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Top Contact Center Stories of 2020

  • Contact center 2020 word cloud
    As I did in 2019, I looked to my top tweets of the past year to help guide my selection of the top contact stories of 2020. I am a frequent tweeter, but like so many things, the number of tweets I posted in 2020 was down — by about 35% — compared to 2019. While the live events that often had sparked hours of live-tweeting ground to a halt in February 2020, contact center and customer experience news did not.
    As I did last year, I have decided to let my tweets, and the responses to them by my 13,200 contact center-centric followers, guide the selection of this year’s top contact center stories. Using Twitter Analytics, I chose a top tweet for each month. The remaining slides show the tweets, with updates on the news event, conference, or leadership announcement described in each.
  • Photo of Microsoft, Genesys CEOs
    January: Genesys and Microsoft
    Not long after becoming CEO at Genesys (in May 2019), Tony Bates — who previously had been CEO of Skype and an executive at Microsoft — forged a closer relationship with Microsoft. In January 2020, the two companies announced that the Genesys Engage solution would be available in the Microsoft Azure cloud late in the year through a joint co-selling and go-to-market strategy.
    When COVID-19 struck, priorities for many technology projects shifted. For both Genesys and Microsoft, the demands of helping companies support remote agents and employees became a top priority. Microsoft in particular found its Teams solution swamped with new demand. Currently available through an early access program, Genesys Engage in Azure is now due to become generally available in this quarter.
  • Picture from Avaya Engage in February 2020
    February: Avaya Engage
    The main topic at Avaya Engage, the customer and partner event the company held in February 2020, was Avaya’s new relationship with RingCentral. The two companies were working to create and deliver a white-labeled UCaaS solution for partners to offer to Avaya premises customers, Avaya Cloud Office (ACO) by RingCentral. By November 2020, the companies had expanded ACO’s global market presence to 12 countries since its U.S. launch in March, with additional markets planned for 2021.
    Shown in the tweet is Avaya CMO Simon Harrison, who in 2020 worked to reposition the company and its cloud solutions under a single brand, Avaya OneCloud.
  • Tweet about contact center agents at risk due to Covid-19
    March: COVID-19 Stay at Home Orders
    The coronavirus began appearing in January in China, spread to Europe in February, and by March was not only in the U.S. but had become a worldwide pandemic. It was also in March that cities, states, and countries began issuing stay-at-home orders, forcing companies to find technical solutions to allow their employees to work from home.
    The danger of contracting the virus for contact center employees was severe, with many sitting closely together in rooms with many others. Within weeks, millions of agents were working from home. For companies that had already migrated to the cloud, the ability to support agents at home was relatively seamless. For the agents, finding the space, bandwidth, and quiet to work was more difficult.
    It will be some time before the final impact of the pandemic on the speed of migration to the cloud is quantified, but the anecdotal evidence is clear. Companies are accelerating their plans to move contact center operations to cloud-based solutions.
  • A tweet about Google CCAI
    April: Google CCAI Tackling Unemployment
    The global shelter-in-place orders of March led to millions of unemployed in April. In the U.S. alone, during the week of April 16, 2020, over five million Americans filed for unemployment. In December, the number approached a million new filers.
    To help cities and states, Google Cloud worked with several contact center vendors and systems integrators to meet the immediate need of answering simple questions with website chatbots, freeing up human agents for more complex queries. With Google Dialogflow at the core of the solutions deployed, government agencies have the ability to easily expand the types of problems handled.
    As was true for trusting cloud contact center solutions or taking the plunge with having agents work from home, necessity became the mother of success for AI applications.
  • Tweet showing digital engagement features
    May: Five9 Digital Engagement
    Five9 worked for months to create an enhanced digital engagement suite of applications and its timing could not have been better. With businesses forced to close brick-and- mortar locations, mobile and Internet-based shopping and service delivery became an even greater proportion of total interactions between consumers and companies.
    Later in 2020 (October), Five9 announced the acquisition of intelligent virtual assistant leader Inference Solutions, with an eye on allowing even greater alignment between the automation of interactions that companies are looking for and Five9’s digital engagement offerings.
  • Tweet about John Hancock's move to cloud contact center
    June: Salesforce and Amazon Connect
    By June 2020, the seeds of the partnership forged by Salesforce and AWS in November 2019 had begun to bear fruit. John Hancock Shared Services began a contact center transformation in 2018, which it completed in January 2020. The technology change involved moving telephony from an on-premises system to a cloud solution, AWS’s Amazon Connect, and then integrating with Salesforce, and specifically, Service Cloud Voice. (To learn more about how Salesforce and AWS worked together to digitally transform contact center operations at John Hancock Shared Services, listen to this on-demand webinar.)
    Both Salesforce and Amazon continued to make contact center news in 2020. In December, AWS made five major Amazon Connect announcements at its re:Invent conference and Salesforce announced its entrée into the workforce engagement market at Dreamforce.
