Category: Industries

Category: Industries
West Corporation

Posted on October 9, 2013 by West Corporation 

Behind Every Good Company Are Other Good Companies

They say you can’t do it alone, and this is so true in business. Partners who share a mutual interest drive productivity, innovation and a spirit of growth. Critical to West Interactive’s success over our 20-plus years have been such partnerships. We at West Interactive are thrilled to have joined the Sonus Partner Assure Program.

Not only have we transformed our business using Sonus Network Technology, but we also have been using it to help our clients transform their businesses as well. At West Interactive, we bring a unique perspective to customers — as a user and reseller of Sonus solutions. As one of the largest Sonus enterprise session border controller (SBC) networks in North America, West Interactive has experience navigating SBC deployments and a deep understanding of the critical role SBCs serve in protecting and securing today’s networks.

West Interactive specializes in providing industry-leading multichannel customer contact solutions that are uniquely applied to each industry, each market and each customer. With increased adoption of Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking and unified communications (UC), West Interactive can now provide its customers with a highly scalable and reliable SBC from Sonus to ensure network security and resiliency. Sonus SBCs are purpose-built for the demands of SIP-based communications and feature-rich applications like UC and video across enterprise networks.

Sonus Partner Assure provides enterprise communications resellers, distributors and solution providers with a comprehensive, turnkey program to enable SIP transformations for enterprise customers. Enterprises working with a certified Sonus Select Partner can be confident that their needs will be addressed in a capable, professional manner to help enterprises achieve business and communications objectives.

The past year has been quite a success for the West Interactive and Sonus partnership, with significant Sonus projects helping six of our newest customers. Not to mention the continued investment that West Interactive makes in our own Sonus environment. We value this great partnership and look forward to continued success as part of the Sonus Partner Assure Program.

West Corporation

Posted on October 7, 2013 by West Corporation 

Got APIs?

An application programming interface (API) can be defined as a set of protocols, routines, and tools for building software applications. An API enforces structure on both sides of a request, and a good API makes it easier for developers to build apps. Over the past few years, there has been a sharp increase in the use of Web-accessible APIs. Twitter, Google and Facebook handle billions of API requests every day. Others are steadily joining the API movement: provides a directory listing nearly 10,000 different APIs, and even provides an “API for APIs.”

Why the astounding growth? Mobile applications are driving much of the increase, but the bottom line is that APIs are unleashing an incredible amount of creativity by enabling software developers to build amazingly powerful applications — while letting others manage the underlying IT infrastructure. Additionally, the developer is shielded from the complexities of the service implemented behind the APIs, while a pay-as-you-go pricing model further reduces barriers to entry.

Enterprises are moving toward Web-accessible APIs, albeit at a slower pace. Data security is a key concern, as is the risk of adding external dependencies. As a result, there are many companies offering API management services now. These services are offered in on-premise, cloud and hybrid flavors — and are helping to speed the adoption rate of APIs by enterprises. Common features include access portals, development tools, security, analytics and more. Additionally, there are several open-source solutions available. Ultimately, enterprises will embrace APIs from proven, trusted, providers of enterprise-grade solutions and services.

Is your enterprise leveraging the power of Web-accessible APIs yet? If not, it’s time to start thinking about it. Do your business partners offer secure, reliable, managed APIs? If not, make sure it’s on their roadmap. By all accounts, the Age of the API is upon us.

West Corporation

Posted on September 25, 2013 by West Corporation 

Five Simple IVR Best Practices That Work

Providing good customer service these days is a challenging task, as we all know. And it’s getting tougher every day, with the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, social media and the like. While many companies now offer customer support options in social media, and via mobile applications, agent chat and email, the fact is that a large number of customer inquiries still come via IVR (touch-tone or speech). Certainly many mobile users call IVR systems. At West, we find that more than 50 percent of all of our clients’ IVR calls come from customers using their mobile phones.

