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Alliance aims to curb unresolved call center questions

The Microsoft/Aspect deal calls for the integration of Microsoft's Office Communications Server and Aspect's Unified IP.

An alliance that will integrate products made by Microsoft and Aspect Software Inc. could eventually help call center agents speed up the resolution of customer problems.

Microsoft said this week that it is making an equity investment in Aspect, a Chelmsford, Mass.-based contact center software manufacturer.

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The companies will integrate the presence, conferencing and calendaring functions of Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 with Aspect's .Net-based Unified IP. Aspect will develop the software and will release a new version of its Unified IP.

The vendors did not provide a specific release date for an integrated product.

"For IT shops that are using Microsoft's OCS, they might start looking at how they can better use the software to improve communications in their contact centers," said Drew Kraus, a research vice president at Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn.

For example, the product would allow contact via an IM session between a customer service agent and a more knowledgeable person who may not be in the contact center, Kraus said.

"It's a big deal to contact centers that want to increase their rates of first call resolution," Kraus said. "This reduces the times a customer will have to call back or be transferred to someone else."

Jim Foy, chief executive and president of Aspect, said he believes more than 10% of all contacts don't get resolved inside the contact center and require other parts of the enterprise. "What the click to the expert does is provide instant access to experts while preserving the context of the customer call for the contact center," Foy said.

Aspect sells contact software to large enterprises and competes with companies such as Avaya, Cisco Systems and Nortel Networks. By cutting a deal with Aspect, Microsoft gains access to a large, blue-chip contact center installed base, Kraus said.

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