Thirty Six Hours in the Biodome; AI-Infused Contact Centers are Humming Along at Enterprise Connect19
After a year hiatus I was back in the Biodome last week for Enterprise Connect19, and things couldn’t have been better for this contact center analyst. From its voice roots of unified messaging in the early 2000’s, the original VoiceCon show quickly morphed into the Enterprise Connect ‘showcase for all things unified communications (UC)’. Contact center, for the longest time, took a back seat to UC in subsequent shows, but started to show significant traction when I was last there in 2017. In 2019 the two are deeply entwined, with a lot to offer customers who are looking to transform their businesses.
While there were many themes at the show I’d like to highlight two within customer care; Platform 3.0 and the infusion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) across the Enterprise Connect show floor.
AI Infusion or Invasion?
As with the predecessor trend omnichannel (still alive and refining), the infusion of AI across the customer contact landscape has slowly been growing in speed and credibility for a number of years now. During this time there have been myriad solutions introduced under the umbrella of AI, which also draws from adjacent technologies such as natural language speech understanding (NLU), machine learning (ml), and others. These include virtual assistants (VAs), bots, intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs), intelligent routing, predictive customer engagement, and enhanced analytics capabilities, and others. As with omnichannel, with its promise of completely integrated channels on all levels, AI has been hyped as a panacea across customer care, but more often has been deep in a few solutions, but not broadly applied within vendor portfolios or individual contact centers.
In fact, even two years ago it was rare to find a company utilizing the bulk of these maturing technologies to infuse capabilities across their company portfolios. A handful of companies, including, but not limited to, Aspect, Genesys, Nuance, TTEC, NTT/Dimension Data, and Verizon Business, did take the position that deploying AI and related technologies are as much a long-term strategy as they are a set of products. These and a growing set of additional companies started to develop solutions and go-to-market strategies around the idea that these maturing technologies should be woven into all product sets. Predictive, prescriptive, and behavioral analytics, more powerful and capable self-service options, more intelligent front and back office automations, and guided assistance for workers became central themes of product development. Equally important is that this growing cadre of providers has also kept customers at the center of marketing and professional services efforts by ensuring they present the umbrella of AI-infused offerings in a way that fosters understanding by customers of what is possible, yet allows them to adopt these solutions at a pace that makes sense for their businesses.
On the show floor the theme of AI was everywhere, but with a new awareness of the last point I made. How do these products fit into existing contact centers, how are they best adopted, and how do they fit together to improve the customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX)? This awareness dovetails with another sub- theme I saw at the show, which was rather than cloud, cloud, cloud, it’s about moving as it makes sense to a business, with a lot of companies, such as Avaya, Cisco, Genesys and others voicing that hybrid environments are growing in importance, enabling customers to try and buy or adopt AI-infused solutions by using the cloud, while moving the rest to the cloud when the customer is ready.
Of note, a number of full service contact center providers announced or showcased robust, broad inclusion of AI umbrella technologies. For example:
- 8×8 showed that it is infusing AI, machine learning and analytics into its voice, video, collaboration and contact center products, hitting both the UC and CC sides.
- AWS previewed its new AI-powered speech analytics solution for Amazon Connect. This uses Amazon Transcribe for speech recognition and text transcription of each call, and Amazon Comprehend to analyze the interaction, perform sentiment analysis, and identify key words and phrases in the conversation. It also uses Amazon Translate to translate the conversation into the agent’s preferred language.
- Calabrio introduced the latest release of its Customer Experience Intelligence Suite, with a completely re-designed user-interface (UI) and AI-fueled analytics.
- Content Guru unveiled its latest developments in virtual agent technology, with ‘the brain Virtual Agent ‘that sits alongside its storm cloud contact center platform. It utilizes NLU and AI for conversational voice and Web self-service.
- Five9 announced its spring release of Five9 Genius Intelligent Cloud Contact Center with an AI enablement layer, AI connectors, AI services, an Google proof of concepts.
- LogMeIn unveiled a new UCC brand that brings together the company’s comprehensive portfolio of communication and collaboration products into a unified offering. It also announced the combination of agent productivity and AI under a unified product, now called Bold360 AI. This solution provides conversational AI, knowledge management and analytics for self-service bots, seamless handoffs to live agents, and agent assistance.
