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Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform: A Work in Progress
On Tuesday, July 19, Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform during its annual partner event, Microsoft Inspire. My thoughts here are based on reading the announcement blog post and watching two Inspire sessions on the new solution. The presentations were delivered by a combination of Microsoft and Nuance spokespeople with insights from several Microsoft partners.
Last week’s announcement was 15 months in the making. Let’s revisit Microsoft’s announcement of the acquisition of Nuance in April 2021. Both the Microsoft press release – “Microsoft accelerates industry cloud strategy for healthcare with the acquisition of Nuance” - and the post written by No Jitter’s Ryan Daily – “Microsoft Acquires Nuance in Health Vertical Push” – advanced the idea that Nuance would enhance Microsoft’s healthcare industry expertise. At the time, I remember CCaaS vendors breathing a proverbial sigh of relief, as there seemed to be no indication that Microsoft planned to use Nuance’s conversational AI capabilities to move more aggressively into the contact center market.
At the Microsoft Ignite event in November 2021, in what seemed to be an unrelated announcement, Microsoft announced voice channel for Dynamics 365 Customer Service. Once again, CCaaS vendors were not particularly worried. Adding voice to Microsoft’s customer relationship management (CRM) application, Dynamics 365, to complement digital channels like chat and email didn’t seem game-changing. CCaaS companies that partner with Microsoft Teams to add contact center functionality were quick to downplay the announcement to customers and prospects. “Move along, there’s nothing to see here.”
(It is worth noting that the acquisition of Nuance had not yet been finalized – that didn’t happen until March 2022.)
But, as indicated in the Microsoft blog announcing the digital contact center platform last week, Microsoft is integrating Nuance to bring a new level of conversational AI, security, and automation to the contact center. Instead of entry-level omnichannel capabilities in Dynamics, the new platform is described as, “a comprehensive yet flexible solution for contact centers, delivering best-in-class AI that powers self-service experiences, live customer engagements, collaborative agent experiences, business process automation, advanced telephony, and fraud prevention capabilities.”
The components of the new Digital Contact Center platform are shown in the graphic here (above), used during the Microsoft session at Inspire. It includes Microsoft’s CRM Dynamics 365, the Nuance self-service solutions, Teams collaboration and the Azure cloud.
The term readers may not be familiar with - nor was I – is Microsoft Power Platform, the term used for a group of three Microsoft applications: Microsoft Power BI, PowerApps and Flow. Power Platform is a collection of applications customers can use to surface, manipulate, automate and analyze data. It’s inclusion as part of the digital contact center platform signals that Microsoft understands the importance of reporting and analytics to contact center decision makers – and that it has the assets internally to apply to the customer service use case.
During the Nuance session at Inspire, attendees begin to understand why Nuance is placed in the center of the platform diagram. With a 25-year history in the speech technology business, Nuance brings strong partnerships with systems integrators that specialize in the contact center space. And those partners have had meaningful success with the automation projects companies are looking to implement in 2022.
For example, Patrick Wild, sales VP, Contact Center at Presidio, discussed a recent project with a utility customer. In the first wave of the implementation, the Nuance solution took them from zero to 40 % self-service containment, i.e., the percent of calls solved by an intelligent virtual agent rather than a live contact center agent. For another customer, a project took the company from 71 to 82 % containment.
Jim Stoeckel, Nuance director, system integrators, BPOs and strategic alliances, highlighted Nuance Mix , one of the tools that can be used by both partners and customers to create self-service projects. Nuance Mix was described as a DIY conversational AI tooling platform, which allows partners and customers to create and maintain enterprise-grade omnichannel customer service experiences for IVR, chatbots, and more. The interface features drag and drop capabilities – think no-code - which make it easy for employees of all skill levels to create an application for one for one channel, say the IVR, and quickly deploy it to others, for example a chat or text bot.
For years, there has seemed to be a missed opportunity for Microsoft to deliver a more cohesive solution for contact center. Bringing together Dynamics 365 and Teams was always part of the answer. Perhaps it is the Nuance self-service and automation portfolio – and the market’s appetite for more and better digital solutions - that will end up being the glue that ties the two portfolios together. Just seeing a graphic like the one shown above is a sign that enterprise application silos at Microsoft are beginning to come together.