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UC roundtable part 2: Unified comms and channel support

In the second part of the UCC roundtable the discussion moves on to the voice and contact centre world and the vendors share how they are supporting partners

In the second part of the MicroScope roundtable looking at unified communications (UC), the focus moves to the contact centre world. In this area, customers are starting to look at making investments over the next couple of years to modify the contact centre with a need for more services.

Q. Do you see contact centre clients starting to make moves to modernise their operations?

Rick Hawkes: Looking at our current base, which is around 5.5 million activations globally, most of those are sitting on some big contact centres. In terms of pure play, we are looking to gain some advantage by making sure we have a global private cloud service that can be consumed and delivered through partners. We want to make sure that these customers have somewhere to come that is still Avaya. As for integral UCC (unified communications and collaboration) play, it's about bringing collaboration into the contact centre and reaching out to your clients to break down communication barriers between those who are using mobile first and those who are using different communication channels, and bring
that data together, giving the agent a single view of all those different channels.

In terms of mid-market, there are millions of lines out there, so we are trying to globally leverage that. Avaya is mid-market and big enterprise and that’s why segmentation plays a big part in
how we approach it. We are seeing growth driven by clients, and we are trying to reach out to the customer so the contact centre journey doesn’t begin for us inside the contact centre but at the mobile application or being embedded in the application. If you just come with more of the same, it's not
enough. We have to work harder to help our clients move forward.

Andrew Lilley: The ability for the contact centre to collaborate with the back office effectively, so joining up the contact centre with the unified communications, is a common requirement. If you started to unpick some of that detail, things such as rich analytics or speech analytics reporting, these are the things becoming table stakes. Another point is intelligent virtual agents, and using bots and chatbots.

The attendees

Vaughan Klein, Director, Collaboration, EMEAR. Cisco 

Andrew Lilley, Director of Sales Engineering EMEA 8x8 

Olen Scott, Senior VP, Worldwide Channels at Aryaka  

Rick Hawkes, Sales Engineering Manager at Avaya 

Keith Bartlett, EMEA Director of Channel Sales at LogMeIn 

Keith Bartlett: As an industry, one of the things we are not particularly good at from a vendor perspective is asking users how they want to communicate with contact centres. We put bots in
because we think its AI (artificial intelligence) and it’s cool, but it might not give the best user experience. In the future, bots will develop and improve, but it’s all bells and whistles at the moment. As an industry, we need to communicate better with the audience and ask them how they want to engage with the brand.

Andrew Lilley: The key thing is that the technology needs to align to the operational need, complexity of the interaction, and the expectations of the customer. Throwing technology at the problem for technology’s sake does not work. For example, there are specific cases and business models that lend themselves to automation, AI/ML (machine learning), others where there is a definite need for the human touch, live customer interaction is key. The other factor to consider is the expectations of the modern, always connected customer. Automation and self-service can deliver 365x24x7, but it needs to be aligned to the customer experience and requirement.

Vaughan Klein: In the past five, maybe as much as 10 years, I haven’t seen a customer interested in a contact centre where they didn’t put omni-channel in their top three must-haves. But how successful have they been in utilising that technology capability in the platforms they have purchased? If you think about VARs (value-added resellers), omni-channel capability and adoption is something that they could focus on because there has been a lot of technology provided and invested in by users with the specific requirements that they want to have omni-channel.

Rick Hawkes: Voice is still king but omni-channel has to be there. But we're finding people don't blend as much as you would ever imagine they would do – agents are still picked for their capability, mainly because people have different skill sets. I thought there'd be a lot more blending.

Andrew Lilley: Agents can get channel fatigue if you start bombarding them. They’ve got an inbound call, an outbound call, working on chat, or working on email, and moving between all these different channels. Most organisations do not work like that.

Vaughan Klein: Customers are saying that integrations need to be faster and they want to build an adaptive workflow very quickly. So there’s a bit of pressure on the development side of the platforms to be flexible and willing to generate all the integration with the underpinning services.

Andrew Lilley: I was doing some research and everyone was talking about AI. However, only around 4% of organisations have an active project going on and are doing anything with AI. Historically, many technologies – such as natural language processing and speech recognition – were complex things to do, but this is changing. Customers’ experience is critical and providing a smooth and low-effort customer journey is key.

Rick Hawkes: AI has become something that is going to do the job. Previously it was a bit hit and miss, but now it is scarily good. It is really natural and contextual; it changes the game and makes it much more useable and useful.

Keith Bartlett: Companies are typically using on average around 20 to 30 features, and we have to make them as simple and easy to use as possible. It's really about focusing on those core functionalities that are critical to the user experience – and that’s all down to understanding what the customer really needs and wants. Partners play an important role in finding this out and working with technology vendors to create the right solutions for users.

Olen Scott: As a user, I feel a lot of companies are over-engineered and it doesn't do anything for the customer experience – injecting technology for technology’s sake, or because it takes out the human touch and reduces cost.

Rick Hawkes: People want to be able to drop this stuff in and you want simplicity and everything in one place. We will bring collaboration into the agent, bring front and back office together, and we have to try to help our clients.

