ShoreTel: Brilliantly simple – Clinton Fitch
Younger customer demographics and cost-cutting requirements are pushing up demand for flexible, multiplatform unified communication systems. Clinton Fitch of ShoreTel discusses the latest technological developments and security challenges in the field.
Company communication systems are evolving. The need for greater efficiencies, along with a continuing decline in the average age of consumers - there are now more aged under 35 than over 68 - are forcing financial institutions to rethink strategies.
"There was a time when different locations within a business could have their own telephone systems and IT management," says Clinton Fitch, manager of advanced applications - EMEA at ShoreTel.
"But, today, organisations tend to be much flatter. There's also an expectation for telephony solutions, like other data products, to be flexible enough to easily expand and contract in tune with the needs of the organisation."
The new younger customer demographic also has low brand loyalty, high mobility and an expectation that firms will communicate in a way that suits them; whether via webchat, email, text or phone. As a result, financial companies must now open channels across a variety of platforms, or risk losing customers.
"Very rarely, these days, do we have a customer that just has unified communication (UC) personnel," comments Fitch. "They mostly have contact centre staff, and that's because they have to match customer expectations in a way they may never have done before."
For an increasing number of firms, the pressure to meet such demands has led to the purchase of unified communication as a service (UCaaS). A relatively new paradigm, it sees communication applications and services outsourced to a third party and delivered over an internet protocol (IP) network - usually the public internet. It often includes telephony, presence technology, video conferencing and enterprise messaging.
Yet, while UCaaS can offer significantly improved flexibility, scaleability and multiplatform correspondence, the issue of data security - as with all communication strategies - remains a top priority.
"Security is always the biggest issue in communications," says Fitch. "It's vital to ensure that when you're dealing with very sensitive customer information, things like balances or account numbers, the information is either transmitted or stored in a secure way."
Designed from the ground up
Communication solutions with a high number of access points are more susceptible to security threats. Moreover, failure in a single area can leave organisations open to a full system-wide hack.
"At ShoreTel, we do a lot of work with the banking industry," says Fitch. "When it comes to information security, our method is to take the information provided to us from a database, present it to the customer or the agent, then as soon as we're finished, eliminate the data as quickly as possible. Or, if our client wants the information kept, we offload it into a secure data store."
Varying regulations between different countries and regions can also prove problematic for firms looking to establish international communication strategies.
"There are a host of different rules that can come into play, depending on where you're operating," says Fitch. "The one good thing here, is that the EU flattens out a lot of them across different countries, which makes compliance easier."
ShoreTel's foundational UC product offers firms the efficiency and flexibility needed to meet the demands of today's business environment. Operating as one large system and potentially encompassing multiple sites, it integrates communication tasks, bringing together telephony, instant messaging, video conferencing, mobility and presence technology.
"It's not silos of information, but one large system spread across various offices," Fitch explains. "So, if you had a bank headquartered in London with branch offices spread across the south-east of England, it will look like one big system with lots of little sites inside it. And they can all be managed from the headquarters' server."
For end users, this makes inter-site communication significantly easier; all staff are listed on the directory, and only four digit extensions - rather than full phone numbers - are required.
Business phone systems with unified communications
On top of its UC system, ShoreTel provides an enterprise contact centre solution. Available for between ten and 2,000 agents, it connects internal and external customers to the most suitable agent, lowering costs and improving the consumer's experience.
"The most expensive part of any contact centre is the agent that's answering the call," Fitch explains. "So, by eliminating some of the more mundane tasks they perform by using self service, we can really drive efficiencies.
"The other major benefit is the huge variety of reporting technology that's built into it," he continues. "Customers can analyse who's calling them, find out why, look at call durations and also how long they've taken to answer. Performance can be measured against business goals."
ShoreTel also offers a mobility solution, allowing employees to securely integrate smart phones and tablets with existing enterprise platforms. Giving workers access to a full suite of mobile UC tools from any location over a variety of networks, it facilitates the growing trend in "bring your own device [to work]".
"Essentially, the enterprise mobility solution is an extension of the UC platform," says Fitch. "It means I can talk on my personal phone, but using my office number. What's more, if someone calls my office number, it comes through to my phone.
"By the same token, I can call my wife, and it will go out over the GSDM path rather than the Wi-Fi, because it's a call that doesn't need to go on the corporate network."
In 2013, ShoreTel announced a technical partnership with the Williams F1 team, delivering a comprehensive UC infrastructure across the enterprise to maximise collaboration with team-wide race strategists.
The same year, the firm also received a net promoter score - a customer satisfaction survey conducted by a third party - of 64. This was the third-highest figure in the world, only surpassed by Google and Harley Davidson.
Fitch believes this impressive result is largely due to the firm's strong focus on making processes simple for customers.
"We put a great deal of effort into taking the stupidly complex and making it as straightforward as possible," he says. "It means we can reduce the amount of time and energy organisations have to spend on management, which cuts overheads. And that lowers the total cost of ownership (TCO) of our solutions.
"We have the lowest TCO of any solution," he continues. "What's more, we have tools that our customers can use themselves to create a TCO model that proves that, over the life expectancy of the system, it is the cheapest on the market."
As mobile devices play an ever more significant role in people's lives, the demand for firms to communicate in ways that suit customers looks set to increase over the years to come.
"Statistically, we now spend more time with our mobile devices than with our spouse or significant other," says Fitch. "This behavioural pattern will continue to evolve, and it is vital that organisations respond.
"The other key development area is the ongoing push into the mobile space. I can see a day where a customer will be calling someone for help, but that person is not necessarily in a call centre. They may well be at home, or even somewhere else. That's why we're focusing on our mobility solutions. The continual drive in this field is where we're going to really see - from an enterprise perspective - the evolution of telephony."