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Who Will Your Next Contact Center Provider Be?

With the advent of cloud-delivered contact center services, we’ve seen unprecedented reshuffling of the contact center market. Although we’re still in the early innings, with less than 15% of the market using cloud solutions, we’ve already seen two cloud vendors, Five9 and Nice inContact, push above the $300 million run-rate mark. If they sustain growth rates of more than 25%, they’ll be billion-dollar companies in five years, challenging Avaya, Cisco, and Genesys -- the dominant players for more than a decade. This is somewhat unheard of in a market that has historically favored incumbent providers.
While this battle captures attention, numerous players from adjacent markets also are entering the space, aspiring to become your new contact center provider. This is another departure from what we’ve seen in the past when this market felt “protected” by a moat. Today, I’d like to offer a broad perspective on these changes.
Cloud Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS)
The contact center market has historically been a difficult one to penetrate. Its intricacies have given a leg up to existing participants. The transition to the cloud has challenged the evolution of existing software. After porting their solutions to the cloud, all legacy players made acquisitions to better address cloud requirements. Avaya bought Spoken, Cisco purchased BroadSoft/Transera, and Genesys brought on Interactive Intelligence. The situation has opened the door to many new entrants. Today, I count 115 CCaaS providers, up almost 20% from a year ago.
CCaaS providers initially targeted SMBs, in the lowest end of the market, and have been moving up into the next segment every year. This incremental penetration phase ended last year. In 2018, the market pivoted and accepted the cloud as the destination across all size bands. It doesn’t mean that all enterprises are pulling the trigger on CCaaS solutions. The industry still has hurdles to address. But most companies are now making their investment decisions having in mind that the cloud is the endpoint. This is creating tremendous opportunities for new entrants, as witnessed with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Twilio getting into the space with their respective Amazon Connect and Twilio Flex offerings.
Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS)
Communications vendors have always offered contact center capabilities but focused on making them available as platform extensions, targeting simple deployments. After 8x8 purchased Contactual in 2011, UCaaS providers started to add contact centers to their price lists as well.
In 2018, several things changed. 8x8 reformatted its offering, blending communications and contact center in a set of packages including different levels of customer interaction capabilities. RingCentral made two acquisitions; the first, Dimelo, focused on digital channels, and the second, Connect First, on outbound calling. It also decided to continue reselling Nice inContact. Vonage, after purchasing communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) provider Nexmo a few years ago, bought NewVoiceMedia for its CCaaS offering. It keeps on reselling Nice inContact, too. These moves demonstrate an appetite not just for offering contact centers, but also for providing best-of-breed solutions. A UCaaS vendor could very well become your next contact center provider.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
CRM has overlapped with contact centers for many years. Siebel once reported call centers represented 30% of its business. While CRM vendors have kept on adding digital channels and self-service capabilities, they stayed away from voice, integrating with contact center solutions instead. They grew as a vendor of reference for digital channels.
A couple of years ago, Freshdesk, Zendesk, and Zoho jumped on the contact center bandwagon and added call center capabilities. They’re now offering complete CRM and contact center suites. Salesforce has embarked on a different path. It built an omnichannel routing engine. It still relies on third-party solutions for voice but, in its most advanced configuration, only uses them for telephony connection and IVR. We’re getting closer to CRM vendors being able to provide contact centers.
Digital Customer Service
Every new digital channel generated a cohort of startups providing best-of-breed functionality for it. Over time, the remaining vendors have been adding support for the other digital channels. Examples of companies that built such digital customer service suites are eGain, starting with email; LivePerson, starting with chat; and Helpshift, starting with mobile in-app.
Many large companies that operate with separate groups of agents for voice and digital channels are using these solutions for their digital operations. They can integrate with voice and call centers. With the growing prominence of digital touchpoints, they’re vying to be the system of reference for your contact center as well.
Low-Code Platforms
Low-code platforms are the latest iteration of business process management (BPM) software. They excel in building desktop applications that can connect to multiple back-end applications or implement sophisticated workflows. These are both key issues for contact centers, particularly in industries like healthcare.
Vendors like Appian or Pegasystems have packaged contact center solutions that leverage their workflow engines to distribute interactions and handle resolutions. ServiceNow, with its workflow-based CRM, is following a similar path. These solutions handle all digital channels. Most players support basic voice using CPaaS and integrate with call center applications for more demanding use cases. Tomorrow, they may also become your contact center providers.
CPaaS vendors such as Twilio or Vonage Nexmo have been providing new and compelling ways for developers to add voice to their applications. They started to create pre-built components such as a task router to distribute interactions or to package contact center building blocks such as IVRs.
The CPaaS approach is enjoying traction with enterprises looking at a deep integration of their contact center with other technologies and applications or that want flexibility for adding other channels. AWS has a similar approach with its deep integration of the Amazon Connect CCaaS offering into the Amazon cloud infrastructure and its myriad of services. These vendors definitely aim to be your next contact center provider.
So What?
In a relatively short timeframe, the contact center industry has seen a flurry of new players coming from different horizons. The days when you could look at a single category are gone; you need to start watching the market adjacencies.
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De Kouchkovsky is writing on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.