April 17, 2014

4 Reasons You Need Centralized Wireless Management

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As wireless LANs get more ubiquitous, IT may well find they’re spending an inordinate amount of time managing them, especially in organizations with multiple sites. Configuration changes require logging in to the controller at each site, troubleshooting can be a bear, and reporting is all but impossible. That is, unless you have a centralizedmanagement strategy.

With centralized wireless management, the wireless controllers that manage access points in each location all connect to a central management console, from where IT can monitor and control each ‘remote controller’ (as opposed to ‘remote control’, which apparently only my 11 year old daughter has access to). To learn more about why centralized wireless management is so important, we talked to Chris Williams, a pre-sales consulting engineer with Carousel Industries. Williams offered these four reasons why centralized wireless management is a boon to companies with big wireless networks.

Conduct Comprehensive Wireless Reporting

Every wireless equipment manufacturer provides a tool for managing their access points, but they typically have limited memory to store logging and tracking data. You can get a live snapshot of what’s happening right now, but to get historical data you need to offload the log data to a separate server, such as a centralized wireless management platform. Reporting is important for staying in compliance with regulations such as PCI and HIPAA, or even for schools, Williams says. He cited the example of a school that was being sued because a student hacked in to a web site from school property. The school had the AirWave Master Console from Aruba Networks in place, so was able to look at its records, figure out the MAC address of the device that performed the hack and from there determine which student did the deed – and get the school off the hook.

Easing Wireless Administration

Say you’re a large company, with 100 sites that each have a wireless LAN. You need to monitor the sites each day to make sure all is well and, occasionally, make configuration changes. Without a centralized management tool, you’d need to log in to the controller at each site individually. At the same time, you’d be risking configuration errors if you have to make the changes individually, and it’d be tough to maintain the same security policies. Centralized management enables you to maintain uniformity in terms of configuration changes, policy enforcement, security layers and the like, Williams says.

Network-wide Historical Troubleshooting

Employees rarely report wireless connectivity issues while the problem is happening. They typically just grouse about it and connect to the wired network somewhere to get their work done. Then they see an IT administrator in the hallway days later and mention they were having problems last Friday. “With centralized management and all the reporting, you can wind back the clock,” Williams says, and determine where the individual user was sitting at the time the problem occurred. Perhaps he was sitting next to a microwave oven at lunchtime and it was causing interference. “If you didn’t have all that location, tracking and historical information, you wouldn’t be able to do that,” he says.

Tracking Wireless Devices

All that tracking data can also be integrated with an RFID system to provide location tracking for devices on the wireless network. Hospitals, for example, often install RFID devices on the “computer on wheels” carts that roll from room to room, to ensure they don’t roll out the door. The systems can be programmed to send an alert should the tag cross a predefined line on the floor plan. The systems can also be used to find assets. “If someone puts a pump in a closet and nobody knows where it is, you can identify it based on an RFID card, even if the device is turned off,” Williams says. “You can’t do that if tracking by MAC or IP address.”

Not all centralized management systems are equal, of course. The AirWave system is vendor-agnostic, meaning it supports wireless systems from more than 15 different vendors. The level of control you have over them may vary – command line for some, GUI interface for others – but you’ll be able to extract logging and tracking data from all of them. And that’s a valuable thing.

To learn more about centralized wireless management and what it can do for your company, get in touch with Carousel.

Has Your Contact Center Gotten Social?

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(Courtesy of Stock.xchng)If you think your company has customer service challenges, imagine how all the power and telecommunications companies in the areas affected by Hurricane Irene are feeling right about now. Their public relations challenges over how quickly — or not — they restore services is doubtless being compounded by all the comments posted about performance being posted on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn.

That’s why it isn’t surprising that many businesses are seriously exploring how to use social network concepts as part of their overall customer contact strategies. A report released this week by technology trends research firm Gartner suggests that the market for what it calls social customer relationship management (CRM) will reach more than $1 billion by the end of next year, which compares with $625 million for 2010. Gartner considers social CRM to be software and technologies that help companies build what it calls private-label community sites.

