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Customer support has become a congested area in business technology as software vendors from Microsoft to Salesforce rush to equip organizations with the tools to build one-stop service centers.

Attention is revitalizing the call center, a once abandoned unit that has long suffered from high turnover rates and minimal business investment. Salesforce, ServiceNow, Twilio, and Genesys Cloud Services are among the companies that see the call center as a critical part of efforts to transform the consumer base from a sea of ​​faceless portfolios to potentially millions of unique personalities.

Zoom Video Communications was prepared to fork over $ 14.7 billion in stock to buy Five9 to gain a foothold in the contact center industry. But Five9 shareholders ultimately thought the price was too low and refused the deal, a testament to the industry’s expected growth in the years to come.

“Instead of being a cost center, it’s a lifelong value driver,” said Vasili Triant, COO at UJET, a San Francisco-based call center cloud software provider. As a result, “this space has attracted a lot of attention. Businesses need to improve their experience. Because of that, a lot of money was put into it. When the money is flowing there, people see a huge opportunity.

Historically, customer support software has been viewed as a money pit – systems that were needed to help handle consumer complaints or inquiries, but which produced little return on your investment. Many companies just wanted to pick a product, deploy it, and forget about it. As a result, the market was fragmented between a handful of leading vendors, including Genesys, Cisco Systems, and Avaya.

But as more and more businesses move these systems to the Internet, that mindset is undergoing a dramatic shift. The future is centered on artificial intelligence. Call center software vendors including Genesys, Amazon Web Services, and Five9 tout investments in natural language processing, a type of AI focused on empowering machines to understand how humans communicate.

“A lot of people realize that this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest unclaimed pot of gold,” said Gustavo Sapoznik, CEO of Asapp, one of these specialist startups. In the region. “The big opportunity is to improve human performance, to make the people who do these jobs much better by creating the technology that allows them to do it. “

But the larger vision is much grander. A glut of vendors, including Salesforce, Microsoft, Zoom, Zendesk, Adobe, and ServiceNow, are offering a future that goes beyond the call center to focus on delivering a better customer experience, however you choose. they interact with a business.

“Right now, many different competitors are entering this market from different angles,” said Gartner analyst Drew Kraus. “It will almost certainly come through some kind of market consolidation. But for now, there are more people entering than leaving.

For customers, such a system would allow more transparent interactions with businesses. A person can speak to an agent on the phone, decide to switch to an online chat, and keep the history of the previous chat.

“The idea of ​​having a contact center whose goal is to limit interactions with customers, because it is a cost, is being questioned,” said Simonetta Turek, general manager of product center for calls from Twilio, Flex.

And for businesses, storing this information in a single system would allow them to perform analysis and gain deeper insights into their customers. Most companies are in the early stages of setting up this type of setup. In fact, only 32% of call center agents use cloud-based technology, according to Gartner.

Building a system where all of these programs work together might also prove difficult. Over the past two decades, software as a service vendors have built security barriers around their products that have prevented easy sharing of data. This has helped customers quickly adopt the applications, highlighting huge growth in sales, but it has created challenges for businesses that increasingly want these systems to communicate with each other.

It is unlikely that a single provider will be able to consolidate and manage all of these services into a single offering. That’s why software makers are rushing to partner with other vendors, forging new alliances between rival companies focused on integrating programs to capture the essentials of how customers use them.

Last month, for example, Genesys announced $ 580 million in new funding from its strategic partners Salesforce, Zoom and ServiceNow, all companies trying to deepen their footprint in the call center industry.

Notably, Salesforce has a close partnership with Amazon Web Services, which sells its own call center product called Connect which increasingly competes with Genesys.

Genesys has also launched partnerships with Adobe and Alphabet’s Google Cloud. And it has an initiative underway with its big rival from Salesforce, Microsoft, which also sells a contact center app. Despite Salesforce’s investment, Genesys CEO Tony Bates sees no reason why the effort with Microsoft cannot expand, highlighting the industry’s complex web of partnerships.

“Certainly we do not see this as an obstacle to the growth of our business,” he said. “The world is a huge world of cooperation. “

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