There are some poor IVR systems out there, as you know. Yet there are many good ones, too; they just don’t get talked about that much. What makes a good IVR system? Of course, there’s a lot more to the answer than a few bullet points, yet I wanted to pass on to you some high-level thoughts on what makes (or can help to make) a good IVR.

1. Make your IVR system simple and easy to use. More than ever before, today’s customers are time-pressed and impatient. They don’t want complicated, confusing menus that waste their time. One timeless best practice for touch-tone IVR systems is to use short, clearly worded menus that have three or fewer options at each branch. Have you called your own IVR system lately to see how simple (or not) it is to use?

2. Don’t Set up your IVR and walk away from it. An IVR system (particularly speech-enabled IVR systems) is like an automobile: It needs care and attention, including a tune-up periodically, to continue running smoothly and be an effective and efficient tool for your customers to use. When was the last time you tuned your IVR system? Our experts recommend reviewing a mature IVR at least monthly and a new IVR daily or weekly, depending on call volumes.

3. If customers ask to speak with an agent, connect them. Many companies make the mistake of trying to make it overly difficult for customers to reach contact center agents. They assume (falsely) that if they put up enough roadblocks in the IVR menu that customers will ultimately either give up and stay in self-service or simply hang up and never call back. Our experience tells us that many callers are content to use IVR systems that work well; what they really dislike is being blocked from speaking with an agent. It insults their intelligence and wastes their time. How easy is it for your customers to get to an agent if they have to?

4. Avoid insulting the intelligence of your customers. For example, avoid telling callers the website address of your company in the IVR. Chances are, they are calling you because they have tried a transaction on your website or have checked for their answer in social media but haven’t succeeded. Additionally, when you ask for their phone number, don’t tell callers how to say (or input) their phone number to your system; our usability testing at West shows that callers are familiar with how to offer this information without excessive guidance.

5. Show your customers that you value their time. Avoid superfluous marketing messages in your IVR when customers are trying to get help. There is a time and place for marketing, but it’s not when your customer’s Internet is down or their package hasn’t arrived. Our experts find that out-of-place marketing messages are one of the top irritants of IVR users. Additionally, it’s always a good practice to let your customers “barge-in” in prompts, so they can pre-empt menu verbiage and get their business done quickly.

What do you, as readers, think about this topic? I’m interested in your thoughts on this handful of sample IVR best practices and in hearing your views on what makes a good IVR.

West Corporation

Posted on August 19, 2013 by West Corporation 

Exercise Communication Strategies When Bad Things Happen

Recently while returning from vacation, I spent way too much time waiting in a long line filled with grumbling airline customers — myself included. As my wait grew past 90 minutes, I distracted myself by playing the mental game of how the airline could improve the situation. Since this was a delay caused by weather, it really wasn’t the fault of the airline. However, in my opinion, they could have scored points with dissatisfied and angry customers with better communication. Communication is often the most important factor when bad things happen to relatively good companies. When communication is handled well, it can be the differentiator in how a customer remembers the event.

In my opinion, a well-executed incident communication plan has five fundamental elements:

1.       Acknowledge and reassure.
Don’t shy away from communication because you don’t have all the details at first.  Let the customer know as quickly as possible what you do know and what you are doing about it. Reassure them that the right people are engaged and resolution is their top priority

2.       Establish expectations.
Some customers only want updates when a situation is resolved; others prefer updates at a stated frequency. Find out which approach works best for your customers, as that helps them feel in control. Don’t forget to set expectations for your internal groups working toward resolution of the issue. They need to know what update frequency they need to deliver to you.

3.       Keep your word.
Whether you have something new to report or not, meet your commitment to deliver updates. Nothing can turn a situation from bad to worse faster than avoiding conversation simply because you have nothing new to report.

4.       Deliver updates that are simple, easy to understand and honest.
Don’t sugarcoat the situation or bury a customer in lengthy, overly complicated details. If you are still diagnosing the problem, don’t fake it. If you are contemplating various alternatives, share enough of the details if possible so the customer knows that multiple options are being explored to resolve the issue.