So, for example, a platform that would let your organization monitor and respond to customer service requests posted either in a private, gated community or on an independent social network such as the three that I already mentioned.

The biggest application for social CRM software, right now, is on business-to-business applications as opposed to those that facilitate business-to-consumer interactions.

Said Adam Sarner, research director at Gartner:

“Until recently, many companies have treated social CRM as a series of experiments and tactical purchases. Few have a social CRM strategy or established metrics to measure its effect on hard business results. Different departments, employees and managers implement different types of applications for different purposes. This lack of consistency among buyers keeps the market fragmented into at least three segments — sales, marketing and customer service — with many small vendors taking various approaches to address one area, approach or use case.”

Yesterday, I personally spent about 40 minutes waiting on one telecommunications company’s contact center service because the problem I needed to report didn’t have a corresponding push-button response on its call-in system and I didn’t have any internet service. By the way, I was using a mobile phone that I didn’t have anywhere to charge. So you can imagine that I wasn’t thrilled with the process, but I didn’t really have a choice.

I’m sure many of you have had a similar experience, or been faced with a situation where the customer service function on a company’s web site was seemingly blind to any interactions that you might have had in the past via phone or (gasp) in person.

Businesses that spend the time to think about how social networks dovetail into their existing points of customer contact holistically are the ones that will earn positive customer feedback. I don’t personally like the social CRM phrase that has arisen to describe this sort of technology because it suggests that it IS something separate.

Over time, I think that will change as companies realized that social networks and private communities are simply part of smart customer relationship strategies that amplify the investment they have already made in customer contact or call-center solutions.

Disaster Preparation Checklist – Is Your Company Ready for the Next Natural Disaster?

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The East Coast got off relatively easy from the earthquake centered in Virginia on Tuesday, but is not likely to get so lucky when it comes to Hurricane Irene.

As ABC News reported on Thursday:

Irene, which spent the day battering the Bahamas, is expected to slam into thedisaster-preparedness-checklistNorth Carolina coast Friday night and then churn north along the coast as far as Boston.

“This one’s going to affect everybody as it goes up the coast. We don’t see it moving far out to sea and skipping a few of the places that in the past it had skipped,” National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said.

Incident Preparation Checklist

From earthquakes to hurricanes, there’s no shortage of disasters for IT professionals to worry about, whether natural or man-made. With that in mind, Carousel’s partner Avaya has assembled an “Incident Preparation Checklist” that serves as an important plan-of-action reminding us of all the steps companies should take to prepare for Irene, or any other disaster, in order to keep their businesses up and running.

The steps are divided into eight categories, from preparing for the event to an after-the-fact assessment. They include a number of steps that may well alert companies to shortcomings in their own disaster preparedness plans. For example, does your company have something akin to an “incident command team” that monitors events such as hurricanes and takes appropriate steps? How about business recovery and IT disaster recovery plans? As the checklist shows, you’ll need them to deal with events that have a severe impact – as it appears Irene will.

Click here to download the Incident Preparation Checklist. And thanks to our partner Avaya for providing it.

Earthquakes and Hurricanes Highlight Need for Disaster Preparedness

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It’s certainly good news when, following an earthquake the likes of which the East Coast pretty much never sees, we get nothing but headlines like this one, from CIO magazine:

Data centers largely unaffected by East Coast quake

and this, from the Data Center Knowledge web site:

Major Data Centers Report No Earthquake Damage

As Data Center knowledge reported Tuesday:

Today’s earthquake on the East Coast of the U.S. appears to have been a non-event for the region’s data centers, many of which are located in Virginia, where the epicenter of the quake was located.

Terremark, whose NAP of the Capital Region data fortress in Culpeper, Virginia is about 35 miles from the quake’s epicenter in Mineral, Va., reported no issues. Also unaffected was QTS – Quality Technology Services, which operates a huge data center in Richmond.

