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We Can Expect CCaaS to Continue to Evolve in 2022
Contact centers aren’t new, but the pandemic and modern contact center as a service (CCaaS) providers are redefining them. It’s a highly innovative sector, and organizations of all sizes have benefited from new features and capabilities they didn’t know they needed.
CCaaS is a cloud-delivered suite optimized for managing conversations with customers. CCaaS solutions can track, route, and report various types of interactions, while some solutions piece together a complete view of the customer lifecycle or journey. The most common implementations support inbound inquiries from customers. But you can use CCaaS for numerous purposes, including outbound interactions and other use cases involving employees, partners, and prospects.
Modern CCaaS solutions evolved from call center technologies, which is hard to fathom since call centers were all about voice and hardware. Customer interactions now occur over a variety of channels, including email, social media, text, and more. Calls are just one channel and aren’t even a required component of CCaaS. Nor has CCaaS retained the long upgrade cycles of the past contact center era. The rate of innovation in CCaaS is spectacular. The provider landscape is changing, and services are expanding. The following are expectations from CCaaS in 2022.
The Provider Landscape: There was a time when the contact center was tied to an automatic call distributor (ACD). It was a PBX add-on application, similar to voicemail, which leveraged common infrastructures such as servers and circuits. That infrastructure overlap is less material in a cloud-delivered era, but there are still economies to be had with a single provider. Today, the UCaaS and CCaaS combo remains a popular, single-provider option. Last year, 8x8 launched its XCaaS solution that blurs the unified communications and contact center boundaries. Most unified communications as a service (UCaaS) providers now offer CCaaS as well.
A market for specialized or dedicated contact center vendors has also always existed. These single-application specialists created the CCaaS category, and the narrower focus tends to translates into more advanced features, integrations, scale, and implementations. There are quite a few providers in this group.
Another approach to consider is using application building blocks from a communications platform as a service (CPaaS) provider that enterprises can use to build bespoke solutions for customer engagement. These can be standalone contact center applications or (more likely) customer engagement features integrated into a broader business application. CPaaS providers are regularly expanding their customer experience (CX) APIs.
Managing the customer is at the heart of every business, so it's no wonder the CCaaS sector is attracting more attention. Expect many new providers and provider types in 2022. Amazon launched Amazon Connect in 2017. Last year Microsoft announced a voice channel for Dynamics 365 Customer Service, and Zoom attempted to spend about $15 billion to acquire Five9. Zendesk became a CCaaS provider about a year ago, and Sprinklr became one this year.
CCaaS is Eating Adjacencies: Two main drivers are expanding the scope of CCaaS. CCaaS providers are gobbling up adjacencies, and previously unrelated customer touchpoints are gaining recognition as part of the customer’s journey.
Existing adjacencies are blurring. For example, workforce engagement management (WEM) has historically been an add-on to the contact center, but several CCaaS providers now provide workforce management (WFM) apps as native services. The consolidation is occurring in both directions. Consider NICE acquiring inContact (relaunched as CXone) and Five9 acquiring Virtual Observer.
Customer relationship management (CRM) providers and CCaaS providers have enjoyed a long, complementary relationship. The Vonage CCaaS solution, for example, is very tightly integrated with Salesforce. However, as both CCaaS and CRM expand, their overlaps are increasing.
The bigger shake-up is the widening scope of CCaaS. Previously, the most significant customer touchpoint was the toll-free number. Now, customers regularly interact with businesses without ever placing a call. CCaaS providers are facilitating and analyzing the digital breadcrumbs customers leave behind. This relationship creates many more use cases for CCaaS, from marketing to fulfillment.
This strengthened interaction fuels the CPaaS opportunity in customer engagement, allowing organizations to leverage low-code/ no-code building blocks. For example, Avaya and Cisco have significantly turned the dial up on their capabilities around orchestration and automation of workflows to enable seamless capabilities and customer self-service.
