Four major Contact Center developments in three weeks.
After the Cisco Collaboration Summit, Cisco hosted a separate add-on day focused on contact center (what they now call Customer Journey Solutions). It was a good time to catch up with Cisco and meet the recently anointed leader of Cisco Customer Journeys Vasili Triant. The main message there was everything is great, but also how everything is about to change. The Transera contact center (now the Customer Journey Platform) is very powerful. Too powerful for BroadSoft, but not too powerful for Cisco. It will be very interesting to watch what Cisco does with it.
The following week I attended an AVAYA APAC event that allowed me to meet my first bona-fide BPO. Although technically it was a UC and Contact Center event, when you put that many BPOs in a room, along with Jim Chirico and Laurent Philonenko, it becomes a contact center event. The company made several announcements there including their new predictive analytics partnership with Afiniti. Predictive routing is an intriguing concept. The news was well covered by Brent Kelly and Dan Miller. Avaya is moving at a breakneck pace. I did a lengthy research note on Avaya just last January, so much has already changed that I lowered the price 60%.
Ironically, Afiniti CEO Zia Chishti was speaking at an Aspect event the day the Avaya-Afiniti partnership was announced.
Next week I will be at the Avaya Europe event in Manchester followed by UCExpo in London.
Then came Genesys CX18. This event had a pretty small analyst track, but I felt I needed to attend because the last three events were #fails.
[CX17 in Indy was so soon after the acquisition that the amount of contradictions were almost comical. Genesys had barely figured out that ININ put a deposit down on the venue. Before that, at the last G-Force event, the conference was rudely disrupted by a hurricane in Miami. I was unable to attend their dedicated analyst event last year].
The main theme of CX18 was AI. They opened a conference with a clever argument between the host and a chatbot, powered by Genesys AI Kate, that argued who was better qualified host.
Ironically, Genesys also announced a predictive routing capability. This announcement came eight days after the Avaya-Afiniti announcement (tis the season for predictive routing), so I was a little surprised by the wording in the press release:
“With Predictive Routing, Genesys pushes its existing customer experience leadership light-years ahead.”
You can learn more about the predictive routing news from Michelle’s post. However, it is clear that Genesys is all over AI. Genesys puts all of its AI activities under the Kate brand. Kate is not a product. I consider kate a brand, but they insist it’s a platform. It’s really a loose collection of technologies, features, and capabilities that use machine learning for self service and assisted services.
With Avaya, I usually get the tech, and then spend effort figuring out the customer benefits.
With Genesys, I usually get the customer benefits, and then spend effort figuring out the underlying tech.
The three events above were all planned on my calendar. Rowan Trollope’s move from SVP GM of Cisco Collaboration to CEO of Five9 was unexpected. I am hearing now, after the fact, a lot people saying they predicted it. And, perhaps they did. I didn’t see it coming. I saw Rowan at the Summit just a few weeks before and he seemed highly engaged (perhaps intending to go out with a bang). I considered the opening two-hour keynote, to be one of the best keynotes I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot). Several of Rowan’s direct reports told me they were also surprised by his departure (but they didn’t indicate when they found out).
Five9 is a curious destination. It’s a relatively tiny company. I’ve spoken to Rowan since he’s arrived there and he’s pumped. He see’s the contact center as a “tired” space and feels it is ripe for some innovation and disruption.
At his farewell, all-hands meeting at Cisco (I wasn’t there, but confirmed this through multiple sources) he was asked about leaving Cisco for a competitor. He said, Cisco doesn’t have a [cloud] contact center. [Ouch].
While that may be up for debate with many, it’s not with Rowan. IMO he’s already moved-on in his mind of what a cloud contact center should be, and it’s not currently available.
[Related: Zeus and I discuss Rowan’s Departure].
Thoughts about the Contact Center
I find the contact center a fascinating juxtaposition of archaic and futuristic technologies. Most contact center technologies are very mature and are seeing little to no improvements. I am talking about the ACD and skills based routing. There’s some new concepts that are taking years to build traction (such as virtual hold and omnichannel). I’ve been writing and reading about omnichannel for a decade (back to when it included fax), yet it’s still an exception rather than rule (my Twitter Rant).
What interests me is how AI can turn the contact center upside-down. Here’s an example from the Genesys booth. It was a demo of blended AI (AI assisting a human agent). It was a simple, natural language translation demo.
The customer/prospect types a question in a foreign language into a chat dialog. The speech AI detects the language, properly translates it to English, and then routes it to an (English speaking) agent. The agent types a response (in English) which the customer/prospect sees in their native language. This is a parlor trick with today’s speech and language technologies, but to the contact center it turns skills-based routing upside-down. It is routing the skills rather than routing the session to the skill. We are going to see huge changes in what agents do and where they do it.
AI is evolving very quickly (inside and outside the contact center). Currently, it is very difficult to evaluate differences in competitive AI solutions. It’s better to focus on the data sources. More on this coming.
Predictive Routing is a radically new concept, but it only offers an incremental improvement to an existing process. The bigger opportunities won’t be incremental improvements.I believe that the contact center is going to radically change very quickly. AI is a part of it, but there’s much more.
This is what I am guessing has Rowan excited. He tells me he wants to make the boring and sleepy parts of the industry dynamic and fascinating. It’s a great quest, but he’s not alone. Certainly Cisco, Avaya, and Genesys have similar goals. Amazon shook things up last year with its usage based model. Amazon’s contact center is brain-dead today, but Amazon isn’t. It has in-house all of the technologies, people, innovation, and wherewithal to really shake things up. Twilio and Nexmo offer the tools to make highly innovative (and custom) solutions.
[related: see this Fonolo video discussion on Twilio and contact center models]
The contact center business is still largely a premises-based business. That’s obviously changing, and that migration is clearly underway. But, this isn’t just about opex and outsourcing. The contact center license is just a small part of the TCO of a contact center. The servers, IT skills, agents, and redundancies make the license a relatively minor part of the TCO. This creates an opportunity for CCaaS providers to use operations and services to increase their share of a customer’s spend without necessarily increasing total spend. This makes development of CCaaS far more lucrative than the development of contact center software. And, since the capex and operational complexities are hidden, CCaaS simultaneously expands the total addressable market.
That’s the current story and evolution, and enough for a decent drama. But, on top of all that is a shift in how customers and prospects actually engage with their vendors. In consumer and business communications we are seeing a shift from a voice-centric model to a messaging-centric model. Yet, the contact center remains mostly voice-centric (and on prem).
What excites me about this space is how totally new concepts will redefine it. For example, Avaya’s Mobile Experience represents a radical change in approach and future. Today, it’s a carrier play, but the road map and potential that it offers has game-changing implications. It’s the first contact center solution I’ve seen that deserves a “mobile-first” label. [Learn more about Avaya Mobile Experience with Michael’s Post, BCStrategies Podcast, and this TalkingHeadz Video.]
Everything is about to change. The nature of engagements, the technology that processes it, and radical new AI-enabled concepts geared for our mobile-centric reality. Contact centers may actually become the proactive, profit centers the vendors promise. Although many aspects of AI are over hyped (like chatbots) it does have huge potential in not-yet-obvious ways.