  • Tweet with rocket image
    July: Talkdesk Funding
    Talkdesk announced that it had raised $143 million in Series C funding from a combination of new and existing investors, assuming a valuation of over $3 billion. Both the size of the investment and the valuation reflect strong investor confidence not only in the contact center and customer experience market but also in Talkdesk’s ability to perform well in a segment with, as the investor analysts say, significant tailwinds.
    Other contact center software vendors that performed well in 2020 include publicly held Five9, whose market capitalization almost tripled, from $4.1 billion to 11.6 billion, and NICE, moving from $9.9 billion to $17.5 billion from January to December 2020.
  • Tweet showcasing Sheila McGee-Smith, author, and Amy Roberge of Twilio
    August: Twilio and the New Normal
    Was it only in August when we thought things were beginning to return to normal, after a summer respite from the pandemic? A No Jitter post on Twilio highlighted the applications that companies had deployed to respond to immediate pandemic issues, adapt to ever-changing conditions, and eventually thrive in a post-pandemic world. The post includes examples of companies that completely replaced premises contact center systems in order to meet the challenges or layered new cloud capabilities on top of existing systems to deliver required digital and AI services.
    In the spring, many contact center software companies worked with local, state, and federal governments to support COVID-19 contact tracing. As we move into the next phase of response to the pandemic, the contact center industry is working to support the herculean logistical efforts involved in global vaccine distribution.
  • Tweet showcasing Comcast as NICE Enlighten customer
    September: NICE Enlighten
    AI for contact center use cases was well underway pre-pandemic but took on new urgency with COVID-19. Along with my fellow contact center Dan Miller, with Opus Research, I discussed the phenomenon during an Enterprise Connect 2020 session, “AI in the Contact Center from Pilots to Mainstream.” With companies facing millions of unanswerable calls, texts, and chats, they quickly deployed intelligent virtual assistants to respond to simpler queries.
    More nascent applications include capabilities that provide agents with real-time sentiment analysis during voice interactions. Enlighten, announced by NICE at its Interactions conference in September, is an AI-powered conversational guidance tool that helps improve the experience of and with agents. “We’re now coaching to trends, not individual interactions,” a Comcast executive and early user said at the time.
  • Tweet about RingCentral's DevOps event
    October: RingCentral #CodeTogether
    Continuing on the AI theme, thousands were interested in this tweet from a developer event that RingCentral held in October. Contact center has become a fertile field for AI giants AWS, Google, and Microsoft. This conference session highlighted that companies don’t necessarily need to build their own applications. There are vertical-specific, boutique vendors that have created templates that allow companies to deploy intelligent virtual assistants for voice and chat relatively quickly.
    Beyond RingCentral, many contact center vendors have created or acquired orchestration platforms (e.g., Genesys, and Cisco with IMImobile), CPaaS (e.g., Avaya, Vonage, and others), or integration platform-as-a-service offerings (Five9’s Whendu) that allow companies to choose their preferred AI vendor.
  • Tweet with photo of Rowan Trollope, Five9 CEO
    November: The Definition of CCaaS
    Gartner’s CCaaS Magic Quadrant is always anticipated by the contact center community, and the 2020 report created more of a stir than usual. As noted in this tweet, companies often have strong feelings about how they are treated in reports. Few, however, have a CEO who puts his thoughts in writing and publishes them not just internally but broadly. Such was the case with Rowan Trollope, CEO of Five9, this year.
    While Trollope’s arguments centered on what makes a leader “global,” others not included in this particular report question restricting the definition to multi-tenant, public cloud solutions. Companies like Aspect, Avaya, and Cisco have millions of agents working in private cloud environments and yet are no longer evaluated by Gartner. I plan to explore this topic further in an impending No Jitter post.
  • Tweet about Cisco WebexOne event
    December: Cisco WebexOne
    The overwhelming popularity of this tweet is a combination of many 2020 trends. Virtual events became standard operating procedure, and companies got increasingly better at creating events that would draw their stakeholders. Cisco transformed WebexOne, initially planned as an extravagant live event in Las Vegas, into a wildly successful virtual event. Cisco sent impressive theme-appropriate gift boxes, similar I imagine to those for product launches and movie premieres, to industry influencers and customers alike. Kudos to Cisco Collaboration CMO Aruna Ravichandran for the creativity she brought and excitement she created around the event.
    According to the No Jitter post “The ‘New’ Webex: Cisco Loads Up Features & Functionality,” at WebexOne Cisco announced over 50 innovations that fall into three broad categories: seamless collaboration, smart hybrid work experiences, and intelligent customer experiences. From a contact center perspective, Cisco used WebexOne as a launching point for a new CCaaS offer, described in “Cisco Reveals New Webex Contact Center CCaaS Platform.”
  • Image with "2021"
    2021 and Beyond
    We all wish for more certainty about how 2021 will proceed. While new vaccines hold promise for bringing the pandemic under control, realistically that is at least months away. In the meantime, customer experience and collaboration technologies continue to support evolving remote work, contact tracing, and vaccination efforts worldwide. As an industry we can be proud of the work we have been privileged to do to contribute to the delivery of vital government services, healthcare, and business continuity.

A month-by-month look at my top takes on the contact center industry