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Ray Hicken

Ray Hicken
Telarus VP Sales Operations | UC/CC

Built open

Give your customers freedom and flexibility with an open API platform No two contact centers are the same. Their solutions shouldn’t be either. Open architecture in a  contact center platform allows customers to integrate to systems and software they’re already working with or would like to work with. “I hear the conversations around
CRMs more and more and how they integrate” said Hicken. “Customers are saying ‘I have to have a CRM that has the power to handle that kind of data.’” Platforms that are intentionally built with open APIs and integrations in mind can help your customers gather and use data to improve efficiencies in their contact center and improve the overall customer experience.

How Ray Hicken of Telarus views the changing contact center industry and how agents can get their piece of the pie.

Ray Hicken, VP of Sales Operations at Telarus, discusses his vision for the future of contact centers. Ray is currently responsible for the direction and management of all contact center and UC sales and business development operations, including market competitiveness, pricing, compensation, distribution and channel strategy. He works closely with partners to help coach and direct them to identify and close opportunities tied to contact centers. Ray’s contact center career started during his time at InContact in 2011 where he worked his way up to Director of Channel Sales in 2014. From there he transitioned to CarrierSales where he was named VP of Sales with a focus on contact center solutions. In 2017, Telarus and CarrierSales joined forces to form the second-largest master  agency of telecom and cloud. Ray made the natural shift to Telarus where he was named VP of Sales Operations for unified communications and contact centers.

What was it about contact centers that drew you in?

It’s an exciting time for software. Software as a service (SaaS) is a big growth opportunity right now. The SaaS model has revolutionized how the software industry operates and is redefining how companies are buying, building and using applications today to run their businesses. The second part of this is that contact centers are everywhere, we just may not know it. They often go under a different name, customer service, help desk, inbound/outbound sales, etc. but that’s all contact center. People want a way to  engage with the company in the way they prefer to communicate, so.

What excites you about the contact center industry today?

The growth of big data gathering, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) is dramatically changing the landscape. Although the most expensive piece of a contact center is the human employees, AI is being used not to replace agents but to improve the overall customer experience. Technology like natural language processing and machine learning is speeding up processes that used to be time-consuming to both customers and agents and expensive to perform manually.

When you think about AI, it’s being played out across the world and it fits perfectly with the direction contact centers are heading to better support their customers, and the use of that groundbreaking, new technology is the exciting part about the industry right now.

How is data and information gathering being used in contact centers today and in the near future?

When contact centers record a call, they are acquiring an extensive amount of data and customer information. For example, natural language processing allows systems to understand more words and also phrases to better route calls to the best possible agent. When data is paired with social media, for example, contact centers can better prepare for the volume of calls and the types of calls they should anticipate coming in.

The mining and usage of data speeds up and improves the customer experience in many ways. Ideally, before contact center agents even speak with a customer they have information like who that customer is, their status with the company, how many times they’ve called in the past and what those experiences have been like and whether or not that customer is pleased or on the verge of frustration.

Contact centers are moving towards situations where AI and chatbot technology can take care of a customer’s needs without them ever having to talk to an agent. That kind of efficiency and customer experiences result in customer satisfaction and cost savings by freeing up agents to work with your premium customers or problem situations.

How do you see agents embracing contact center technology and immersing in this relatively untapped market?

I want our agent base to understand there’s a lot of opportunity in the contact center space. I’d like to see agents grow into this space, spend some time here and utilize the strengths of our partners.

I’d also like to see the shifting of customers from a world of on-premise systems to cloud technology. The cloud is roughly 15% penetrated in the contact center space but over the next four or five years, I anticipate it growing to roughly 50% rapidly. This dramatic shift to cloud-based technology is a perfect time for agents to get in on that piece of business and take advantage of it. The cloud is acting as a disruptor in the contact center industry, and like other industry disruptors have shown, big changes are coming.

How can agents embrace the industry and self-educate?

Agents who go through the sales process with a strong partner like Connect First, who does a lot of the heavy lifting for its partners and its customers, will learn the ins and outs of the space and feel more prepared to turn around and close another opportunity. Use partners, like Connect First as a resource, stay engaged in the sales process, learn from them, attend their events, read what they have on their websites, these are the best ways that agents can get motivated to spend some time in the cloud-based contact center space.

What companies will win out in this changing space?

Contact center providers that really understand and embrace omnichannel and are building their platforms around this concept are going to be ahead of the game long term. Customers are driving the need to have different ways, of their choosing, to get in touch with companies and have their needs met. The companies developing technology and platforms that answer this driving customer ask will outperform those who do not.

The companies that are riding on a platform that is very open to APIs and plugging in will also have an advantage over platforms that are difficult to integrate with or worse, those that don’t support integrations at all.

Platforms that provide a seamless integration of contact center, omnichannel, workforce management and hosted UC, and can do it better than others, will probably win the day in the contact center space.