5.       Make it right when it’s over.
That may be as simple as an apology and a statement regarding what you are putting in place to avoid the situation in the future. Closing the loop on the situation gives you one last opportunity to differentiate yourself during a challenge.

A customer once said to me in a difficult situation, “I’m not a mushroom. I don’t like being kept in the dark.” That quote has always stuck with me and validates the value of the five-step approach.

So, how did the airline delay turn out? I missed my connecting leg and was offered a flight two days later. So, I took the situation into my own hands and rented a car then drove 10 hours to my final destination. It was not a good travel experience but it was a good reminder to me as a service provider.

West Corporation

Posted on August 14, 2013 by West Corporation 

Leveraging Big Data for West Interactive Clients

Over the past year, West Interactive has been making strategic investments in technologies specifically focused on state-of-the-art business intelligence platforms that will help us to further analyze and use increasingly complex data in support of our clients.

As we grow with our clients and support them on their customer contact transformation journey, the level of sophistication and need for data analytics has increased dramatically. The data necessary to drive customer interaction improvements and create new solutions has driven new requirements across all channels. We are proud to say that our investments will be leveraged to support the level of storage needed, the structure of the data, and our ability to assess and analyze big data in real time.

Our investment in a business intelligence and reporting platform that specializes in enterprise deployments with complex data requirements and a powerful, dynamic business intelligence engine will allow us to further leverage our behavioral, transaction and billing data to increase the value of our solutions to our clients. Our new portal will also extend capabilities to our clients to facilitate management of day-to-day and strategic objectives.

We are excited to roll out this functionality to clients throughout the rest of 2013 and into 2014 in a phased approach that includes customer training and documented resource materials. We believe that this process will yield exciting new ideas and solutions to improve customer satisfaction, help drive new opportunities for revenue and efficiently manage customer interaction costs.

West Corporation

Posted on August 12, 2013 by West Corporation 

Designing IVR Applications From the Inside Out

I have been designing automated phone systems, otherwise known as interactive voice response (IVR) systems, for many years. Anyone can take stab at writing an IVR script — just like anyone can draw a pretty picture — and everybody is a critic. Designing IVR scripts requires a thick skin.

So, who do I think is the most important person in IVR design? The caller is. And to listen, you need to talk to customers. It may seem obvious, but it’s not as common as it should be.

We’ve all used a really bad IVR or web site. What makes them offensive is their lack of intuitive interaction. Simply put, you just don’t know what to do. That’s what can happen when you design for flashy technology and not for your customers. This is what I like to call “inside-out design.” It is like hiding the seaweed that binds a sushi roll with the rice on the outside.

So, you have some new shiny database and big switch that can react to three pieces of customer information. Therefore, three options on an IVR menu, right? Ideal. Expectations are high for good performance. But the callers have other ideas and ask for a live person.

At West, we like to talk to customers in several ways:

  • Moderate Focus Groups
    Focus groups are a marketing technique used to introduce new products or ideas, and to measure emotional reactions to brands and demonstrations. Avoid overreacting to comments. Just because customers dislike speech recognition, doesn’t mean you must avoid it. Make it better. Use your design skills to offer solutions.
  • Talk With Call Center Agents
    Use agent roundtables. Agents have an ear to thousands of callers. They know how callers talk and what they ask for. Talk to agents to hear their experiences. Then, use your design skills to offer solutions.
  • Conduct Usability Testing
    We have customers test drive our IVR design. They tell us what they like and don’t like. But don’t overreact if what you see during the tests is negative. Again, use your design skills to offer solutions.

In reality, the caller already knows why they are calling you. It’s you who doesn’t know. You need to get OUT in front and talk to customers to get the INSIDE scoop … the actual reasons they call. Then use your design skills to offer solutions.

West Corporation

Posted on August 7, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Speech Bandits: Who Is to Blame When an IVR System Can’t Help Your Customers?