The story goes on to say that DuPont Fabros, Digital Realty Trust and Sungard Availability, which provides disaster recovery services, all had data centers in the area but were unaffected by the 5.8 earthquake.

The closest thing resembling a problem was probably this item about an Amazon Web Services (AWS) customer, from the Media and Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) blog:

One AWS client, however, seems to have recorded a slowdown in its page response times during the brief temblor (via ZDNet). SeatGeek, which uses AWS to power its concert-ticket search website, shared results of its real-time system monitoring software on its company blog. The stats show the duration of the earthquake corresponding to “a pretty nasty looking page response spike.” The takeaway for SeatGeek: “earthquakes make web servers sad;” and “real-time system monitoring is awesome.”

The most amusing headline, however, was from InformationWeek:

Earthquake Fails To Halt NYSE Trading

It’s like the NYSE, or maybe InformationWeek editors, are taunting Mother Nature. “You call that an earthquake? That all you got? Look – I’m still trading! I’m still trading! ”

The story, however, goes on to say how the NYSE built a $500 million data center last year that put a premium on redundancy. To wit:

The Mahwah data center also sits on the border of jurisdictions for two utilities suppliers, meaning it gets power from both. The arrangement provides another layer of redundancy. “There’s two of everything. We have no single point of failure,” NYSE Euronext CIO Steve Rubinow told InformationWeek last year.

That’s exactly what you want in a data center, of course – tons of redundancy. And if you live in an area more earthquake-prone than the East Coast, you’ll want to build in some protective mechanisms. That doesn’t just mean for the building itself, by the way. Companies such as Worksafe Technologies have created systems that essentially use ball bearings to let data center racks literally ride out a quake. As Data Center Knowledge reported some time ago:

ISO-BASE uses a patented Ball-N-Cone seismic isolation system consisting of two load plates with cone-shaped recesses sandwiched over a steel ball bearing. The design allows the platform to roll smoothly and evenly through earthquakes. “It’s not a new technology,” said [Dylan] Mason. “The technique is very familiar to people. We’ve just adapted it to a smaller base.” The technology can be seen in videos on the WorkSafe web site, and typically costs between $1,000 and $1,500 per cabinet to install, Mason said.

Maybe it’s because we’re in New England but it seems the East Coast quake completely overshadowed one that occurred a few hours earlier, late Monday night in Colorado. As the New York Times headline said:

Rare Strong Earthquake Hits Colorado

While the headline certainy makes it sound serious, and it did register a 5.3, the Times dedicate fewer than 300 words to the story – far fewer than this blog post.

If you need some direction on how to protect your data centers from all manner of disasters, natural and otherwise, contact Carousel and check out this checklist for preparing for natural disasters from our partners at Avaya.

4 Reasons why your Network Needs to be “Identity-Aware”

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As companies become ever-more mobile, and embrace technologies including software-as-a-service and cloud computing as well as social media, they need to rethink how they identify the individuals and devices that request access to corporate networks.

In a world of distributed devices, people and resources, companies need an identity management strategy that takes into account an employee’s or business partner’s specific roles and access rights to internal infrastructure and applications, as well as the device they’re using and their location. In short, companies need “identity-aware” networks that provide data about both machines and humans. In this post, we’ll give you four reasons why you should ensure your network is identity-aware.

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Best Practices:  Identity-Aware Networks – What your company needs to know.  Download the Free Whitepaper Now!

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Identity-aware networks add location-based data

In addition to a user’s department or job role, an identity-aware network takes into account aIdentity-Aware-Network-Mobile-Workforceuser’s location and the type of device he’s using. So, the same person who might be allowed access to files containing sensitive intellectual property data while he’s at headquarters might not be allowed access to those resources from an iPad he’s using at a Starbucks. The reason is the the public WiFi network in use at Starbucks is less secure than the internal corporate data network; it’s too risky.

Identity awareness provides secure access for third parties

Identity aware networks can be used to allow trusted business partners, third parties and even customers to gain access to certain resources within the corporate network – and only those resources. Such capabilities are crucial to meeting regulatory requirements such as HIPAA and Gramm-Leach Bliley, which require companies to not only show when certain data was accessed but by whom.