Q. People talk a lot about unified comms, but that integration still seems to be lacking. What are you seeing out there in the market?

Andrew Lilley: We have the opportunity to bring these products together and there are many advantages of owning all the technology delivered by a single vendor. 8x8 does it all with unified
communications, contact centre, meetings and communications platform integrated as one service. The other advantage is data. Being integrated across one platform allows you to deliver deep insight and analytics, understand the customer journey, user experience, provide rich real-time and historical KPIs [key performance indicators], and mine the data using AI/ML to drive proactive customer experiences.

Vaughan Klein: Real-time communications is hard and when you have 160 milliseconds to play with to bounce something off around the world and deliver it back again, you are more able to control that and  get the analytics and training with that if you have a stack. But where it doesn’t happen, the buying centre of a contact centre is very separated from the buying centres that are handling the network and the rest of the infrastructure. You don’t see people making a joint decision because it’s a mechanism of the company.

Q. Traditional contact centre buyers are cross-pollinating with the traditional networking and comms areas and seem to be coming more important as targets for the channel. Is that a fair picture of the market?

Keith Bartlett: For the past few years we have focused on targeting lines of business, because they have their own budgets and specific requirements and can make their own decisions. They often manage their own UC and contact centre services and have an affiliation with specific types of apps that they are using. The same applies to different business units across an organisation, so the full range of applications in one organisation can be highly fragmented.

Olen Scott: My personal experience is that the people who run contact centres are a big part of the revenue organisation, whether that’s customer experience or churn and demand generation, it’s really important what happens under one roof. They want the best application delivery vehicle they can buy and they want security.

Rick Hawkes: On the buying side, it's changing quite dramatically – the people around the call centre are getting less of a look-in and the dollars are moving into digital transformation. The people who are looking at it are driving a multi-channel strategy where the contact centre is one thing and they suddenly drop in an email engine over here, or they drop in a chat engine over here, which is completely separate. It can be very tricky for organisations to respond to that. If I'm someone that may be a CXO [customer experience officer] level and I'm getting all these different reports, then I want to see things in one place.

Andrew Lilley: Interoperability is key so that the applications play nicely together. From a single vendor, it's been designed that way. The other thing is insight and analytics, and data. So if you've got insight across the whole customer journey, then that makes a massive difference.

Q. It's a world of change. And there are issues around changing technology then changing customer demands. Are you helping your channel get through that and prepare them for that changing
market dynamic?

Rick Hawkes: Avaya are looking to our channel to help us move forward, and vice versa. So the only way to be able to do that is to say what we're becoming, so “this is the new go-to-market and the new things you can consume”. It doesn’t mean that on-premise has died, it is still important, so there is that to service and partners will be doing that for a while. But I absolutely concur that the cloud market is growing at speed. We have spoken with partners about cloud and how they have to change value in a meaningful way, and it is an interesting conversation. Channels are going to have to maybe forgo, maybe less so for more born-in-the-cloud vendors, but legacy vendors are going to have to change their models. In terms of consolidation, some partners will fall away and some partners will consolidate and maybe new models will allow you to go and access new partners to create the sales engine you need to grow.

Andrew Lilley: Historically in the UK we were direct, but we are now channel-first and everyone has realised the benefits that it gives you. We're having partners coming to us wanting to work with us,  because their customers are asking for cloud solutions so they want to add that to their portfolio. They want a single vendor for unified communications and contact centres, and so we’ve seen fantastic acceleration in the channel. Our go-to-market is all aligned around the channel.

Vaughan Klein: For any vendor that wishes to pursue a direct model, that would mean as a multinational you would need somewhere in the vicinity of 200,000-300,000 staff. Unless you're prepared to double or triple the size of your organisation, there's always going to be a partner involved because it makes good sense to have a delivery model through that part of the community.
The second part of it is to understand they are part of your business model and then treat them as such. We make strategic investments in our partners and there are rebates associated with that, and we create marketing funds to help them create brand awareness. Then there are the billions of dollars invested in the products. Cisco on collaboration alone has spent $6bn dollars over the past three years through organic or inorganic investment. So we have made the decisions about what our business model looks like, and we treat the partner community as an extension of our business. We invest in their businesses and we understand our responsibilities to make them successful.

Keith Bartlett: We've spoken a lot about customer experience today. We are in a crowded market with a lot of UC players and UCaaS (unified communications-as-a-service) vendors that have their own propositions. In my experience, partners want to work with vendors that are an extension to their team. A formal interaction once a quarter is simply not enough. Vendors that can offer the right level of expertise and consultancy can help partners evolve their business offering to customers. It’s a win-win situation that delivers mutual benefits for all parties. Partner experience for me is key and that’s something we truly value at LogMeIn.

Olen Scott: I think the question is, are we helping them along that journey? We definitely are and we try to select partners that are going on that journey anyway, because from our standpoint, the tailwind – cloud adoption – is driving our businesses. We're trying to help our partners understand not to break trust with your customers by not selling the whole solution. Don't go in and have a conversation about a UC technology that is cool and going to save them money and forget to bring through the part of the equation that is going to make it hum. We're identifying partners and looking for partners that are embracing the journey of the cloud.

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