When customers call into contact centers today, they're increasingly doing so only after trying other steps to solve their problems or get answers to their questions. They have likely tried addressing their needs via some kind of self-service initiative -- searching for information on a company's website, using Web chat, or sending email requests. They may also have reached out on social media or tried using mobile applications.
In 2015, the importance of these non-voice channels became clearer than ever. And solution providers and customers are scrambling to create offers and deploy applications that match this reality.
What a difference 10 years makes. For almost a decade, contact center pundits have forecast that first email, then Web chat, social media and, most recently, mobile application interactions would inalterably change the contact center landscape. It turns out that it is not any single digital channel but a combination of them all that is heralding a new era in customer care. After years of steady change, the tipping point is upon us.
The most thought-provoking prediction from Dimension Data's 2015 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report -- published in February 2015 -- is that digital interactions will overtake agent-assisted ones by the end of 2016 (see related post, Engagement Models: Go Digital or Die).
If one word encapsulates the contact center market in 2015, "context" is it. From Aspect's Context Cookies to Cisco's Context Services to Avaya's Context Server, contact center solution companies are working hard to make it easier for agents to understand what steps customers have before calling or, increasingly, digitally contacting an organization (see related post, Context: The New Holy Grail).
Context drives the ability of companies to more accurately optimize a customer's journey, which is another major contact center theme of 2015.
Genesys is one of the solution providers that started including customer journey components in its marketing messages and products in 2015. This slide does a great job of communicating the difference between a random and a designed journey. During a random journey, a customer gets more and more frustrated. A designed journey is driven by analytics -- information that helps shorten the journey and deliver a better customer experience. Genesys has said to expect even more sophisticated journey analytics from it in 2016.
8x8 was one of several companies that moved to create a solid offer combining cloud-based contact center and unified communications as a service (UCaaS). The company began in 2007 by reselling a contact center solution, from Contactual. By 2011 8x8 was accounting for more than 10% of Contactual's business and acquired the company.
In 2015, 8x8 increased its focus on contact center, making two additional acquisitions that provide capabilities larger centers typically require: quality monitoring and predictive outbound. Combined with 2014's hiring of strong enterprise contact center talent from Genesys, Max Ball and Darryl Addington, 8x8 is betting that the market is ready for a combined UC+CC as a service enterprise offer (see related post, 8x8: Crossing the Enterprise Chasm).
Until the past year or so, cloud-based communications applications were delivered from vendor or service provider data centers. The rise of public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google has meant companies are exploring new alternatives for the delivery of contact center as a service.
Interactive Intelligence announced in 2014 that its next-gen applications, on the PureCloud platform, would be delivered from AWS. In January 2015, Avaya announced Customer Engagement OnAvaya Powered by Google Cloud Platform. In October 2015, inContact described how it has virtualized its application clusters so that than are public-cloud agnostic, with one cluster already operational in AWS.
For several years we've been discussing the notion that integration of two different applications could be eased if both were in the cloud. Certainly the success of Salesforce.com's cloud-based CRM application and more recently Zendesk for customer support are seen as drivers of cloud-based contact center adoption.
This year's partnership between RingCentral and inContact took cloud application integration to a new level. Instead of spending "2.5 years and $10 million" building its own contact center application, RingCentral partnered to integrate its UCaaS offering with inContact's CCaaS offering. The companies have a data center-to-data center integration, which may prove to be a model for application integration in the future.
If cloud has been the big deployment model story of the past few years, hybrid models became an important focus in 2015. In July, I participated in an Enterprise Connect/No Jitter webinar, sponsored by Interactive Intelligence, that explored the differences among private cloud, single-tenant, multi-tenant, and hybrid deployment options. At the end of the hour, we polled attendees about which model resonated most with them.
The strong showing for a hybrid model in the poll results reinforces the fact that a wholesale move to the cloud does not work for many companies. It is incumbent upon contact center solution providers to, in the words of the Cisco Collaboration marketing strategists, help customers "extend the value" of the investments they have already made.
As in other parts of the communications market, consolidation is a continuing theme in the contact center segment. Notable moves in 2015 include:
Avaya's acquisition of KnoahSoft to add in-house workforce optimization
8x8's acquisitions of U.K. outbound application provider DXI and quality management application company QSC
The separation of the LiveOps contact center SaaS and BPO businesses, with the former's sale to private equity firm Marlin Ventures
Genesys's acquisition of self-service technology company SpeechStorm
ShoreTel's acquisition of contact center platform company Corvisa
API developer programs and marketplaces are not new to the contact center world, but they did pick up pace in 2015. In October, Genesys launched AppFoundry as a marketplace for third-party applications and integrations. AppFoundry started with an impressive list of participating partners (30+) and available listings (77).
In December, with the launch of Cisco Spark Calling Service, Cisco announced the Spark Developer Program. Cisco's Spark does not have a contact center application, but an integration with early program participant Altocloud, as shown here, can be used to create a secure messaging platform for context-rich chats between prospects or customers and sales or support people within a business.
In October 2015, Joe Manuele left his position as vice president of global cloud services at Avaya, where he had been leading the charge on efforts like Customer Engagement OnAvaya Powered by Google Cloud Platform, to become group head of Dimension Data's Communications business. With contact center partners that include Genesys, Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya, and Interactive Intelligence, we can expect Manuele to continue his efforts to help enterprises migrate to the cloud over time.
Brian Spencer came to Mitel in 2014 with the acquisition of workforce optimization company Oaisys, of which he had been CEO. In July 2015, he became general manager of the company's Contact Center Division.
At a Mitel analyst event last November, Spencer shared a simple two-pronged strategy: Give great customer experience solutions to Mitel voice platform users, and lead customers through the mobile transformation of consumers. It will be interesting to see how Spencer incorporates elements from the Mavenir acquisition in his execution of the second strategy.
As I noted some time ago on No Jitter, the overlap between CRM and contact solutions is increasing (see post, The Blurring Line between CRM and Contact Center Software). Last year the line continued to blur. For example, NewVoiceMedia has come into the North American market. It is a cloud-based contact center provider that has built its application largely on the Salesforce Force.com platform and targets exclusively Salesforce.com users. In December, cloud CRM vendor Zendesk announced general availability of Advanced Voice, a significantly enhanced version of its phone support offering delivered as part of Zendesk's platform. This is a single platform that delivers both CRM and contact center services from the cloud, albeit for smaller companies... for now.
The contact center-related news and trends of 2015 have informed our decisions on topics for the Contact Center track at Enterprise Connect 2016, March 7 to 10, in Orlando, Fla. Many of the solution providers will be sharing their views during five contact center sessions focused on customer journey management, cloud and other deployment models, and analytics. Join me at Enterprise Connect, where I'll be moderating the Contact Center track; register now using the code NJPOST to receive $200 off the current conference price.
The contact center is increasingly about the journey.