Federated identity management – a solution for cloud applications

As companies look more to SaaS and cloud models to host certain applications, they find it complicates identity management. Users are forced to log on to each application one at a time, which can be a burden if various applications are hosted by different providers. Say a salesman needs to access a sales force automation application, accounts payable and pending order information to prepare for a customer meeting. Maybe one is hosted internally and the other two by SaaS or cloud providers, requiring three separate logins. That will create a lot of wasted time and unhappy sales people.

In an identity-aware network, users can authenticate locally and then have the identity management system handle logins to all the different applications they need, a concept known as federation. This requires a central authority for identity information, which could be managed on-premise or as a cloud service of its own. Such a setup is important to ensure that control over access rights and security policies stays within the control of IT.

Identity-awareness contributes to controlled use of social network sites

Many companies are now using social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn as part of their corporate marketing and recruitment efforts. While they can be effective, this also means the companies are essentially giving the green light to at least some employees to use such social networking sites at work. That, of course, can open the door to a significant productivity drain.

An identity-aware network could help stem the problem by giving access to such social sites to only those users who need access for legitimate business purposes, and potentially even restrict how much time per day access is allowed.

Learn more about how to make your network identity-aware by downloading the Carousel Industries white paper, “WHO ARE YOU?: What Your Company Should Know about ‘Identity-Aware’ Networks — and How They Will Transform Enterprise Security Policy.”

Forrester IDs 5 Mobile Worker ‘Types’ Businesses Must Support

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I have been researching mobile device management strategies for the past several weeks for a story. Today, I came across a useful Forrester Research report that suggests too many IT organizations still equate mobility strategy with laptops computers and aren’t yet asking the right policy questions about tablet computers or, in particular, smartphones.

Forrester’s new report is called “Does Your IT Department Support the Needs of the Mobile Workforce?” It suggests that businesses need to think more about the role of the mobile workers it is trying to serve — and what those workers are doing with their technology — in order to better manage mobile technologies as part of an overall IT infrastructure strategy.

By 2016, the research company predicts that 63 million U.S. information workers will telecommute at least part of the time, meaning that they will need mobile technology in order to stay connected. But what technology? The most important platforms for the time being are the notebook computer and the smartphone, although more organizations are raising questions about tablet computers for obvious reasons.

Based on its study of close to 5,000 U.S. information workers, Forrester Research suggests that IT organizations can divide potential mobile workers up into these 5 categories:

  1. Back-office employee: Even though these sorts of workers only work from the office during the week, they have emerging mobility needs. For example, Forrester discovered that approximately one-quarter of this population uses a notebook or laptop computer for work, while another 13 percent use a smartphone at work.
  2. Hypermobile professional: As you might expect from the word “hyper,” this is the group that spends the most time using some mobile technology — ANY mobile technology. They work from home, the office or even while in transit. Close to 90 percent of this group uses a laptop (wait, not 100 percent?); and almost 70 percent of them use a smartphone while at work.
  3. Part-time telecommuter: Someone who splits their time between the office and a work setting. Almost 60 percent of them use a laptop computer, but only 27 percent use a laptop more than a desktop. Forrester suggests that some of these workers might actually be overprovisioned — getting both a desktop and notebook — when just a mobile device, properly managed and secured, would probably suffice.
  4. Connected consultant: This is the sort of person who isn’t necessarily on your payroll, but who is definitely on your team. The nature of their position means that they split their time between being in an office (not necessarily your company’s office) and being on the road. Almost 43 percent use a smartphone at work.
  5. Remote-based technician: These workers spent almost all of their time working outside of a corporate office. It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that almost 60 percent of this group use a laptop; almost 40 percent use a laptop more than a desktop. (That latter statistic was the highest percentage for all of the mobile workers that Forrester Research studied in its report.)

