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Contact center-as-a-service platforms here, but face hurdles

Cloud contact center platforms offer promise, migrating agents into a flexible environment. Contact centers, a long-established on-premises IT world, are slowly starting to adopt them.

Contact center-as-a-service vendors have a tough battle against established vendors in the platform space, as both established vendors and newcomers have much to offer. But as the likes of Cisco, Genesys, and Mitel slowly pivot their longtime users to the cloud, upstarts such as TCN, Talkdesk and Twilio make the case to customers to replace the older systems with their native cloud offerings.

The old and the new were on display at the ICMI Contact Center Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in May 2019. Some contact center leaders were considering their technology options, as cloud services become easier to adopt as APIs create cleaner migrations, and the industry moves to support all customer communication channels at once.

The challenge most managers must overcome, however, is disturbing the equilibrium of a call center's performance; most call centers have sharpened their methods of decreasing hold times, time-to-answer and other custom metrics by standardizing training and how they use their current tech stacks.

Gap analysis not optional

For established contact centers, changing to new software -- even if it may be easier to use or more intuitive for voice, video and chat customer service -- involves creating new procedures to support new platforms, too.

Worse yet, different vendors measure the same metrics differently, making direct comparisons difficult during the purchasing cycle, said Diane Halliwell, contact center practice lead at Technology Trends Group, a consulting firm.

Many tech leads, Halliwell added, also aren't always aware of how deep the roots of their existing platforms extend outside the contact center because they sometimes buy before doing a full gap analysis of how to support the new systems launch.

[CCaaS] is getting good traction, but sometimes it's not a good fit, and they don't find that out until afterwards.
Diane Halliwell Content center practice lead, Technology Trends Group

"[Contact center as a service (CCaaS)] is getting good traction, but sometimes it's not a good fit, and they don't find that out until afterwards because if you have a Genesys, you've built these amazing, tight integrations with some really strange back-office systems," she said. "You'd better darn well identify what you've got."

Given that, for startups and midmarket businesses, CCaaS systems can be a natural fit because there are fewer enterprise IT integrations to replace. Many come with their own telephony enabling agents to work from anywhere, as long as they have an internet connection and a headset.

TCN, established in 1999 as an early cloud CCaaS vendor, began competing with hardware-based call center vendors, pointed out Darrin Bird, the company's executive vice president and COO. Then, the competition eventually moved to on-premises software applications; by now most of the traditional vendors have released cloud platforms themselves. TCN found its place with medium-sized businesses with contact centers with fewer than 100 seats, making its way into financial markets as VoIP technology evolved over the years.

Medium-sized contact centers "are underserved as far as [software vendor] customer support. They overspend for what they usually get because they don't know what to do so they go out to buy a really expensive technology and they only use part of it," Bird said.

At ICMI Contact Center Expo, TCN introduced AI tools to help agents find answers to tricky customer questions.

CCaaS moving upmarket

The key to some CCaaS vendors' success competing with established contact center platform vendors can be tight integration to CRMs such as Salesforce. Cloud call center vendor 8x8 did just that, and is now expanding its all-channel integrations to different CRM platforms (Salesforce is still the leader among 8x8 customers) and is building tech that helps companies service "generation CX," as John DeLozier, 8x8's channel chief puts it.

CCaaS platforms, DeLozier said, offer contact centers a fresh start that might be more complicated when they're operating with a legacy tech stack.

"Our customers have all of these old platforms, siloed, that they've picked up over the years, whether it's contact center, UC, analytics platforms," DeLozier said. "It doesn't matter if they're in the cloud or not, they're still siloed and separate and none of them are speaking with each other. They're lacking in speed, they're lacking in collaboration, and they certainly can't measure it all."

Meanwhile, Halliwell warned that contact center technology buyers should be aware that despite the enticements of making that new start, they must understand their company's customer service needs and workflow to evaluate the impact of moving to CCaaS from the traditional tech stack. It can be a costly mistake to not fully absorb how data moves through the various applications in order to accurately measure contact center performance -- including what the chatbots are doing -- and generate the reports that are at the core of customer service, as well as justification for technology buys.

"They've got to look at it before the sale," Halliwell said. If they don't, "after they make the sale, then there's all this fact-finding and discovery and they get killed on the implementation side because they haven't done the homework upfront," he said.

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