"Times They Are A-Changin'" for Contact Centers

The winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, Bob Dylan, got it right when he wrote the immortal, "The Times They Are A-Changin'." While "Mr. Zimmerman" was writing about the societal changes of the 1960s, the sentiment is appropriate for today's business communications industry.

We're facing huge forces of disruption, especially when looking at the contact center or customer experience environment. New technologies and new players are changing the way organizations should be viewing their customer interaction options.

As noted in a recent UCStrategies podcast, enterprises today have new ways of accessing contact center capabilities without having to purchase and deploy a purpose-built platform generally comprising an ACD integrated with PBX, as they historically have done. The traditional contact center isn't going away any time soon, but enterprises definitely need to rethink how they approach customer engagement and interaction.

As Chris Vitek, a consultant with Cognizant, wrote in a recent No Jitter post, Salesforce has been disrupting the market. For example, it has introduced Live Agent for real-time chat, Omni-Channel for skills-based routing, and SOS video chat and screen sharing. As he wrote, "If you thought you would always have ACD from Aspect, Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, or Unify in your contact center, then think again -- and start following Salesforce, because it is going to unplug a lot of these systems."

That said, it's important to note that Salesforce did not invent the idea of unifying contact center and CRM technology. Ten years ago Oracle bought [email protected] to do so, and in 2007 SAP acquired Wicom Communications in order to add real-time communications to its own leading CRM product lines.

Today WebRTC is changing the game for both contact center and CRM players. For example, Zendesk uses WebRTC and Twilio APIs to enable users to "talk it out," or speak with an agent as needed. Zendesk has built Twilio-powered phone support right into its software, enabling Web users to initiate voice calls with agents directly from their browsers.

And, as discussed previously on No Jitter, Microsoft recently selected CaféX as its preferred omnichannel solution provider for its cloud CRM offering, Dynamics 365. CaféX is providing its WebRTC-based chat, co-browsing, voice, and video capabilities for Dynamics 365, and Dynamics 365 users can leverage the CaféX routing engine to route voice calls and chats to agents, while bypassing the contact center. Going beyond a typical integration, Microsoft will host the CaféX omnichannel capabilities in the Azure cloud, and is the two companies have joint road map and engineering development plans, along with joint sales and go-to-market efforts.

Non-traditional vendors are getting into the game customer experience game, too. For example, Facebook and other social media and messaging players are making it easier for customers to contact businesses for customer care and sales, bypassing the typical methods. Facebook has gotten a lot of buzz about its Messenger platform, which allows customers to connect with businesses directly through the Messenger app. Using chat bots, the Messenger platform lets customers chat with an automated system, creating interactive personalized experiences for consumers that include automated customer support, e-commerce guidance, and content sharing (see related No Jitter post, " The Bots Are Coming"). And Kik, whose messaging app has about 200 million active users (mainly teens), also has gotten into chat bots.

Another approach that circumvents the traditional contact center paradigm is QLive, from Metropolis Technologies. QLive doesn't require a contact center or ACD, instead leveraging the auto-attendant and hunt group capabilities of a basic PBX to let organizations manage incoming calls with real-time visibility.

As businesses look for new ways to improve the customer experience, vendors are coming forward with new solutions aimed at eliminating or reducing the need for "traditional" contact center technology. If you don't make changes, your company may be "Knockin on Heaven's Door."

Follow Blair Pleasant on Twitter and Google+!
@blairplez
Blair Pleasant on Google+