Microsoft Lync: A.T. Kearney's New Customer Care Secret

As Microsoft launched its Lync unified communications product last week, CIO.com's Shane O'Neill investigated how one company is using it to improve customer communications.

During a discussion panel at the launch event for Microsoft Lync last week, Estee Lauder IT exec Earl Newsome rattled off a line that could have been scripted by Microsoft (It wasn't, I checked). He said: "Work is something you do, not a place you go."

For anyone who works at home or at a client site or checks in frequently from the road, those words ring true. Newsome's memorable line might as well be a slogan for Microsoft's Lync. Redmond execs are hoping that workforces will use Lync's integrated IM, video/audio conferencing and voice telephony to replace corporate PBXs and continue to make work an activity and not a location.

Of course there's no guarantee Lync will be widely adopted as many companies are still assessing whether UC technologies are really necessary yet. But Lync is at least in a position to be a go-to UC suite given how embedded Microsoft's products already are at big companies.

One company, Chicago-based management consulting giant A.T. Kearney, feels that Lync is necessary right now. With 3,500 employees in 33 countries around the world, A.T. Kearney is using Lync to accommodate its vast mobile workforce, most of whom are traveling to client sites 75 percent of the time.

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A.T. Kearney has been using Lync's predecessor OCS (Office Communications Server), but is upgrading to Lync for its new and improved features such as e911, which can prove where a person making an emergency call is located, and also the integration of Live Meeting Web conferencing with Lync. (Previously, Live Meeting was not part of OCS, but rather a separate application).

At the launch event in New York City, CIO.com's Shane O'Neill spoke with A.T. Kearney global network architect Kevin Rice about how Lync is helping reduce its travel budget and improving communication with clients.

Although Rice applauds how Lync can improve communication internally at a company, the deeper business potential of Lync lies in improving communication externally, with customers and clients, he says. This is particularly important at large client-based businesses like A.T. Kearney.

[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software -- including enterprise and cloud adoption trends and reviews of SharePoint 2010 -- see CIO.com's SharePoint Bible. ]

"We are engaging with clients that are using OCS and Lync [Lync is backward compatible with OCS 2007]. And it's easier to have impromptu meetings with them using Lync to go over a document together. And obviously this can reduce the travel budget," says Rice.

What if the client isn't using OCS or Lync?

The workaround for this SharePoint, says Rice, as A.T. Kearney has set up external SharePoint sites that clients can use to manage and share documents. But Rice admits he would like to use Lync more to share documents and meld SharePoint and Lync together for the "ultimate access to information."

Before choosing Lync, Rice also evaluated UC products from Cisco (ties you to the PBX system too much, with weak integration between PBX systems, he says) and IBM (weak on video, not enough hardware partners, he says).

Rice's big hope: Lync will take most of the confusion, scheduling and formality out of client communications.

"Our business is based on relationships and Lync can make those relationships easier," says Rice.

"If one of our employees is working on a PowerPoint presentation with a client, it's really easy to go over it with them on Lync instead of flying to the location. It doesn't have to be formal and overly scheduled. You can say, 'Hey, I saw that you were online and that you weren't busy. Let's go over some things real quick."

Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Shane at soneill@cxo.com.

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