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Contact Center & CRM: Set on Convergent Course

I first started writing about the blurring line between CRM and contact center software for No Jitter in 2014. Given the overlapping capabilities often available from the two types of solutions, I've added Microsoft, Salesforce, and Zendesk to the list of companies I track closely. And so it was that earlier this month I spent time getting an update from Salesforce's Patrick Beyries, senior director, product management, for Service Cloud, on the company's latest release. Blurring doesn't tell the story anymore -- converging is the more accurate verb in 2018.

In line with its seasonal regularity, Salesforce made its Spring Release generally available last Monday, Feb. 12. It issued no press release, as there's no need for one -- Salesforce customers have come to know that the company will share a wealth of information on its website in the run-up to general availability. Webinars, interviews with customers and executives, and detailed product literature highlight not just general release information, but specific features for each Salesforce application, or cloud -- Sales, Service, Marketing, Commerce, and so on. A marketing touch that I appreciate is that each release has a signature Trailhead character. Seen here is Codey, watering a bonsai tree to signify spring.

The graphic describes the themes of the release, and I'm struck with how closely they mirror what contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) companies are talking about this year. This release includes:

  • Einstein chat bot, in pilot, with the dual goal of solving customer issues and gathering information with artificial intelligence (AI)-powered interactions. Like Genesys with Kate and Aspect Via with its natural language processing-infused bots, AI is a key thought leadership topic across the CCaaS community.
  • Lightning desktop, to improve agent productivity. Where will agents "live" -- in the CRM or contact center desktop? Both sides will claim it should be the customer's choice, but few are truly indifferent.
  • Digital conversational service is another way of saying context-rich, customer journey-aware information for the agent. Avaya, Five9, and Genesys have all incorporated customer journey information in their agent desktop displays. But where does much of the customer data for this lie? In the CRM system.
  • Field Service, the one area that Salesforce has focused on that has had less attention from CCaaS vendors. But that may change, as Genesys, NewVoiceMedia, and Talkdesk begin to focus more on enterprisewide use of the capabilities they offer versus a contact center-centric approach.
  • Guidance, exemplified in the Spring '18 release by Lightning Knowledge for Chat and Einstein Predictive Case Field Value, which drive agent productivity by bringing knowledge base information to the agent and pre-populate form fields to save an agent time. Again, CCaaS vendors typically rely on the CRM for this information.

In addition, Salesforce is piloting skills-based routing, a Service Cloud functionality, with this release, Beyries told me. Until this release, Salesforce routed work items to pre-established queue groups. While CCaaS vendors still offer far more sophisticated routing algorithms, this Salesforce feature begins to close the gap.

The challenge CCaaS and CRM convergence creates isn't just for the solution providers working to differentiate their offerings, but also for users trying to understand which vendors do what as well as which to choose when both types of vendors offer the same functionality.

We'll be exploring these questions in several of the Contact Center & Customer Experience track sessions at Enterprise Connect 2018, coming March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. During the "Contact Center Executive Forum: The Cloud and Beyond" session, for example, participating executives will address the issue, giving their thoughts on these two questions: Has the battle for the desktop been won by the CRM vendors? Is the role of the contact center infrastructure company being marginalized to managing voice interactions?

In "The Reboot of Voice: Unified Conversational Engagement Across Devices, Touchpoints," Daniel Hong, VP and research director at Forrester, will present an analyst viewpoint on the issues Salesforce explores with its digital theme. He'll then host a panel on the topic with speakers from Uber and USAA. And, in "Beyond IVR: The New Self-Service," Zendesk will present alongside contact center vendors. Finally, in "Enterprise Case Studies: How We Made Our Contact Center Upgrade Decision," I'll be asking enterprise panel members to discuss this question: Did you consider solutions from both contact center and CRM companies for providing the omnichannel experience your customers want? Plan to join us!

Learn more about Contact Center & Customer Experience at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Regular Rate or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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