Digital is Evolving: It’s been a gradual and steady evolution. But today, customer interactions mostly start on digital channels. When we need service, we are more likely to turn to an app, social media, search engine, or website before dialing a phone number. Some CCaaS providers have shifted so much that they now offer digital-first solutions. NICE surprised many when it launched its Digital Solutions Group in 2020. Several acquisitions last year were aimed to bolster digital interactions, including Genesys/Bold360 and Dialpad/Koopid.
Digital isn’t particularly new as a concept, but the potential to leverage digital for a superior experience has never been greater. Many demographics prefer to use digital channels. AI technologies enable digital to transition from low quality and abhorred barriers to service to high-quality and responsive services.
Ironically, digital solutions now embrace telephony voice calls. I recently required a jump start for my car and called Farmers Insurance for roadside assistance. I spoke with a chatbot that texted me a personalized link. It remained on the call and verbally coached me through the data entry of a service request, then dispatched a service provider and even provided live tracking of the service vehicle. I never spoke to an agent or installed an app.
The rise of digital isn’t a threat to the agent. It’s a solution to agent burnout and turnover. More effective self-service means better use of human talent. Expect agent turnover to decline as mundane, repetitive calls disappear. Agent performance is shifting away from resolution speed and toward customer satisfaction scores.
Several providers are putting a lot of emphasis on software that’s delightful to use because it’s a big part of what Edify is messaging. AI is also enabling agents to be more productive with less training. Augmented agent technologies monitor conversations and quietly provide agents with resourceful data.
Analyze This: CCaaS providers are shifting their investments from channels and routing to data analytics by analyzing customer and operational data to identify improvement opportunities. An example is NICE Enlighten XO (experience optimization) which leverages a broad array of data to improve KPIs, chatbots, and other efficiencies. It sounds simpler than it is. The data in these interactions often live in multiple systems across multiple departments.
Enterprise Accounts: The enterprise has been slow to embrace CCaaS. However, that’s beginning to change. Several CCaaS providers have announced significant enterprise wins, often featuring digital-first implementations. For example, Delta airlines presented its success with Amazon Connect at the recent AWS re:Invent 2021 conference. NICE recently announced wins with Globe Telecom (telecom services), Firstsource (business process management), and BayCom (communication solutions). Expect some big enterprise migrations to CCaaS in 2022.
Agents from Home: The pandemic forced contact centers to discover the benefits of remote agent-at-home operations. It worked so well that the agent-from-home initiative will last much longer than the pandemic does (assuming it ever ends). Many organizations now see distributed agents as a competitive differentiator. It can lower costs, increase morale, and simplify coverage with micro-shifts. It also introduces a new set of requirements around support, monitoring, training, and more—it’s also fueling the opportunity to reimagine the contact center.
One winner here is the Chromebook—a low-cost, easy to support device that can replace a phone and PC. Google reported significant sales increases in the contact center during the pandemic. There’s so much growth of Chromebooks in the contact center that Google created a new certification for CCaaS partners. Several solutions, including NICE CXone, 8x8, Five9, and Vonage, are completely web-based.
The contact center has become an intangible concept. We can no longer think of it as a place, a channel, a liability/cost, or even a department. It’s a concept that recognizes the tremendous value derived from handling and analyzing interactions.
It’s easy to love the cutting-edge technology of CCaaS, but it’s been hard to love contact centers. The disconnect between the “your call is important to us” messaging and reality is finally narrowing. Today, the vast majority of customer journeys begin with digital tools such as search engines, website visits, mobile apps, and social networks. AI views this as data—and AI, more than anything—is changing the way CCaaS works.
2022 will be a big year for the contact center, as organizations strategically reevaluate the quick fixes implemented over the past two years. As the sector has boomed, so has an investment in research and development. Attitudes and expectations have changed during the pandemic. The gap between the leaders and the pack will widen in 2022 as the contact center's CCaaS value, breadth, and capabilities continue to grow.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.