There are three diabolical criminals on the loose, and they’re coming to steal your company’s money. But make no mistake, this is no smash and grab — they are thieves in the night, prowling cats for the chance foul up the IVR caller experience and send the call to a costly call center agent. They’re so conniving that they even have a scapegoat: speech recognition.

It happens when a speech-enabled IVR shows a rise in callers failing at prompts, resulting in transfers to an agent. “Speech is broken!” they’ll yell. The speech bandits slink off into the shadows while speech recognition gets framed.

So who are these masterminds? Just like with any great twist, they’ve been under your nose the whole time. The three usual suspects that can mask IVR trouble as a speech problem are the following:

1.       Middleware
There are uncountable parts to the deployment of an IVR: data tables, API queries and hits, client-side systems, Web services, data centers — all important to the operation of the application. And as with any system, more complexities mean more possibilities for something to go wrong.


2.       Internal Marketing Miscommunication
In response to a recent promotion, callers might be saying, “Survey coupon,” but was that added to the list of possible utterances recognized? If not, then it counts as an error. Two or three of those, and just like that, they’re off to an agent.

3.       User Interface Design
Is there a business rule getting in the way of a streamlined, confusion-free experience? Maybe the questions are asked in a confusing order. Do the response prompts fail to constrain possible caller responses by not giving clear instructions (e.g., please say yes or no)? Is cognitive overload being caused by too many options in one menu? All of these can cause problems with the turn-taking nature of the speech user experience, and it’ll be in the user interface design where they’ll be fixed.

So, When Is Speech to Blame?                                                                                            
Yes, you can blame speech recognition, but only when specific exceptions occur. These include:

  • Synonyms for accepted responses are missing. For example, “billing” is an accepted response but “pay my bill” is not.
  • The standard by which the speech recognizer judges utterances to be understood well enough (the “confidence threshold”) is set too high. That means the IVR is ruling out otherwise acceptable utterances.
  • One of the expected responses has a weighting that is set too high. So, when the IVR compares your utterance to the list of accepted options, one of them is weighted to be chosen more frequently than the others, which can invoke an entirely different option than what the caller requested and send the caller down the wrong path.

In the world of maintaining speech applications, these are quick fixes that are usually a mere oversight.

It’s easy to see why speech recognition gets framed as the culprit so often. It’s a complex human faculty that serves as the only way the caller “touches” the IVR. As such, it’s in plain sight and is an easy target to make into a patsy. So, while speech may sometimes be the issue, due diligence to fix a problem demands that we chase down every possibility, from middleware and system interactions to marketing and user interface design, before we bang the gavel and proclaim the guilty party to be speech recognition.

West Corporation

Posted on July 15, 2013 by West Corporation 

Does Your Company Measure Its Cost of Being Reactive?

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine
Reactive maintenance resources can average 30 percent or more than the required resources in a proactive work model. In manufacturing, production downtime losses can average four times the wasted maintenance resources. Companies in service industries also suffer from spikes in resource costs from being reactive but have difficulty measuring them, tending to highly underestimate the impact by considering only the direct human costs.

In a customer-satisfaction-driven environment, employees are typically measured by metrics such as first-call resolution, average handle time (AHT), mean time to resolution, etc. When the policies and procedures are lacking around how to manage and document resolutions and employees are empowered to “do whatever it takes” to make the clients happy, it becomes nearly impossible to measure the cost of individual issue management.

It’s human nature to fix problems fast and hope the problem doesn’t resurface. How many times has your IT department asked you to simply reboot your PC to see if that fixes the problem? How many times does an issue have to occur before your development organization admits that it is a software issue and prioritizes a fix in the next enhancement release? How long does it take you to patch the leaky pipe under your kitchen sink before calling a plumber to fix the issue permanently? The old adage of “a stitch in time saves nine” applies more often than we all care to admit.

