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Dreamforce 2017: Contact Center Stories

  • Having attended Dreamforce 2017 earlier this month in San Francisco, I decided to revisit the slideshow I created three years ago coming out of Salesforce's 2014 event. The Dreamforce 2014 slideshow highlighted contact center vendors that exhibited at the show, as does this one.

    As I compare the two events from a contact center perspective, several changes are worth noting:

    • Of repeat vendors, some have the same branding while others have a modified version as a result of consolidation. Avaya, Five9, and NewVoiceMedia fall in the first category, while NICE inContact is in the second, for example.
    • Several vendors that attended in 2014 chose not to participate in 2017: 8x8, Genesys, Serenova (then LiveOps), and Vocalcom. Cost may have been an issue for some (as I discuss elsewhere in this slideshow, Dreamforce is not for the faint of wallet). For others the decision may have been strategic.
    • There were new contact center faces, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), RingCentral, and Talkdesk.

    Finally, another difference from three years ago is the relevance of Salesforce itself in the contact center space. Although important in 2014, Service Cloud now has omni-channel, artificial intelligence (AI), and Internet of Things (IoT) components that make it a clear rival of pure-play contact center companies.

  • Digital Transformation at Large
    Salesforce chose a broad theme for Dreamforce 2017. While the graphic highlights intelligence as the fourth phase of the industrial revolution, the text more broadly includes not just AI but also robotics and IoT. These are key components of the digital transformations so many enterprises are undertaking, and companies are hungry to understand what's available now and what they should be planning for in the next two to three years.

    Note that we'll be exploring these themes in the Contact Center & Customer Experience track I lead (and elsewhere throughout the program) at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2018, taking place March 12 to 15. (By the way, register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Advance Rate or get a free Expo Plus pass.)

  • Salesforce & Google: the Future Awaits
    As announced at Dreamforce, Salesforce and Google have formed a global strategic partnership. While major news at Dreamforce, it's too early on to understand how significant this partnership will be (I captured the upper graphic in the slide during the main keynote). As is often the case with mega company partnerships (think Cisco and Apple), the real work just begins at announcement time. The integrations highlighted below show the possibilities, while what will really happen remains to be seen -- likely several months to a year from now.

    • G Suite: Real-time collaboration and higher productivity with CRM and G Suite
    • Google Cloud Platform: Salesforce has named Google Cloud as a preferred public cloud provider and will use Google Cloud Platform for international infrastructure expansion of its core services
    • Google Analytics 360: Complete insights about customer journeys to drive smarter engagement

    Those of us hoping for more details from an hour-long fireside chat between Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene left disappointed. The two talked a lot about how they met and how much they like each other, but shared no new product or marketing information. Stay tuned, I guess.

  • Salesforce Blurring the Lines
    This Salesforce slide reinforces what I call the blurring lines between CRM and contact center applications. All of the features touted here are at the very core of what contact center vendors have delivered for years. In one-on-one discussions, Salesforce product managers are quick to say that large contact centers still need systems from vendors like Avaya, Cisco, and Genesys... and that Salesforce wants to work with these companies to best address client needs.

    I think what we have here is a disconnect between marketing and reality -- a disconnect that I fear puts a burden on customers. If you're a customer, you'd be fair in asking, "If Salesforce can do all this, do I need a contact center vendor at all?"

  • Avaya Makes the Trip
    Avaya has a relatively minor financial investment in Dreamforce. The kiosk seen above had a list price of $25,000 (as you'll see in a later slide, a piddling sum compared to what other contact center players spent). But unlike many companies with a small presence, Avaya didn't leave staffing of the booth to local salespeople. Coming up to San Francisco from Avaya's Santa Clara headquarters, Karen Hardy, VP of product marketing and solutions, and Bernard Gutnick, a senior director, greeted me when I dropped by the booth.

    I also attended an Avaya breakout session (which I'm sure had an additional price tag associated with it) on digitizing the customer experience, presented by Jean Turgeon, Avaya VP and chief technologist. The session was well-attended, and Avaya did all the right things during it, which includes presenting a slide that reinforced the partnership it announced with Salesforce earlier this year. Baby steps.

  • Amazon Connects on Contact Center
    While AWS has attended Dreamforce in the past, this was the company's first appearance with its contact center solution, Amazon Connect. In the tiny text on the right of the screen above, AWS led with Connect in describing the joint solutions it has with Salesforce:

    • End-to-End Customer Service Solution with Amazon Connect and Salesforce Sales and Service Cloud Einstein
    • Simplified Customer Engagement with AWS and Salesforce Heroku
    • End-to-End IoT Solution with AWS IoT and Salesforce IoT
    • Connected Analytics Solution with Amazon Redshift and Salesforce Einstein Analytics
    • Smart Voice Apps with Alexa Toolkit and the Salesforce Platform

    I got a demo at the AWS booth from Johannes Fischer, technical lead at Aria Solutions. Aria appeared in my 2014 Dreamforce slideshow as a Genesys partner, which it remains. But this year the Aria team was at Dreamforce showcasing a new integration between Amazon Connect and Salesforce. Aria also presented alongside AWS in a breakout session, "Amazon Connect and Salesforce Deliver Natural and Personal Service."

