Hopes & Expectations for Business Comms in 2016
From a slew of cloud-related acquisitions to a boost in business application integration, here are a few items on my mind for this year.
The start of a new year brings endless possibilities – will 2016 be the year of personal jetpacks, or will Star Trek-like teleporters become a reality? Of course not, but we can still hope for some positive developments in the world of business communications. Here is some of what I'd like to see happen this year.
On the contact center side, I hope more companies and contact centers will focus on the customer experience, making it easy for customers to get the help and information they need -- whether through self-service or assisted service -- and to let customers speak or interact with representatives through any channel when desired. And I hope to see more companies provide agents with the tools they need to understand who the customer is and the "journey" it's been on, providing context and a framework for the interaction.
But my expectations are low, and I remain skeptical about the use of analytics and customer insight to provide better service. As I've said many times before, most companies still haven't deployed CTI for screen pop, so why should we expect them to use analytics and customer data to provide better service? While all the vendors and many contact center organizations talk about optimizing the customer experience, I'm disappointed by most companies' customer care efforts. I often find that most companies continue to focus on reducing costs rather than improving the customer experience.
I hope 2016 will be the year when new metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) supplant traditional KPIs in order to improve the customer experience. For example, companies can replace average handle time with a "customer effort" and other KPIs aimed at assessing the amount of effort a customer has spent on problem resolution.
On the UCC front, I hope this is the year we see more business application integration – not necessarily business process integration, but integration of UC capabilities with business and vertical applications. Cisco will be doing a lot to help move this space as it exploits the expertise of Tropo, the API development firm it acquired last year, and UCaaS providers like RingCentral have been adding developer tools to facilitate the integration of their communications capabilities and different applications.
Turning to expectations, a lot of what we'll see this year will be a continuation from 2015 rather than startling new developments. For example, I expect to see a continued battle for mid-sized organizations, especially among cloud players. Figuring out how to get the attention of the midmarket customer will be top priorities at UCaaS providers like RingCentral, 8x8 and Vonage Business, so expect to see them fighting it out with companies like ShoreTel, Mitel, and others in the mid market -- including, of course, the big gorilla, Microsoft.
I expect 2016 to bring about a huge number of acquisitions, especially in the cloud space as providers look to fill in gaps in their portfolios -- whether those be contact center capabilities, team collaboration, video, or other capabilities. Team collaboration, also called workstream communications and collaboration (WCC), will be hot, hot, hot. UC vendors that don't have those capabilities will look to build or buy them, as RingCentral and Vonage did last year with their respective Glip and gUnify acquisitions, in order to have offerings comparable to Cisco Spark and Unify Circuit.
Cloud-based contact center will be another key area for acquisitions, as any UCaaS provider that doesn't have full contact center capabilities is missing out (with the exception of Microsoft, which has been reluctant to move into that market and relies on creative partners such as Clarity Connect). I expect to see acquisitions as UCaaS providers like Vonage, RingCentral, 8x8, and Mitel flesh out their contact center strategies.
The channel is key, and I expect to see a push from the cloud vendors to get new channel partners that know how to sell "solutions," including business application integration. We'll see a big shakeout of channel partners that can't cut it in the new world of cloud services because they haven't figured out how to add value and stay profitable and cash positive. The traditional premises-based vendors are working to help existing partners transition to the cloud model and to add new cloud partners, while most cloud vendors are eagerly looking for more partners that can be successful selling cloud services and solutions. Those are some of my hopes and expectations for 2016 -- what are yours?