Microsoft and Salesforce Fight to Revitalize Customer Service

Customer support has become a crowded battleground in enterprise technology as software vendors such as Microsoft Corp. and Inc. are rushing to equip organizations with the tools to create one-stop service centers.

Attention is focused on the revitalization of the call center, a once abandoned unit that has long suffered from high turnover rates and minimal business investment.

Salesforce, ServiceNow Inc., Twilio Inc., and Genesys Cloud Services Inc. are among the companies that see the call center as an essential part of efforts to transform the consumer base from a sea of ​​faceless wallets into potentially millions of unique personalities. It is seen as a way to improve customer service and build brand loyalty at a time when businesses are increasingly concerned about the churn rate.

Zoom Video Communications Inc. was prepared to fork out over $ 14.7 billion in stock to buy Five9 Inc. 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 generator,” said Vasili Triant, COO of UJET Inc., a San-based call center cloud software provider. Francisco. 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 top vendors, including Genesys, Cisco Systems Inc., and Avaya Inc.

But as more and more businesses move these systems to the Internet, that mindset is undergoing a dramatic shift.

Over the past few years, the goal has been to help call center agents provide better customer support and reduce service times. This means taking steps like consolidating different applications into a single desktop interface, which eliminates the need for agents to switch between different tabs to view customer data stored in various places.

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, including the interpretation of conversations and their analysis of feelings.

The goal is to harness the technology to power software capable of automatically delivering customer information to agents during calls to improve communications. While some of this capacity is available with existing products, it will take several years before it is fully operational.

“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 Inc., one of these startups specializing 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 Inc., Adobe Inc., and ServiceNow, are delivering a future that goes beyond the call center to a future focused on delivering a better customer experience, what regardless of how they interact with a business.

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

The goal is to make it easier to share data between a variety of programs, such as those that manage website, customer relations, marketing, e-commerce, and social media.

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 – what vendors increasingly call a Customer Data Platform, or CDP – would allow them to perform analysis and gain deeper insight. on 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 created challenges for companies who increasingly want these systems to communicate with each other. That’s why vendors who provide the technology to link disparate programs, such as Informatica Inc. and Workato Inc., are experiencing a boom in business.

The explosion in the number of applications currently in use in most businesses only compounds this problem. A business, for example, can use Genesys for the call center, RingCentral as a telephony provider, Glia for messaging through web or mobile apps, Salesforce to manage the customer database, Shopify for e-commerce and a multitude. other programs containing different types of customer data.

“It all has to come together because what businesses want is a complete system to help them see all of their interactions,” said Paul Jarman, CEO of Nice CXone, the cloud software product of Nice Ltd. And no one “understood it outside because everything was compartmentalized.”

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.

Recently, 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.

Salesforce, for example, has its own platform for call center agents that rivals systems from Genesys. But it’s considered a viable option only for customers who are already strong users of Salesforce or for small businesses that don’t have as much legacy software, according to Gartner’s Kraus.

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

Genesys has also launched partnerships with Google Cloud from Adobe and Alphabet Inc .. 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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