How the COVID Crisis Shifted UC&C Priorities

For enterprise IT professionals, the COVID-19 crisis created opportunities as well as challenges.  In many cases, it accelerated the deployment of cloud-based unified communication and collaboration (UC&C) platforms to support remote contact center agents and work from home (WFH) employees.

Now, technology priorities are continuing to change, according to a trio of end-user panelists in an Enterprise Virtual Connect session, “Moving Forward on Communications & Collaboration,” moderated by Beth Schultz, program co-chair. “Tempting as it might be, resting on your laurels isn’t an option,” she said. “Now you must determine the best path forward, balancing the need to bring employees back to the office and continue supporting a distributed workforce.”

Neil Obermeyer, senior manager, channel effectiveness, TD Ameritrade, said his organization was well positioned for the crisis after moving to virtual desktops several years ago. “Our employees could work from home and still have access to the same applications,” he said. “Most of our clients didn’t know the shift had taken place.”

While TD Ameritrade’s contact center employees were used to working near their co-workers, the use of Slack made the transition smoother, Obermeyer said. “We also moved our corporate communications into Slack, and we don’t use email for that purpose any more.”

Obermeyer said TD Ameritrade also benefited from a prior digital workforce initiative that involved mapping user journeys and identifying obstacles to information flow. “We used that data to build requirements for our technology partners,” he said. “We were also able to launch a new trading platform in May, despite the changeover to remote working.”

Jennifer Featherling, director, Global Contact Center Technology, Priceline, said her organization faced a massive spike in call volumes in March, while agents had to shift gears and work from home. “We packed up our computers and delivered them to agents’ homes,” she said. “Fortunately, we had just transitioned to Amazon Connect, so our agents could do their work without impacting our customers.”  She added that Priceline was able to consolidate five different platforms by going to Amazon Connect.

As for a 2021 wish list, Featherling said, “We are looking at AI and machine learning to give the customer a fuller experience, whatever the channel. Being able to keep the context allows us to help them more effectively.

Gary Kohlheim, director of services management, Laureate Education, said the education company is now 100 percent cloud, including 1,200 contact center agents.

“As an online university, we adopted a cloud-first strategy years ago,” he said. “Everyone has a personal laptop so the transition from office to home was seamless and our students were not impacted. Now, we are working on increasing our capacity and bandwidth.”

One of the takeaways from the COVID-19 crisis was the importance of team communication applications. Featherling said her team is using Slack, while Kohlheim turned to Microsoft Teams. “Team collaboration has changed the dynamics for us,” he said. “We can do breakout rooms, when needed, and bring in vendors to join us. Teams has been very helpful to us.”

Looking ahead, Kohlheim said the next technology steps include expansion of contact center services and AI strategies. “We are moving more into self-service for our students, and want a consistent experience across the various channels,” he said. “We continue to evaluate the COVID-19 situation as we plan for the next year.”

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