You Can’t Always Count on Your Offense
Football fans applaud the safety for his ability to prevent a touchdown by the other team, but they often overlook the missed tackles from the defensive line that allowed it to happen in the first place. The effectiveness of a team’s defense is measure by yards given up in a game. It is then the job of the defense coach to look at the game film later, break down the plays in slow motion, to discover how the team as a whole failed to execute and make adjustments for the next game.

Similarly, most companies operate with a system that thrives on reactive responses rather than the less exciting but far more effective preventive (proactive) approach to invest to reduce, or ideally prevent issues from occurring in the first place. You’ll also likely find reward programs where employees are recognized and applauded for how they saved the day because of their willingness to work overtime and resolve the problem with a smile.

Most organizations can usually calculate the majority of the direct costs in a budgeted mode: maintenance labor, materials, tools, equipment, contractors, etc., that are allocated to maintenance roles. Indirect costs incurred because of decreased maintenance efficiency and effectiveness are not always known or as easy to calculate.

For example, do you know what it costs the company or the customer when a product is not released on schedule? What were the effects of the late delivery on idle resources waiting to engage in their stage of the development lifecycle? What was the cost of the trip where the CEO, COO and CTO had to travel to the customer’s site to smooth over a dissatisfied or at-risk customer?

Supporting new customer sales and prioritizing maintenance issues affecting customers can quickly absorb available resources. When resources have already been cut back to meet monthly and quarterly cost containment objectives, proactive work is put on hold. The near-term consequences are obviously higher, and it is a quick decision on where to focus resources. However, while seemingly isolated to the issue at hand, the longer-term impact of delayed projects and employee morale can have a nasty ripple effect throughout a business. You can be the best executive in the world, but you’ll fail in a compromised morale environment if your employees don’t execute the business plan. This greatest indirect cost, the drop in employee morale, has a multiplier effect, and it’s not a good one. It changes companies — and not for the better.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back …
Accounting systems work well for what can be easily counted and monetized. But this tends to undermine the value of the avoided cost, of understating the real value of sensible preventive investment. We are even taught in business school that with good decision analysis you should include alternative scenarios, weighing the near term returns versus the long term and estimating the likeliness of the scenario occurring. A best-case-versus-worst-case approach can provide leadership with a range of likely risk and reward. Unfortunately, we tend to get lazy when it becomes difficult to value an uncertain avoided cost. We also don’t have a lot of time to develop and think through alternatives when customers demand answers to why their software enhancements haven’t been delivered or aren’t working as promised.

There is also a fundamental societal challenge that undermines our ability to pursue sensible risk management objectives. It is our ability to see the forest through the trees and invest appropriately today to avoid higher (often significantly higher) costs tomorrow. There is little incentive for an operations executive to invest in a solution that won’t pay off for 5 or more years when his or her annual bonus is based on managing costs. You think being a good executive means a laser focus to squeeze every last ounce of productivity out of the business. But the very best executives — the ones whom I admire — have balance. They strike a critical balance between productivity and the overall health of the company, because they fully acknowledge all of these indirect effects on the business long term.

We also recognize from many published examples that companies that do not invest in R&D and innovation (both technology and process) tend to be behind the market, developing me-too technologies and trying to differentiate themselves through customer service, and these organizations are at a higher risk for becoming obsolete. We see this in healthcare. The United States has been described as the best reactive healthcare system in the world. We do relatively poorly at preventive and routine care but have some fantastic high-end long-term care capabilities.

The Answer: Proactive Risk Management
The mistake that growing companies make is having a culture based too heavily around productivity. Good executives strive to find a sensible balance between investing in upfront planning and providing top-notch customer care. Proactivity needs to be a recurring business objective. It should be a mantra to drive the underlying business culture. Planning steps must be incorporated into all project plans and go, no-go decisions should be incorporated into key project milestones.

Incite your employees to be proactive. Build incentive plans that reward employees for the long-term benefits of their actions. Drive product readiness, but be careful not to expect 100 percent accuracy. Plan technology, operational and sales and marketing readiness frameworks so that tweaks can be made as you learn over time rather than starting and stopping over and over again with entirely new formulas or approaches. It is wasteful.

