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Chat Solution Extends Benefits of Unified Communications to Web Site Visitors
Many companies use Microsoft® Office Communications Server 2007 R2 to enrich internal communications. Now e-office WebChat extends those benefits to users of a company’s Web site. Web visitors use the application to initiate a chat with the first available employee in the appropriate department. Companies can inexpensively extend existing infrastructure by using e-office WebChat to offer group online presence and direct communication.
e-office, based in Houten, the Netherlands, is a software company that helps people communicate, collaborate, and coordinate in easier ways.
Often there are many people in a company who can help a Web site visitor—but how does he or she reach them? e-office WebChat handles it, intuitively and with a clean, responsive interface.
As a Microsoft® Gold Certified Partner and Voice Specialized Partner, e-office offers unified communications solutions using Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2. “Our clients have found significant value in Office Communications Server 2007 R2,” says Menno Windsma, a director at e-office. “It provides an outstanding infrastructure for extending unified communications capabilities unlike any other competitive platforms.”
At the same time, however, Windsma saw an opportunity to offer expanded benefits to company clients. “At e-office,” he says, “we believe that unified communications should address more than internal infrastructure. It should also help people from outside the organization get in contact with the right people inside the organization.”
For example, potential customers visiting a sales-oriented Web site often want to talk to an expert before deciding to buy. Or existing customers may need to speak to a support person in order to solve their problems immediately. But few Web sites offer a chat option; most potential customers have to send an e-mail message and wait for a response.
Some Web sites do offer chat features, where the Web user asks a question that can be directed to someone in the organization. Such functionality, however, requires that the company invest in a separate chat system, rather than build on Office Communications Server 2007 R2.
Conversely, many organizations enjoy the presence features of Office Communications Server 2007 R2—the indicators that somebody may be traveling, in a meeting, or available to talk—and wish they could extend presence beyond the organization. But a visitor to a Web site, initiating a relationship with the company, usually doesn’t have a particular contact in mind. Instead, most visitors want to connect with anyone who has expertise and is available.
Thus, e-office sought a more effective way for a Web user to find someone to chat with. More broadly, it hoped to expand the benefits of Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and offer them beyond the organization.
To meet these goals, the company developed a solution called e-office WebChat, which provides a configurable and customizable chat solution that can be embedded in an organization’s Web site. WebChat connects Web users to people in the company using Office Communications Server 2007 R2.
“The development went very smoothly,” says Michiel van Oudheusden, a software architect at e-office. “The Office Communications Server 2007 R2 software development kit and examples helped us to get programming up to speed quickly.” e-office built WebChat using the Microsoft Silverlight™ browser plug-in. “Using Silverlight, it’s easy to build applications that can be deployed with a rich user interface in any Web browser,” he says. “Technically, Silverlight supports a duplex channel, so we can easily move information back and forth. And Silverlight is very extensible—we plan to exploit more of its rich functionality in future enhancements.”
In e-office WebChat, the Web user initiates a chat with a group, such as Sales or Support. Behind the scenes, the application finds an available member of the group, using rules that the company has configured to take advantage of the presence features of Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and the group definitions of the Active Directory® service or the Microsoft SQL Server® 2008 Enterprise data management software. In setting their presence status, employees can decide if they want to be included in the group’s Web site presence. If any employee in a group is available, the chat function is activated on the Web site, and the Web user is automatically connected to one of the available people.
The chat solution initially displays the group’s unique image and e-mail address. Once the chat is initiated, the responding employee’s name, e-mail address, and picture are displayed. When finished, the conversation can be filed for later use.
A company can use e-office WebChat to enhance direct communication with customers through its existing Web site, using the Office Communications Server 2007 R2 infrastructure.
- Extends existing infrastructure. e-office WebChat extends an organization’s existing Office Communications Server 2007 R2 infrastructure to Web users through a chat solution on a public Web site. It helps maximize the value of features such as presence by deploying them beyond the organization’s boundaries. In so doing, it provides a cost-effective chat solution. “In comparison to our competitors,” Windsma says, “e-office WebChat is quite inexpensive, because it uses your existing communications systems. You don’t need to roll out any new infrastructure. You’re simply extending your existing software and hardware.”
- Provides group online presence. With e-office WebChat, a Web user can easily find someone to answer a question immediately. “Often there are many people in a company who can help a Web site visitor—but how does he or she reach them? e-office WebChat handles it, intuitively and with a clean, responsive interface,” Windsma explains. “If anybody in the group is online, customers can communicate with the organization. Compared with the individual-based approach, this greatly enhances presence.”
- Creates direct communication. Often a Web user wants a quick answer from an expert, and e-office WebChat provides that direct communication. “You ask a question and you get an answer right back,” Windsma says.
In addition, e-office WebChat personalizes that communication. “You see the picture of the person you’re chatting with, so it’s not just somebody in a group. You’ve made a personal contact,” says Windsma. The software has helped the company establish a personal relationship with the Web site visitor. In future interactions, the Web user and responding employee are no longer anonymous entities, but two people responding to each other as human beings.
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Document published July 2009