The North American agent performance optimization (APO) markets are witnessing growth although at a quieter pace, despite the slowdown in spending on capital expenditure in contact centers. A major factor driving growth is that contact centers rely heavily on labor, and are willing to consider spending on tools that optimize headcount productivity if a quick return on investment (ROI) is possible. However, APO vendors are on the lookout for longer buying cycles for their services, involving additional layers of corporate decision makers and placing greater emphasis on valid business cases.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (contactcenters.frost.com), North American Agent Performance Optimization Markets, finds that the market earned revenues of over $756.53 million in 2008 and estimates this to reach $1.02 billion in 2015. The study covers quality monitoring, workforce management and performance analytics, including speech analytics and performance management.
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"It appears that the more customer-facing a vertical market is, the more likely that companies in that market are receptive to APO tools in the down economy," says Frost & Sullivan Principal Analyst Keith Dawson. "For example, vendors report that financial services and telecom companies are among the most interested buyers these days -- they are among the front runners, trying to retain customers in a very competitive environment."
Financial services and telecom companies have had longer experience in the use of complex analytics tools to derive patterns in customer behavior and agent performance. Vendors have responded by tailoring some of their analytics add-ons to this market in the form of targeted, problem solving applications for specific issues such as customer churn and satisfaction improvement. These analytic add-ons are a thriving segment of the quality monitoring (QM) market.
The contact center market in North America is stable and mature, and the high end of the market is largely penetrated for APO tools. Although there is still some room for growth, especially in the lucrative add-on market for analytics and performance management software, many vendors are focusing attention on the relatively untapped mid-sized and smaller centers to grow their businesses.
"The bulk of the greenfield market is in the harder-to-tap segments of the industry, notably smaller centers," explains Dawson. "They are often reachable mainly by resellers and channel partners, highlighting the importance of partnerships and product 'ecosystems' in this market."
End users also have enough leeway to put their APO tools together as a patchwork of different vendors' offerings. This is true even if there is an inclination toward suites because of the numerous integration and partnership agreements characteristic of the vendor landscape.
A Frost & Sullivan end-user survey earlier in 2009 found that 35 percent of North American Contact centers were not using workforce management (WFM) systems, and 27 percent were not using automated QM. Several vendors have developed specific tools with advanced features, leveraging advances in processing and the overall reduction in prices of core commoditized features to tap into such unmet demand.
A noteworthy development in the APO marketplace during the last year has been the proliferation of enhanced applications that go beyond simple recording and scheduling. Traditional QM and WFM are being enhanced by fresh applications that take the wide streams of data gathered by these systems and utilize them as raw material for more productive forms of analysis. This is an important development technologically because it has expanded the range of possibilities that contact center management has to fine-tune its resource allocation and agent performance.
"The economic climate puts a premium on customer retention, and analytics tools (especially speech analytics) provide remarkable insight into the kinds of processes that can help extend customer longevity," concludes Dawson. "Since performance and cost control is paramount in this environment, analytics that involve data, web and speech processing and event notification are gaining in importance across contact centers. Most of the suite vendors and niche providers have already enhanced the baseline analytics products in their portfolios."
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