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Are CCaaS vendors digging their own graves with their new AI toy?


Image: Denis Putilov - Alamy Stock Vector

Peugeot 208 GTi or a Mini Cooper S? Which one would you drive? It’s the same engine in both cars but, as long as that engine has got the right bits doing the right thing very few people care. There are a percentage of petrol heads that would say “I drive a 208 GTi with the 1.6 litre turbo four cylinder in line turbo petrol Prince engine” -- but they don’t have any friends. The people who care about engines are the people who make engines, not the people who drive the car. And that highlights a crucial truth: what vendors believe is important and what customers prioritize are often different.

As I flip flop my professional life between both sides of the contact center table (vendors and operations) the gap between the CCaaS vendors perception of how well their solution value is understood by contact center operations vs the reality is significant.

“Oh, the telephony platform – hmm, I think it’s Cisco/Avaya/Talkdesk” … I have countless conversations that start here. The obfuscation of the contact center solution and the value of those interaction management pistons firing in the backend has, since the advent of Salesforce (the first ‘aaS**’ solution launched in ‘99), been a challenge. So often the loved, tendered and consistently honed value of the contact center platform is marginalized on the agent’s desktop to a bar at the top or on the side for:

  • Logging in and out
  • Real Time stats on the desktop or wallboards
  • Walk away codes ("Off for my lunch"; "1-2-1")

And the brutal reality is that far too many contact centers (I wish I had a truthful stat on this) are only routing their voice interactions through the hungry honed pistons of the contact center platform and using point solutions for workforce management (forecasting, scheduling and real-time); quality management (QM); project management (gamification and/or support); knowledge management (intuitive knowledge management tools that feed the bot who serves the customer and/or the agent); analytics and AI. And then there's the CRM vendors.

Zendesk; Pega; D365; Saleforce; SAP and ServiceNow are just a few of the well-known CRM vendors. These tools manage customer data and very often all digital interactions. And to the buyers they present a very convincing argument that their solution is the be all and end all for customer experience or customer service management.

To secure a position on the desktop the CCaaS vendors have developed integrations with most of CRM vendors (some as tight as a pubgoer when someone else paid all night.)

And that was fine – until now.

CCaaS vendors and CRM vendors are now directly competing for contact center operators' hearts and minds, and the battlegrounds are the interaction management and the AI-infused tools which support the customer and agent experience. Modules like AI knowledge management; virtual agents; sentiment and intent analytics etc can be bought as part of the CRM license bundle or as part of the CCaaS license bundle.

These CCaaS vendors with their new functionality are playing into the hands of the CRM vendors. In 12 months the top CCaaS vendors (i.e., NICE Cxone; Genesys Cloud; Five9; Talkdesk; Odigo) will have their currently promoted auto-summary tools in general release (native or via an API partner). The auto summary tool, in which a natural language processing-driven feature creates an interaction summary, picks a call outcome disposition, and puts the contact summary and customer intent in the correct CRM fields is a win for reducing agent stress and creating consistency of input and better analytics but – and it’s a big BUT – it's an even bigger win for the CRM vendors, as they'll be sitting pretty with their brand and their tool front and center even further forward in the hearts and minds of the contact center operations teams.

CCaaS vendors spend millions on the continual development of their contact center products and the marketing budgets oftentimes are in parallel or not so far behind. Despite this though buyers are, I would say, more confused about the right way to construct their Customer Service / Contact Center tech stack more than ever before. In a rush to have a consistently evolving story and to demonstrate innovation more features are being thrown out to an un-ready market of recipients. The pivoting value messages from the CCaaS vendors as they extol the virtues of their functionality for each stakeholder group – CX/EX/OX and the ever-growing list of potential buyers – CTO/CMO/COO creates a hotchpotch of value statements that the CRM vendors are happy to magpie in and steal the lunch with a simple ‘’yeah, we can do that too’.

If you are a contact center buyer with an ounce of voice traffic coming in, if you are a buyer with a desire to coach, develop and support your agents and if you are a buyer who wants to work with people who understand contact center then the demarcation lines should be clear….

I am a real advocate for STAY IN LANE! – let the vendors who have their DNA routed in customer data management do that bit and the vendors who have their DNA routed in interaction management and contact center operation performance do that bit – but is that how it’s going to pan out?

I have a horrible feeling that the breadth and depth of tools being offered by these CRM vendors to a new set of CX-focused buyers will be indeterminable and the money will be spent on the tool that is front and center -- to the detriment of contact center customers who need more.

To avoid fading into the background CCaaS vendors should be doubling down on their two strong capabilities and claiming their space on the desktop.

  • Routing and managing interactions – voice and digital through one single orchestration tool (ACD) should be the only way forward. It facilitates an equitable and consistent management of customer communication, provides a single operational view and facilitates a cohesive omni-channel pivot if needed.
  • Supporting the agents – agents are the foot soldiers of every contact center. Supporting them with intuitive tools that not only allow them to manage the interface but engages, coaches and guides them through their day and their continual improvement is one of the jewels in the CCaaS crown.

You must help buyers navigate the complicated stack. Don’t assume the buyers understand the criticality of your engine. Out of sight, out of mind. Ensure you have clarity on the value you will bring to the customer, agent, and operation experience and how, through your laser focus on Contact Centers you complement the CRM solutions and hold a well-deserved place on the desktop and throughout the operation.