Based on its study of the usage habits of these workforce types, Forrester Research suggests that IT organizations are missing the boat when it comes to strategies and policies that support mobile workers. Specifically, it suggests that companies look at the following:

  • Do you have an adequate smartphone policy? Given the high numbers of smartphone users that the survey uncovered, businesses might do well to look at their policy and decide whether it is better to manage the devices that employees bring in or to deploy a “business-liable phone” that is more within the IT team’s sphere of influence to manage.
  • Are you provisioning too many notebooks? When it comes to certain workforce types, such as a remote-based technician, companies may be better off deploying desktops with remote networking and virtualization technologies along with a smartphone for more flexibility. That’s because even though they are remote, these sorts of workers are often at a secured site in an office — even if it is not your company’s office. At the same time, it may be worth looking at whether certain people need two devices: maybe a notebook computer with the proper peripherals should serve as more individuals’ primary system.
  • Consider paying for wireless services. This might encourage more engagement outside work hours AND better control costs that employees might be submitted as travel expenses. If nothing else, workers might consider this as a perk, especially if they are using a smartphone more on the company’s behalf than on their own.

Caught in the Middle: Addressing IT Challenges for Mid-Market Companies

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Many newer technology solutions address the problems large enterprises encounter within their datacenter, and are scaled to sustain large infrastructure requirements. Large companies require continuous production environments and need an IT backbone that supports this continuity. In addition, hosted solutions have opened the door for small companies to take advantage of high-end datacenter solutions without high capital investment costs.

Smaller businesses often do not require as extensive solution sets, but still need a backbone IT for common business tasks. Also, limited IT staffStuck in the middlecreates obstacles for managing their environments properly, leaning decision makers towards hosted solutions. While newer solutions fit well within small and large businesses, the midsize market is somewhat stuck in the middle. Often, productivity requirements match up directly with large enterprises, but the IT staff represents that of a small organization. In other words, midsize customers want the infrastructure in house, but may not be able to manage it to its full potential. Budget is a large restriction as well. Midsize companies rarely have the financial ability to be proactive. IT projects take priority when productivity is seriously affected, creating a reactive scenario. Reflecting on this background information, here are three things to keep in mind when creating, designing, and operating midsize infrastructure.

Derive Value from Existing infrastructure:

  • Understand the full capabilities of the current infrastructure; integrating with new technologies, as well as remaining the same.
  • Aim towards fewer disruptions and faster resolution leveraging technology that has already been invested in.
  • Recognize repetitive errors or common areas where your infrastructure fails. Before purchasing new equipment, rethink the capabilities of your current infrastructure.
  • Engage a consultant to rethink the architecture will help expand your capabilities, and generate thorough understanding of how supportive your environment will be of investments down the road.

Not just technology, but strategic development:

  • Remember that IT is to support your business strategy.
  • Understand how new technology will enhance this strategy, and what limitations it may present.
  • Weigh out the limitations against cost, and make decisions that decrease current costs for your business.
  • Keep in-line with your current strategy will help increase productivity and grow revenue.
  • Create an environment that correlates with the process being pushed to end-users and allow them to work efficiently and meet demands of the industry.

Avoiding fixed infrastructure:

This goes hand-in-hand with the strategic development thought. Businesses change processes continuously, which affectively changes IT requirements. Invest in technology that allows you to change with new initiatives. You want your infrastructure to support future needs and projects that will continue your progressive growth. Also, consider hybrid solutions. Rather than investing in full in-house infrastructure, examine hybrid solutions that allow you to leverage numerous capabilities across all size markets.

If you are a mid-sized business struggling to address your strategic IT concerns, Carousel can help.  Contact us today and we will connect you with the right people to answer your questions.

Words of Wisdom from CIO’s: Roundup from CIO100 Conference

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CIOs like to talk in bullet points and always seem to have a few rules to live by in their back pockets. Or so it seems from the many CIOs presenting at the CIO 100 Symposium and Awards Ceremony this week in Colorado Springs,Colo.

Here we offer some insights in list form from some top IT execs plus a few other tidbits picked up at the event.

