Call Centers

Microsoft Builds Out Contact-Center App

Microsoft has introduced an upgraded version of a product it quietly rolled out last year. Called Customer Care Framework 2005 (CCF), it is a desktop application for contact-center operators that provides customer-care information via e-mail, instant messaging, interactive voice response (IVR) and the partner-dealer channel.

For example, using such a system, a service representative could see that a customer complained twice about the same problem — once via IVR and once via e-mail. The agent could also see that the customer later challenged a credit-card purchase because the matter had not been settled satisfactorily. CCF allows this view across channels by using Web services to connect back-end customer data.

Beefed-Up Customer Interaction Features

Microsoft began offering this application some two-and-a-half years ago to customers that requested it, with its official market debut last May.

With this version, Microsoft has made a number of tech enhancements, primarily around the agent desktop and agent workflow functions, according to Vish Thirumurthy, group manager of Microsoft’s communications sector. These improvements were based on feedback the company received on its earlier applications, he told CRM Buyer.

Microsoft has also expanded the customer-interaction functionality it incorporates into the product, adding more components such as e-mail and speech IVR.

The new SharePoint-based self-service portal and interactive voice-response system gives users access to account and billing information, the ability to order new services, and a means to resolve business problems.

Customers can also launch a Web chat or e-mail interaction with a contact-center agent within the self-service portal.

Holistic Approach

There are other vendors targeting the agent desktop space, of course. Some, in contrast to Microsoft, are approaching it with a browser-based, J2EE-based (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) application.

Microsoft’s comprehensive and holistic view of customer care is what differentiates its product offering, Thirumurthy said. “It is more than just a desktop agent. We reach across all customer-care channels, such as e-mail. We also are able to provide the functionality to seamlessly encapsulate the back office and other lines of business,” he explained.

CCF uses a mid-tier integration layer based on Web services standards to integrate these channels, circumventing the need for integration with existing systems.

Sizing the Market

When Microsoft first introduced this approach informally to its clients, it was surprised by the traction the product quickly gained, Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone told CRM Buyer. “There is a large demand for products like this in the communications space,” she said.

Other vendors are offering desktop agents applications as well. But Microsoft is particularly motivated to compete in this area because it is one more application that will help it maintain its desktop and operating-system market share.

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