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Transforming Customer Service: The Evolving Landscape of UCaaS and CCaaS


A person clicking on a contact center application
Image: NicoElNino -

As many enterprises kick-start their Generative AI journey in customer service, the burning question is: How much longer will the human-centric contact center exist? 

With the increasing power of large language models, it’s clear that AI will play a major role in how companies interact with their stakeholders in the future. But despite the excitement around the growing capabilities of chatbots, traditional service channels aren't going away anytime soon.

In fact, only 8% of customers that Gartner surveyed said they relied on a chatbot for their most recent support interaction, according to a June 2023 report. And just 25% of those individuals said they would use one again.

Instead, vendors are taking advantage of the AI boom and rolling out new features in their product lines that automate basic tasks, while empowering agents to be more productive in a bid to captivate new and existing customers alike.

However, it’s clear that there will be struggles within the industry to adapt. For example, Lifesize, which sells both employee and customer communications tools, filed for bankruptcy last year and sold its assets to Enghouse in June. Twilio is under pressure from activist investors to cut costs, while Salesforce has been subject to layoffs, also as a result of activist investors.

It’s why updated product offerings alone likely won't cut it. To survive in an increasingly digital-first world, vendors are also expanding the audience for modern UCaaS and CCaaS tools – helping them capture more of the overall market – and making key acquisitions that will allow them to continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in enterprise communications.

Below is a look at the tactics key industry players are using to make waves in a market some warn is at-risk of becoming commoditized.


Consolidation is the name of the game

Historically, enterprises tended to purchase their employee and customer communications tools separately. That led to noteworthy partnerships between leading industry vendors within each vertical.

But now, software providers are building more comprehensive enterprise communications platforms – including both enterprise and contact center offerings. For example, long a leader in UCaaS, RingCentral recently rolled-out RingCX, its AI-enabled contact center software. The product is experiencing rapid growth, as the company announced this week that RingCX has been chosen by 100 customers since its launch in November, with multiple accounts exceeding 1,000 agent seats.

“I have rejoined with the ambition of making RingCentral the leader in the AI contact center and sales space,” John Finch, vice president of product marketing, wrote in a recent blog post. “With the acceleration of AI and the opportunity that AI has to positively impact all facets of the customer and sales engagement of businesses today — RingCentral innovation is second to none.”

Others are taking a similar approach. Relative-newcomer Zoom, for example, offers both employee and customer communication tools, as does Cisco, Vonage, 8X8, and Talkdesk.

And while it certainly seems like the move in enterprises more broadly is towards more IT consolidation, there are practical benefits in working with fewer suppliers: tools should have a much tighter integration, and, theoretically, purchasing applications together can help lower technical debt, as it requires buying from fewer vendors. However, that’s often a bit trickier in the real-world, as companies tend to use many different applications from a single vendor and migrating one tool wouldn’t necessarily eliminate a provider from the tech stack entirely.

It also provides the opportunity for greater collaboration between parts of the business that, traditionally, have operated in silos. For example, as UCaaS vendors work to better understand the buying centers for customer service, we could finally see support efforts that incorporate the entire organization. Service agents, aided by AI, can more quickly solicit the input of subject matter experts and provide better help to the customer. In practice, however, most companies have yet to incorporate the broader organization into the service function.


Don’t Ignore YOUR Voice CHANNEL

Even before this latest AI boom, industry observers and experts were writing about the death of voice as a primary service channel. Despite those proclamations, chatbot technology has largely lagged the hype, which has helped keep human agents as a foundational part of the service loop.

While the growth of Generative AI is likely to change that more dramatically in the future, voice-based interactions are not dead yet. In fact, voice is an important part of the customer journey and could be more valuable than ever. When the customer can't self-serve, the option to extend that journey as a seamless engagement to a live CSR, either voice or chat, is an imperative.

It’s becoming clear that AI can help tremendously with basic tasks, like getting answers to commonly-asked questions. But while the new and improved chatbots may enable customers to bypass the phone more often, there will always be more complicated situations that require human intervention. And those are often the most valuable interactions, as it’s an excellent opportunity for companies to differentiate their service.

In other words: while chatbots may be a welcomed feature for consumers, the quality of the voice-based interactions is still a key driver in overall satisfaction. In fact, companies that have tried to fully-automate their contact centers have been met with harsh customer feedback.


Go for the lower-hanging fruit

Many early AI-enabled products aren’t seeking to fully-replace humans. Instead, the immediate goal for most is on automating responses to basic inquiries to shorten help times, and then empowering agents to quickly and sufficiently address those customer inquiries that can’t be handled by a machine.

For example, ASAPP has worked with American Airlines and other corporations on making their contact center employees more productive – not replacing them. With new digital engagement channels addressing the more common customer questions and problems, and humans the complex challenges, satisfaction scores surged 11%.

While the capabilities of these products will certainly grow – and likely take over more of the grunt work from humans – it seems few businesses are ready to completely hand-over the critical function of customer support to an algorithm. And that means vendors must still design their products to work in an environment where machines and agents work in tandem.


USE M&A to push innovation forward

Executives recognize the power of AI, particularly in the contact center. But the rapid influx of applications promising extensive AI features has purchasers understandably skeptical. Businesses today are under extreme budget constraints and can’t risk losing money on a failed IT project.

To make sure their underlying technology is enterprise-ready, vendors are hitting the acquisition market. For example, last year, NICE bought LiveVox Holdings, Inc. for $353 million. And in January, Calabrio bought Wysdom.AIfor an undisclosed price.

But it’s more than just adopting anything with AI in the name. The acquisitions are filling critical gaps in product lines, helping vendors to potentially capture even more business from new and existing customers. For example, privately-held Nextiva, which has a long history in unified communications, recently bought Thrio, which provides cloud-enabled contact center software, another instance of consolidation between the two sectors.

And Genesys recently bought Radarr Technologies, which pegs itself as a “leading AI-based social and digital listening, analytics, and consumer engagement company.” As more companies digitize their operations, they need the ability to manage and monitor customer interactions across those new touchpoints. With Radarr, Genesys can now help its clients to connect with customers on their channel of choice. However, to be successful, Genesys will need to go beyond simple “sentiment analysis,” a feature offered by many other vendors.

While times may be tougher for enterprise communication vendors, it’s also an opportunity to stand-out. By offering more comprehensive platforms, with tools that actually provide value to customers, software providers can improve loyalty and solidify their statuses in the industry for the next decade.

Now, the challenge just becomes turning buzzy marketing speak into reality.