this question.
The change means nothing
A rose by any other name … Simply changing the name does not necessarily change its nature. Lync was Microsoft’s unified communications platform for business, and Skype for Business is Microsoft’s unified communications platform for business. Lync was already federated to Skype for contacts, presence and IM, with plans to expand that federation to video, etc. Skype for Business does indeed continue that federation story.
In a well-integrated Skype for Business contact centre, a customer on Skype anywhere in the world can initiate an IM, call, or video session to a queue, rather than to an individual, and have their request routed to the best agent to solve the problem. With the connection established, forms of communication can be combined to exchange information efficiently and maximise the customer experience. Few contact centre apps do this seamlessly today, as it does have to be very well-integrated, using Microsoft-endorsed APIs and configurations.
It’s important not to forget that the world of Lync contact centre communications is available to all those hundreds of millions of Skype users, plus everyone else on endpoints with web access, federated networks, mobile devices, and so on. But this would have been true even without the shift in brand.
So is there no real impact? Well… there is another way to look at it.
The change means everything
First, there’s the impact on brand recognition. The Skype name is universally known and well-respected, arguably the world’s greatest success story in Voice-over-IP. As long as the “Shouldn’t Skype be free?” objection is handled cleanly, the shift should leverage tremendous brand equity. And as long as the “Should I trust Skype for my mission-critical contact centre?” objection is handled by leveraging its Lync pedigree, the shift should be welcomed.
More than that, the change represents an evolutionary step forward, signalling a real focus on web-centric communications. It’s very well-aligned with Office 365, with a clear path to increased cloud capabilities, including PSTN-to-cloud connectivity and voice/video for business in a cloud-offered framework.
But, as businesses are finding out, it’s not really a choice of cloud vs. premise, it’s a choice of how much cloud. Most businesses are now dealing with new questions arising from this choice. Do I need an on-premise PBX or communications server? How do I integrate cloud-provided functionality with my own back-office systems and data? For the contact centre these are very difficult questions, since you can’t afford to lose live connections with your customers, and you must inform your contact centre agents with history and context to guide their customer conversations.
Not surprisingly, most businesses continue to choose a hybrid approach, combining some use of cloud with some use of on-premise, and integrating systems and data to maximise value and reliability. With Skype for Business, Microsoft is very strongly endorsing this approach. As Serafin says, “We are enabling cloud plus on-premises hybrid options so that you can rely on our cloud when you need it without having to give up what you want to manage on-premises.”
The brand shift is an indicator of this philosophy. Skype may be about web-enablement, but Skype for Business is all about appropriate options for the enterprise. For the contact centre, choosing the best-performing, most data-enabled, highest-reliability architecture is critical to success.