Integrating the contact centre: SOA best practices

Among the many benefits being delivered by service-oriented architecture, companies are finding SOA enables them to closely align their customer contact infrastructure with the data, workflows and processes used to manage customer interactions across the organization.

The ability to integrate contact centre applications, such as call routing and voice self-service, into complex workflows enables organizations to support those interactions across multiple channels, such as the telephone and the Web.

Many customers begin a task in one channel (the Web or a branch office, for example) and then complete it elsewhere, often in the call centre. This new level of enterprise-wide integration reduces duplication of effort each time the customer engages with the organization to accomplish the same task.

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That means applications can be more advanced and responsive. For example, applications can be tailored to the preferred usage patterns of each customer. As systems across the enterprise can more easily share customer insights, richer profiles are built and acted on, regardless of how a customer chooses to seek assistance.

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Further, the application of SOA principles helps ensure reuse of code across the organization, which lowers the cost and risk associated with application development and can speed the development of new functionality. Similarly, customer data required by the entire enterprise, including the contact centre, can be managed more securely and cost-effectively from a centralized location.

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With the introduction of SOA, the possibilities for new and enhanced functionality within the contact centre greatly expand. For example, a bank could integrate its SOA-enabled speech applications with other enterprise resources, allowing customers to pay bills over the phone using the same back-end systems that enable Web-based bill payments today.

This would complement voice-based self-service capabilities that are already available to customers, such as the ability to check account balances, the status of payment and changing addresses.

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Moreover, SOA enables data to be updated and made available to all applications at once, eliminating delays and discrepancies. Similarly, SOA can drive workflows across multiple channels or customer touchpoints, so that a mortgage company, for example, could consolidate all the capabilities residing at its headquarters, its branch offices and its contact centres.

In this way, employees would have access to the latest updates for the myriad documents and data that flood into mortgage offices every day. And customers would have immediate access to their most recent mortgage data and applications, regardless of which location or person they contacted or whether they reached the company through the phone or the Internet.

Four steps to innovative service transformation

How can organizations begin to extend SOA to customer-facing applications in the contact centre? They can start by implementing a few best practices:

Break down the silos: Many large organizations have decades-old divisions between voice and data IT workers or between enterprise and contact centre IT employees, or both.

A model based on SOA principles will require everyone to work together in a holistic manner across various company functions and departments. The result should be the development of applications that provide greater responsiveness for customers and a smoother, more consistent customer experience.

Don’t re-invent the wheel: Over the years, your application developers have probably created their own scripts, grammars and methods. For instance, an application group may have developed a standard way to authenticate users, to enable payments or to represent a user profile.

In developing SOA-based applications, you should identify the best-in-class methods already in use, and then enhance them as necessary. Simply put, there’s no reason to start from scratch.

Make use of standards: Where possible, develop SOA-based applications according to industry standards. For example, VoiceXML provides a standard way to develop and deploy interactive speech applications, a key productivity tool for many contact centres.

So employing this standard is almost mandatory when building advanced applications for the contact centre. In addition, developers should consider using industry-standard tools to develop application components, as opposed to writing them from scratch.

Using VoiceXML, as well as popular development tools, will speed up initial application creation, hold down costs and permit easier integration with other applications.

Over the next few years, more organizations are likely to use SOA to integrate their contact centres with their enterprises, thereby extending the power of SOA to customer-facing applications such as voice self-service. The potential for enhanced customer care, greater application flexibility and cost containment is compelling.

Bergelson, writing for Network World in the U.S., is director of business development at Cisco Systems Inc.

More related content:

SOA: It’s architecture, not technology

Understanding the architecture

SOA at work: Ontario’s common components

Where to start SOA: Identifying the big business driver

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