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The Battle to Own the Single Pane of Glass

Now more than ever, contact centers are taking center stage as one of the critical components of a successful business.  How they organize information for their agents plays an essential role for the overall success of the customer interactions, the ability to reduce call handling time, maximize single call resolutions, and maintain engaged agents through superior user experience.   Businesses that view contact centers as a strategic part of their business strive to offer a "Single Pane of Glass" experience.

A single pane of glass is defined as a single application with an intuitive layout logically structured with easy navigation and data access with the flexibility to customize the experience to meet varying agent needs.  The benefits of a Single Pane of Glass strategy include improved agent experience and reduced call handling time with increased first contact resolutions.  A good strategy will allow agents to leverage the full capabilities of the platforms.  A great strategy will support an adaptable experience based on the agent's skill set, level, and role.

There are several different approaches to implementing a single pane of glass strategy:

Communication-Centric - In a communication-centric approach, companies utilize a CaaS, CPaaS, or traditional premise communication platform and the UI they offer.  Examples of this are Twilio Flex with their Flex UI, Avaya's Agent Desktop, and Five9 Agent Desktop.  Some of these platforms are more extensible than others; for example, Twilio Flex allows you to deploy pre-built components or build your own using React and Redux.  With the communication-centric approach, voice, video, SMS, and chat are front and center, and incoming and outgoing communication is the genesis for all other functions.   Integration with business applications is typically through extensions or components embedded in the Communication UI or more loosely integrated through the launching of business application URL in a browser.  This approach assumes the agent is using one communication platform for most or all of their communication needs.

Business Application Centric - In a business application-centric approach, agents spend most of their time in a specific business application, most of the time a CRM or Helpdesk system and communication channels are integrated within the business application itself.  Several CRM and HelpDesk systems come with dedicated space for 3rd party communication channels, and other applications provide their own channels.  Applications like Salesforce offer OpenCTI, a reserved space, and an API that supports third-party integration.  Until recently, Dynamics provided a dedicated framework that hosted both Dynamics and third party communication channels, called Unified Service Desk (USD).  Recently Microsoft announced a new Channel Integration Framework, which is much like Salesforce OpenCTI.  Other business applications like ServiceNow offer OpenFrame, allowing third-party communication channels to be embedded in the UI through a "phone" icon and allows loose integration with ServiceNow pages through a URL approach.

Some business applications offer one or more of their own channels as well as provide integration points for third-party apps.  Salesforce, for example, offers Live Agent for chatting, and SOS for Video chat, while allowing third parties to provide voice integration.  In this way, business applications can support multiple communication channels, sometimes from different vendors.

Collaboration Centric - In a collaboration-centric approach, companies centralize their user experience through a collaboration application.  Collaboration offerings like Slack and Microsoft Teams are relatively new to the contact center game, mostly used by knowledge workers and less by traditional contact centers.  Collaboration solutions typically are extendable through pre-built or custom apps.  Apps either provide a scripting-type language-- something like a chatbot, where you can query business applications for sales or support information-- or they support business application UI embedded within the collaboration solution.  Collaboration solutions put employee to employee communication front and center with chat, voice, and video, and screen sharing.  PSTN calling is possible using WebRTC for Slack and through Phone System for Microsoft Teams.

Regardless of your approach there are many considerations; and depending on your requirements, one choice may be more suitable than another.  One of the first considerations is where your source data is stored.  If your data is distributed in separate systems, you'll need a way to consolidate data across systems for your single pane of glass strategy.  This situation may lead you away from a business application-centric approach.  If most or all of your data is sourced from a single system, then it would lend itself to a business application-centric approach.

Another consideration is what best aligns with your customer service vision.  If your vision includes involving knowledge workers across your organization to address customer issues, a collaboration centered approach would probably suit your needs.  If your customer service vision is to empower agents to solve customer problems in a single call, and your data and business processes are housed in one system, a business-centric approach is a most appropriate.  A communication-centric approach would be the right direction, if your vision includes heavy inbound and outbound communication with customers, with users needing to access one or more browser-based applications.  There may also be key features that lead you to one particular communication platform or business application and taking full advantage of those features is key to your customer service vision.

All three of these platforms, communication, collaboration, and business applications, have been increasing in their competition with one another.  Communication Platforms are beginning to bundle collaboration and CRM features, collaboration platforms are moving into the communication space, while business applications are adopting and offering their own communication channels.  The visions of these three platforms are converging, making platform decisions increasingly difficult.

The winners of this battle for the single pane of glass will go to the platforms that increase their integration points with other applications, deepen their communication features, and take the lead on incorporating artificial intelligence and interaction augmentation.  Just when the contact center space was starting to cool off, the race to own the single pane of glass strategy is heating it up all over again!

Topics: Director, Employee Experience, Strategy

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