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Build or Buy: The Great Contact Center Debate

The rise of cloud communications and the growing maturity of APIs have created the scenario where many enterprises are faced with the decision of whether to build their own contact center capabilities or take a more traditional approach and buy an out-of-the-box solution or contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) offering from a legacy contact center vendor. In fact, some will tell you it's now easier and cheaper to build a custom solution using pre-existing frameworks, making the software-era companies that are providing the building blocks to do so -- AWS, Twilio, Genband, Vonage, etc. -- more of a threat to established enterprise contact center vendors.

Communications API provider Twilio is one company that thinks more enterprises will be opting to take a DIY approach to their contact centers moving forward. Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson said it well himself in a recent No Jitter interview with UC analyst and regular No Jitter contributor Dave Michels:

In the No Jitter Q&A, Lawson pointed to ING bank as a key example of an organization that chose to take the DIY route, having recently discarded 17 separate legacy contact center solutions from different traditional vendors in favor of one solution its developers built using Twilio chat, voice, video, and routing APIs. Henk Kolk, chief architect at ING Netherlands, joined Lawson back in September for a fireside chat at its Twilio Signal London event.

ING bank, a global financial institution operating in 40 countries with more than 40,000 employees, turned to Twilio has part of its Agile development strategy, a key component of its mission to enable the right people to make important decisions quickly, Kolk told the London audience.

When beginning the Agile process six years ago, ING "fully understood" that every company was becoming a software company, Kolk said. That became even more clear when Silicon Valley companies began prophesizing that "software is eating the world," and then even better understood when Uber demonstrated it, he added.

I recently spoke with Al Cook, director of product at Twilio, to get a few additional details about ING's story of contact center agility as well as a bit of color around the buy vs. build topic.

When ING built its contact center with Twilio, it went channel by channel, beginning with IP messaging and then adding screen-sharing, voice, and video, Cook told me. The team would spend a week doing an internal proof of concept, and then would be able to go out and test to see if it had created the right customer experience and whether everything worked the way it wanted it to, Cook said.

Comparing this to buying a contact center solution off the shelf, Cook said: "You have a three- to six-month RFP process, and then a three- to six-month deployment process; then if it didn't come out of the box with all the capabilities that you want, you've got another six- to nine-month professional services process. And you might get through all that, and say, 'Well it still doesn't really do what I want.'"

"It all comes back to the need to focus on the customer experience," Cook said. While some companies still have the mindset that the contact center is a cost center -- i.e. something that you have to have but want to minimize the cost for -- that is fundamentally not true anymore, he added. "There is a huge shift in user experience and customer expectations; companies need to provide better customer experiences or the customer will go elsewhere."

Additionally, with customer expectations changing constantly, building a perfect customer experience and then stopping is impossible, Cook said. You need to change alongside the customer and always be testing and aligning with customer satisfaction scores. This highlights one of the benefits of the build approach; if you're leveraging APIs you can customize your solution as demands change.

"The key with the DIY approach is that you have control over the exact experience that you want," Cook said. "And you can integrate it into all of your backend databases and keep refining it. You're not just stuck there waiting for the roadmaps of the vendors of out-of-the-box contact center solutions. It's about being able to get there, faster."

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