None of us can be proactive in everything we do — but we can move in a proactive direction so we can reap the benefits of all of the strategies of being successful, without having to take backward steps that cause loss of time and money. And face it, people really appreciate that balance and company focus on their own personal growth rather than just the near term, top-line. It ultimately helps ensure a culture of teamwork and satisfied employees.

So, how much is your company willing to spend to move from a reactive to proactive maintenance business model?

West Corporation

Posted on July 9, 2013 by West Corporation 

Warren Buffett’s Words of Wisdom Apply to Customer Experience Management

Many readers are aware that Warren Buffett, otherwise known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” is one of the most successful investors and wealthiest people in the world. Each year in early May, thousands of Buffett-worshippers make the pilgrimage to Omaha to the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meeting. They come to hear Buffett and his business partner, the effervescent Charlie Munger, talk about the global economy, stock markets, government and politics — and of course, to hear about the company’s progress.

There is little argument that Buffett is an investing icon. There are lots of reasons for his and Berkshire Hathaway’s success, including his uncanny ability to choose stocks at an affordable price, Berkshire’s strong yet relatively low-profile management team, their ability to capitalize on market uncertainties and their focus on investing in what they know.

Along the road to becoming the world’s most iconic investor, Warren Buffett has offered sage pieces of advice for investors, which many continue to live by and treat almost like a religion.

Although much of Buffett’s advice and one-liners are tightly focused on investing, many of his most famous quotes are also applicable in other areas of business or life, including customer relationship management (CRM) or customer experience management.

So, with that in mind, I’ve uncovered three of Buffett’s quotes and taken the liberty of relating them to the world of CRM and customer engagement management.

“Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business.”
This is a timeless quote from the Oracle of Omaha that is so relevant to CRM. It used to be that companies that provided adequate products and mediocre customer service could succeed in the market and maintain or grow their competitive position. This is how the U.S. auto manufacturers operated for many years, until the Japanese and Korean car companies (Honda, Lexus, Hyundai, etc.), landed in the U.S. market with superior products and great service/brand experience.

It’s also how some large PC manufacturers dominated their industry until Apple came along with better products, better service and a superior customer experience.

And there are lots of additional examples like this where industries and companies sat on their laurels while new competitors more focused on quality and customer experience sneaked in and took market share and customers.

The key point here is that today’s consumers are more demanding than ever before. Just because a consumer likes your product and service doesn’t mean they will buy it, buy it from you or remain loyal.

Consumers today expect top-notch products and personalized, superior service and experience, in order to do business with and stay loyal to a company.

Food for thought: What’s special about your company’s product or service, that will encourage consumers to buy from you and stay loyal in the future?

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.”
We all can relate to this Buffet quote, because it reminds us of how some companies treat us every day. They make things harder and more cumbersome than they have to be, including difficult-to-navigate websites, confusing IVR applications when we call, and the like. Many times this isn’t intentional. Well-meaning product and customer service teams often have to accommodate new products, features and services with yet more Web pages and IVR options that nobody ever takes the time to review from a customer experience perspective.

There’s no perfect solution to this ongoing challenge, but one way to keep things simple for customers is to conduct regular usability audits of your website and IVR systems. Conduct focus groups and usability studies, and, perhaps most importantly, try using your own website or IVR system. Often, that’s the best way to edit out or clarify content, to make things simpler for customers who interact with you. As the old saying goes, sometimes less is more.

Resist the temptation to unwittingly make things more complicated and difficult for your customers. Instead, try making difficult things easy for your customers. They’ll be delighted you did so, and will be more likely to remain loyal to your company or product.

“I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars; I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.”
This quote has a high degree of relevance in the customer service/CRM context.

Case in point: Sometimes, companies think the only way to improve customer service and loyalty, and differentiate themselves from competitors, is to leverage the latest, greatest hot technology (the 7-foot bar) that they hope is a panacea to all of their problems, as opposed to making incremental improvements (the 1-foot bars) in processes, products and customer service.