Levis: Innovating at the Speed of Customers

Tom Peck, senior VP & CIO for Levi Strauss & Co., talked about the various efforts the company is making in social media, trying to connect with customers in new ways, from Facebook to YouTube. It appears to be working, as he reports the company has now achieved 6.9 million “Likes” on Facebook.

One example is the company’s “Men Without Pants” campaign, launched with Super Bowl ads early this year. It resulted in 4,000 hits per second at its peak on the campaign web site, including 200 hits/sec from mobile devices. The company gave away 4,000 pairs of pants.

Peck’s list for success with such social media efforts includes these tenets:

  • Innovate at the speed of customers: Be fast and nimble.
  • Be consumer-obsessed: Understand behaviors, technology demands and their ability to interact anywhere. “Go where the shoppers are.”
  • Test and scale: Be innovative and bold, fast, agile and nimble. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake with an online effort; you can pull it offline quickly.
  • The cloud is a key enabler in the digital economy. Levis used cloud resources to help it quickly scale for the Men Without Pants campaign.
  • IT leaders must manage ecosystems
  • Talent, talent, talent.
  • Play to win,

A Decade of Innovation at State Street Bank

Madge Meyer, executive VP and chief innovation officer at State Street, a $10 billion investment management company, has a history of staying ahead of the technology curve. She’s been adept at recognizing technology trends, getting aboard early and reaping the benefits.

Her “reflections on innovation” run from A to G:

  • Anticipatory, not reactive
  • Business focused, not technology driven
  • Creative destruction, not guardianship: it’s easy for technology people to be so proud of what they build that they don’t want to change when the time comes. Always question whether another product is better than the one you’re using. Look to see who’s competing against your incumbent vendors.
  • Distributive leadership, not command and control: everyone should own what they’re doing.
  • Execution, not just inspiration: “A vision without execution is just hallucination,” Meyer said.
  • Fast and flexible, not frozen
  • Global mindset, not parochial thinking

Dartmouth Professor Provides a Lesson on How to Measure Accountability

Chris Trimble, an author and professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, also spoke about innovation and noted one big challenge that trips up most companies: how do you evaluate innovation in a leader?

Simple, he says, as there are three forms of accountability that you can examine:

  • Results: This is the simplest method and what people are most comfortable with. You can’t argue with results.
  • Actions: Did you do what you said you’d do? This involves having a clear plan for an innovation project and executing on that plan.
  • Learning: Did you run a disciplined experiment, one with a clear hypothesis? Did you take the planning process seriously and react quickly to new information along the way? Did you make better predictions about outcomes as you collected more information? Doing so can help companies pull the plug on innovation projects that aren’t going to succeed – before they cost too much money.

Got any IT words to live by of your own? Let us know in the comments section below.

How Active is Your Data Archive?

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I have been personally dealing with a very painful operating system software upgrade for the past two weeks that has required me to roll back to various backup states, which made me really sit up and notice when I came across some research that Aberdeen Group recently published about data archiving in conjunction with an organization called the Active Archive Alliance. (Hey, at least I HAD backup files, right?)

The report, called “Archive Agility: Building Resilience through Active Archiving,” identifies best-in-class organizations from among a survey of about 113 companies. It studies a number of things, including the amount of time it took to overcome a business interruption from a data archive as well as the size of data archive supported at the companies studied. Hint: in this particular instance, bigger is not better.

Believe it or not, in the press release about “active archiving” released by Active Archive Alliance (which sponsored the Aberdeen research) there is never a concrete definition given. Based on the other things that are held  up as examples of best practices, however, here are some ways to know an active archive strategy when you see one:

  • Redundant data is regularly eliminated
  • Data integrity is regularly verified
  • Management is automated with software via some sort of policy and rules defined by the organization

So, in other words, instead of just archiving the data and forgetting about it in some closet or on some shelf or in some storage jukebox, organizations that are best-in-class actively consider the value of the data they are backing up over time. How long does your company really need to keep certain files? Probably not as long as you think, so it would be to your benefit to refresh your memory. I found it quite telling the size of the archives at those companies was just 50 percent larger than the primary storage capacity of the company.