    Aria's Salesforce Toolkit for Amazon Connect is a collection of pre-built utilities that enable rapid integration between Salesforce and Connect. The toolkit comprises a set of common Lambda functions Connect uses to interact with Salesforce, and a Salesforce package that enables Salesforce integration with Connect through configuration. (AWS Lambda is server-less computing, which lets companies run code without provisioning or managing servers.) AWS created the integration in partnership with Aria.

  • Cisco: All About Spark
    Cisco had a presence at Dreamforce, but as you can see in the slide and booth photo shown here, the Spark team collaboration platform was front and center -- not the company's contact center solutions. The three breakout sessions that Cisco participated in similarly emphasized collaboration tools:

    • Collaborate Like a Rockstar: Fame and Money Without the Sweat
    • Admins of the World, Cisco Spark Collaboration is Here: Enable It!
    • You Can Boost Productivity and Sales with These Powerful Collaboration Tools

    Onsite, as pictured above, was Technical Marketing Manager Amy Roberge, who contact center analysts, customers, and partners know as the queen of Cisco Contact Center demos. From Agent Amy, to Supervisor Amy, to Customer Amy, Roberge helps bring Cisco contact center (and Spark) solutions to life.

  • Five9 Here & There
    Five9, which had a busy booth in 2014, was at Dreamforce again in full force. When I dropped by the booth, John D'Amour, VP, product management; Danny Wang, senior manager, product management; Darryl Addington, director of product marketing; and Brian Schnack, director, product management (from left to right), were on hand. As with Avaya, this high-level booth presence shows the benefits of having headquarters nearby.

    In addition to its own booth, Five9 featured prominently in the Deloitte Digital booth, with joint client AstraZeneca. The talk track from the speaker in the photo on the right was about using Salesforce information to understand the customer journey. Full disclosure, the speaker said Five9 or other vendors, "for example Cisco," could provide the contact center solution showcased.

  • NewVoiceMedia Bets on Salesforce
    NewVoiceMedia, another repeat from 2014, has a lot riding on its partnership with Salesforce. While it's possible to integrate the company's solutions with other CRM platforms, Salesforce users are far and away the market NewVoiceMedia targets.

    As highlighted in the booth signage, in addition to Service Cloud, NewVoiceMedia supports users in Sales Cloud. Inside sales professionals are a user base that several contact center solution providers are seeing as an expanding market opportunity. Five9 and Talkdesk fall in this category, too.

  • NICE, inContact as One
    In October, cloud contact center leader inContact announced it had rebranded as NICE inContact, following its 2016 acquisition by NICE. At the same time, CXone became the brand name for the unified cloud customer experience platform that delivers applications from both inContact and NICE.

    The new branding was on prominent display in the NICE inContact booth in the Customer Success Expo, as was the "Lightning Ready" booth marker that highlights that the company's Salesforce-integrated solution works with Salesforce's latest APIs and clients.

  • RingCentral Doubling-Down on Contact Center
    RingCentral has attended Dreamforce for several years, but this photo helps explain why this year was different from earlier participation. On the far left is John Finch, AVP for contact center product marketing. On the far right is Max Ball, director of contact center product marketing. Finch joined RingCentral last month (from Dialpad), and Ball joined in January (from 8x8). Interesting is the fact that both gentlemen spent time at Genesys -- 11 years between them.

    Like 8x8 before it, RingCentral is visibly doubling-down on contact center -- both with solutions of its own, like Live Reports, and a continuing close partnership with inContact (now NICE inContact, per the previous slide).

  • Talkdesk Mines Titanium Sponsorship
    Talkdesk bet big on Dreamforce this year. Most of the time, that kind of statement would make you wonder how to quantify a "big bet." In the case of Talkdesk's Titanium sponsorship, there's no need to wonder. The public prospectus for Dreamforce specifies that the Titanium sponsorship cost $1.25 million. In addition, Talkdesk was giving away a Porsche at the show; how many chances you had to win was based on how many different interactions with the company you had while at Dreamforce.

    The hefty price tag comes with a host of perks, one of which was a 30" x 30" booth, prominently placed near the entrance to the Customer Success Expo. Another was a video interview of CEO Tiago Paiva with Talkdesk customer Matt Heiss, director of sales operations at Peloton, who also spoke in a conference session (courtesy again of the Titanium partnership). The session, "Peloton Gets Peak Performance From Their Inside Sales Team," highlighted the company's latest product announcement (see related post, "Talkdesk Delves into AI, Sales Style").

  • Celebrating Saleforce
    There's is no doubt that Salesforce knows how to throw a party. The photo on the upper left was taken at the end of a presentation about 21st Century Fox. The Salesforce presenter wore an Oscar-worthy ball gown and ended with confetti streaming through the Moscone Conference Center, home of Dreamforce. While just one moment, I think it's illustrative of the vibe at Dreamforce 2017.

    A special thank you to Anne Chen, Cathleen Obata (pictured), Michael Ellis (pictured) and Carolina Roulades, all of Salesforce's market strategy team. They helped all of us in the analyst and press world successfully navigate the massive event -- sometimes quite literally!

    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 Advance Rate or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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A look at Salesforce's mega conference through a contact center lens