I’m sure every reader of this blog can think of a company or two that has rolled out new, allegedly revolutionary technologies or applications, hoping that they could rocket their customer service and Net Promoter Scores through the roof overnight — only to find that the technology or application has little, and even sometimes negative impact.

While it’s true that if researched and implemented well, these game-changing technologies and applications (7-foot bars) can improve customer service, it’s also true that that bringing continuous, incremental improvements to a company’s current systems (1-foot bars, e.g. IVR, website, outbound notifications, contact center workforce management/optimization) and other current systems that it knows and understands well, can likely bring the same or better results, often with less risk.

Food for thought: What are some 1-foot bars that you can step over today that will make it easier and more enjoyable for your customers to do business with you?

I am sure these aren’t the only Buffett quotes that apply to CRM. If you find more that you think might apply even better, I encourage you to reply to this blog post and share them with us.

West Corporation

Posted on June 26, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Role of Network Services in Customer Contact Transformation

Recent conversations around the office have gotten me thinking about network services and the role they play in customer contact technologies and services. Over the past several years, there have been fundamental shifts in how the “network” has been used for services, moving from a data-only transport to a world where voice, video and sometimes data on the same network is commonplace. Portraying the complexities of today’s solutions is a daunting task in and of itself, and many companies struggle with the transformation.

A lot of our clients are moving from what I would term as a site-based contact center model or even overall communication plan involving PBXs and ACDs. This means that today they are housing a system that largely — or even exclusively — is self-contained within one site. If a call or interaction arrives at that particular site, then the ACD, IVR or other communication system at that site has to process the call.

This was OK back in the 1980s and ’90s, and maybe even into the 2000s (the years known as the “oughts” in my mind —as in, “Back in ought seven, we decided to look into VoIP”). But, in today’s world, the voice over IP (SIP mostly), video, chat, email and mobile interactions have dictated that customer interaction systems get a massive makeover. This has turned most site-based systems into distributed systems.

As we were talking in the office (don’t be jealous of our scintillating conversations), I’m not sure that all clients understand the complex interaction between a distributed system and the underlying network(s). Namely, the network has moved from being a simple transport mechanism that delivers emails internally to a critical backplane that ties together disparate servers and processes. And the real fine point to this technological revolution is that a client could purchase the pieces of a distributed system, but without a finely tuned network, the system and services it supplies is doomed to failure.

In particular, VoIP services have forced network transformation arguably more than any other service in recent memory. The idiosyncrasies around how to architect, engineer, and operate a network carrying VoIP traffic are numerous. At its core, VoIP is the definitive real-time protocol or transaction. To make a point about the differences, compare VoIP and a database transaction. Transferring and consuming information in a database is an example of a transaction that can have a bit of delay or be retransmitted if needed. In VoIP flows, this simply isn’t true: If you miss part of a person’s conversation, then it’s gone and can’t be retransmitted.

If you dig down into the hardcore technologies in which converged networks operate, you would notice that voice is treated differently than the data on the same network. If the voice or video doesn’t arrive on time and in the order expected, then the entire interaction could be rendered useless; so, network engineers put these real-time transactions within a special queue on the network. This is particularly true on the Wide Area Network (WAN) that connects sites together, and even the voice queue has special engineering constraints that must be taken into account.

There have been many instances over the past 10 years in which we have run across poorly designed or operated networks that are impacting VoIP services. This can be frustrating to our business partners and is sometimes blamed on the VoIP system itself, which is incorrect. That’s not to say that VoIP systems don’t have their own internal issues from time to time, but it’s been my experience that generally a new instantiation of a VoIP ACD or PBX will have at least two or three major network incidents that affect it.

In the end, the network plays as much of a role in the success of a new technology customer interaction system as the system itself does. In fact, I would argue that in the end, you need to view the network as part of the system itself.