The Next-Gen Contact Center space is alive and well.

by Larry on December 8, 2013

I tweeted last week, wondering (out loud, of course) whether it was just me or whether there was indeed an increase in talk about the next generation contact center. Could be a bit of both, I suppose, so I thought I’d share some of what I was basing this presumption on.

1. The Twilio Factor: It started with Twilio, actually. For months now, since their splash at EnterpriseConnect 2013, I’ve been watching them shift from a developer-only business to one seemingly obsessed with the contact center.

Twilio’s marketing machine – if anyone’s – has what it takes to get these people’s attention, not to mention that there are plenty of high volume contact centers being run by 20 & 30-somethings, who will welcome the idea that they can build or modify as their heart desires.

I stumbled on this video of Jeff Lawson, Twilio founder/CEO, from their TwilioCon conference this past September. The video conveniently starts at the beginning of his contact center address, as he speaks of the industry, along with why and how Twilio will successfully play in it. If nothing else, Jeff’s creative monologue on why legacy vendors’ contact center platforms are as antiquated as the dawn of the internet, is well worth watching. The formula he constructed to determine that the contact center a given enterprise is using today was likely architected as many as 15 years ago, is very entertaining! 

2. Startups: Watching Twilio, and having been to DreamForce recently, got me thinking of some of the exciting startups changing the way people think about the contact center. A handful of them – like DatalotRingDNA and Ifbyphone - are tackling the contact center with a focus on marketing unlike any we have seen from the legacy crowd.

Leveraging their respective strengths in online marketing analytics, these companies are aiming to change what people think of when they hear the age-old terms ‘intelligent, or skills-based routing’. Traditionally this meant taking information inputted into a company IVR to determine what agent group should handle the call. Or, by using caller ID to pull up a file on the caller, it implied sending callers where they would be best served – based on their history, or account standing for example. These upstarts are taking this many steps further, leveraging both historical and real time marketing information (think website cookies, keywords, and more) to make real time decisions about what to do with a call (think sending a call to the front of the line, or to a given specialist to increase conversion propensity and decrease cost CAC/cost of customer acquisition). Beyond the fancy features, this directions suggest a shift from selling to the CIO to selling call center services to the CMO.

I also had the pleasure of talking with the founder of TalkDesk this week, who’s growth metrics and customer list are impressive. They’re taking the ‘hard’ out of contact center, and in doing so successfully bringing it down to the mid-market, where buyers have realized that you don’t have to have 100 agents (or even 50) to consider yourself a contact center prospect.

3. UC, the cloud & the Contact Center collide: Since it was coined and still today, people love to debate the real meaning, or value in Unified Communications. But one thing has become increasingly clear – the contact center is part of it. Indeed, perhaps contact center agents/reps – be it for sales or service – actually leverage UC far more than the average, so this thinking pencils out.

The vendors seem to agree, or at least those who are doing well with the contact center do. In conversation with an executive at one of Broadsoft fastest growing service providers, it was clear that the contact center had become core to their business. And more importantly to them, by having focused on it early on, it also has become what differentiates them from the many others.

Also, I received a marketing outreach from the CTO of ThinkingPhone Networks  - a Gartner-anointed leader in enterprise hosted UC. He spoke to the value of a contact center being integrated into the balance of a UC system (especially for mid-market companies), and the enormous data stack just waiting to be leveraged in that environment (think Big Data meets UC). Lastly, he also mentioned this, that I found both of interest and to be a potentially big market driver going forward:

 More and more, we see the concept of a casual or part-time contact center user being employed.T his could be an engineer, a developer, an accountant, or another specialized employee who deals with only certain types of questions or requests. 

4. The Enterprise is listening: Lastly, a posting from UC Strategies came across my screen -called ‘Glimpses of the Next-Gen Contact Center’. The contents suggests to me that the customer service revolution, combined with the mainstreaming of the cloud, is getting real attention out there. Of course, Amazon’s launch of Mayday has not hurt. Here is what the author believes are the cornerstones of the future call center:

  • Cloud Everywhere – accessing a Contact Center rep through a cloud-based service will be the majority of customer service calls in the near future
  • Real-time feedback on quality experience – through metrics and real-time feedback, Contact Centers will be able to better gauge how they are performing
  • Better analytics (Big Data integration) – Big data will have a huge impact on creating metrics and analytics for better measuring the Customer Service experience
  • Apps Growth – Apps will continue to drive opportunities to connect directly with customers
  • Mobility to the Contact Center – Mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets, and laptop/tablet hybrids, will become a key means to communicating to the Contact Center
  • Video Customer Service – Video, which to date has gotten little traction in the Contact Center arena, will become the mainstay means of communication in the near future

The contact center is alive, if you ask me. Like any other market segment under attack from upstarts, in this case by the likes Twilio and many others, the incumbents will not go down without a fight. And in the contact center arena, the incumbents are many, are huge in many cases, have very deep pockets and even deeper customer lists. The next several years promise to be the most fun the call center has ever seen. Hmmm, and I didn’t even mention WebRTC :-) .

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