Can you say the same thing about your own organization?

Notes Aberdeen research analyst Dick Csaplar:

“Our research shows that best-in-class archiving organizations have active archives which provide their end users with fast and reliable access to historical data. The research also strongly supports the use of archiving standards that are supported by multiple companies to protect archives from being orphaned when a single company abandons one of their technologies.”

Here are things that your organization should ask when reassessing its archiving strategy:

  • Are you keeping too much historical data?
  • Are you paying too much to keep the data easily accessible?
  • Are you waiting too long to recover archived data?
  • Are you abreast of the e-discovery litigation strategies that guide your industry?

By keeping archiving activity and aims active within your company’s IT organization, not only can it avoid unpleasant and costly business interruptions, but it might also be able to help reduce overall storage capacity requirements.

Trends in the Modern Contact Center: Zeacom Podcast Interview

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We’ve all had our share of nightmare customer service calls but Miles Valentine is on a mission to keep them to a minimum. Valentine is CEO of Zeacom, a leading provider of customer contact center and telephony integration software, and a Carousel partner. For the latest installment in our podcast series, we spoke to him about trends in the Contact Center area, including the adoption of unified communications technologies, the integration of social media into call centers and how call centers can affect the company brand, for better or worse.  In this information packed interview, we discuss all of these topics as well as the trend towards Business Process Automation in the contact center.

Integrating Unified Communications into the Contact Center

While noting that he’s skeptical of some polls, Valentine notes that statistics say 80% of contact centers still handle only voice calls, which means only 20% are incorporating some other form of media. Typically, the first step beyond voice is email, which means queuing incoming email for call center agents to respond to.

But UC comes into play in other ways. Presence technology is used to help achieve the goal of all call centers, first-call resolution. Simply by knowing what subject matter experts are available to help at any given moment, call center agents are much more likely to be able to direct a call to someone who can help – or perhaps use instant messaging to get the answer from the expert.

Beyond that, Valentine notes there’s a growing demand to cater to whatever form of media the customer might want to use, be it chat, IM or Twitter.

Social Media Channels in the Contact Center

The ability to effectively deal with customer queries via social media channels requires companies have in place some form of system to monitor what’s being said about the company across various social media channels, including blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn. Dozens of such services exist to help, feeding companies all sorts of information on what’s being said about them, based on whatever key words they select.

A growing number of companies are now trying to manage those transactions, so they come in to a contact center queue just like a phone call does. Zeacom’s software will queue such interactions, deliver them to appropriately skilled agents, monitor the response and report on the outcomes. The tool even keeps track of which agent handles each interaction, in case any follow-up is required.

The Contact Center and Your Brand

The ability to handle such interactions effectively can “absolutely” have an effect on customer perception of the company’s brand, Valentine says. “It’s a fundamental tenet of what we try to achieve. The contact center is a key place for customers to either be made happy or made grumpy,” he says.

Consider the classic case of an interactive voice response system that asks you for your account number. You dutifully enter it, listen to the IVR repeat it back to you, then wait to get transferred to an agent. The agent picks up and immediately asks for your account number. “That is a staggeringly bad and annoying way to start off a call in a contact center,” Valentine says, noting that it’s not just annoying for the customer, it’s bad for the company because it wastes time. “And time is money in a call center.”

What companies should be doing is placing that caller in a queue and, if the wait time is going to be more than a minute or two, provide varying announcements. Ideally, callers will be told their relative position in the queue and how long they can expect to wait. Even better, give the caller the option to have an agent call them back – and then do it, quickly. “The customer service response you get when you call them back 3, 4 or 5 minutes later is frankly outstanding,” he says. That’s because most companies place such call-back requests in a voicemail queue and get to them hours later, if ever.

If you want to ensure your contact center is putting your brand in the best possible light, contact Carousel.   We’ll bring our industry-leading expertise to bear and work with partners like Zeacom to make sure you impress your customers.