- Masergy announced a new AI-driven intelligent Virtual Agent (powered by Inference Solutions) that integrates chatbot and queuing features for its UCaaS and CCaaS solutions.
- NICE showcased its CXone cloud contact center platform that utilizes AI in all core areas including its recently launched Enhanced Strategic Planner for long range forecasting. It also demonstrated NEVA, the NICE Employee Virtual Attendant, which is a robotic assistant for all employees, and tools for robotic process automation (RPA), such as its Automation Finder, which uncovers new areas suitable for automation.
- Talkdesk demonstrated its recently announced Talkdesk iQ. Infused throughout the Talkdesk platform, it enables customers to make use of AI to improve CX and EX. For instance, the company announced AI-infused workforce management, that keeps the employee at the center with features such as self-service shift swaps and time off requests accessible from the agent desktop or their mobile device, and predictive analytics for long-term staffing decisions.
The above was just a smattering of what was showcased using AI. An additional theme on the show floor was what could be termed platform 3.0. Here I just wanted to point out that we have had premise-based platforms and numerous versions of cloud over the past decade. Then newer entrants such as Talkdesk, Sharpen, CoreDial and others entered with cloud API-based platforms with core contact center functions, supplemented by rich marketplaces of add-ons. Shortly thereafter emerged companies such as Twilio and Amazon with basic functionality along with build your own capabilities, and partner/marketplace offerings. All of these raced to provide APIs to allow for the easy addition of emerging applications such as the AI-based applications mentioned above.
Enter the next-gen platform. I couldn’t get to everyone, but a couple stood out. Thrio and Edifyare the newest entrants to the contact center family, with designs that have taken advantage of all the struggles of those that came before them. Edify came on the scene and announced the launch of what it calls the first complete Business Communications as a Service (BCaaS) platform. It combines the core functionality of Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS), Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS), and Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)/PBX platforms in a single tool with a single workflow and dashboard from a single vendor.
In a similar vein, Thrio launched its AI-powered CCaaS platform featuring Thrio AI, Digital, and Voice. It includes an array of AI tools, a complete digital channel suite (email, chat, SMS, social) and inbound and outbound voice engines, all designed to seamlessly improve CX and EX.
About those Marketplaces
And speaking of those cool add-on capabilities populating the API-driven marketplaces, there were a plethora of companies exhibiting solutions ripe for enriching the contact center. Again, it’s impossible to have seen everyone, but again a few stood out:
Voicesense provides an automated framework for enterprises to predict the behaviors of customers. For each voice-based customer interaction, the Voicesense technology analyzes over 200 prosodic parameters of a person’s speech, and builds an AI-driven personality profile for each customer and a predictive score for the customer’s potential behaviors. The technology is being used to improve sales and reduce churn in contact centers, improving risk assessment for financial service firms and insurance providers, and even monitoring mental wellness for healthcare providers.
Smooch.io Smooch’s Conversation Data platform was purpose built to enable companies to bring effective and consistent conversational interfaces across existing and emerging customer contact channels. It unifies and normalizes data across all channels, including chat, messaging, email and others. The Smooch Conversation Cloud collects input to build a unified conversational record or timeline of all customer engagement regardless of channel or enterprise function.
The Selligent Marketing Cloud allows companies to collect, unify, analyze & segment, and act on customer data and then drive engagement from an outbound perspective, but goes beyond typical marketing clouds, accessing data from the entire journey, from mobile app and point of sale devices, and then layers that on top of CRM data; building a profile of the consumer . It can then do a number of things from personalization of outbound contacts to agent assistance. For example, it can take a single outbound email and customize it on the fly for tens of thousands of recipients, and then understand the disposition of the communication with the recipient, such as knowing if and when they opened it for further action.
I believe that we have now reached the tipping point in customer awareness for what is possible with AI and other technologies, which is what we saw with omnichannel. The concept took off in late 2013, and then by 2017 everyone was using the term regardless of whether a company provided true omnichannel or not. Now, customers get omnichannel even if they aren’t close to full multichannel. With AI the next two years will be refinement of offerings and best practices while companies decide what they want to do with it, with many championing plans to truly infuse AI across their customer contact landscapes. With this as a backdrop, and company’s further platform refinements to support maturing technologies such as AI, Enterprise Connect20 should prove even more enticing for attendees.