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        Ventana Research Analyst Perspectives

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        Contact Centers Buyers Guide: Market Observations

        The 2023 Ventana Research Buyers Guide for Contact Centers research enables me to provide observations about how the market has advanced. In this modern, digital age of customer experience, the journey of engagement across every channel and device must be orchestrated effectively. Organizations, no matter the industry, have inbound and outbound interactions and rely on contact centers to fulfill operational and revenue objectives. The utilization of cloud computing has enabled a new generation of applications and technology that supports this imperative through products that are easier to onboard and utilize than those purchased and installed in the past.

        Contact centers have increasingly transitioned their essential digital and telephonic infrastructures from on-premises technology to cloud-based platforms. VR_BG_CC_LogoThis shift has been underway for more than a decade with the assumption among technology suppliers and buyers that the cloud is the deployment method to manage the software and the interactions between agents and customers. However, contact centers in a post-pandemic world need to adopt a hybrid approach that engages an organization’s technology where it operates and in whatever way agents and customers interact with it. As the industry moves away from the binary “cloud vs. on premises” approach into a more realistic, situation-based model, organizations are exploring hybrid deployments that mix cloud and on-premises applications based on each organization’s comfort level.

        Contact center providers have adapted their product portfolios to support the new reality of cloud computing and operating in public or private cloud environments. After years of sometimes dramatic steps of prioritized development and acquisitions by technology vendors, the focus on cloud development is now well established. The industry has reached a point where contact center in the cloud, referred commonly as Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS), is the dominant mode of operations for new contact centers and for expansions of older ones. The market landscape of providers has changed significantly as technology vendors with on-premises offerings have developed, migrated or acquired contact center offerings that are aimed at the entire marketplace.

        Ventana Research’s assessment of the contact center market has found an expanding portfolio of methods to meet the broader need for customer engagement and experiences across channels and interactions and with applications and devices. This demand has introduced investments and communications platforms in the cloud known as Communications Platforms as a Service (CPaaS) that provide more flexibility in configuration and customization than traditional contact center offerings. Simultaneously, this technology has advanced the need for Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) which supports a broader range of what is referred to as digital communications, including collaboration and video. It is now possible for contact centers to adapt and have the ability to support a more streamlined set of interactions for best possible experiences across customer journeys. Technology vendors in the contact center suite market are either directly offering CPaaS and/or UCaaS support through their own technology that is OEM and embedded, or through a third-party partner.

        The role of a contact center is to respond to, answer or escalate every request for service or information that an organization’s customers generate. This has long forced centers to operate as a defensive tool for organizations, usually in a reactive position, subject to variations in customer demand. It is also largely seen as a cost burden for businesses, although that view is beginning to change as people learn how to leverage centers for revenue and other organizational goals. The focus on cost control is still the main driver of operations, which encourages buyers to adopt a conservative, risk-averse approach to their technology assessments. More often than not, when new technology appears on the scene, there is a delay of several years before industry practitioners are comfortable enough with costs, benefits and capabilities to deploy it. Even then, contact center buyers are generally wary of disruption because they are seen as mission-critical operations.

        The slow pace of the transition from on-premises-based systems to cloud platforms is an example of that wariness in action. Some vendors have spent a decade or more slowly migrating their installed bases to cloud while continuing to serve their existing on-premises customers, a situation that has been costly to some legacy providers as newer competitors pick off their clients. This drawn-out transition period has allowed newer, cloud-native vendors to stake out significant market positions while being liberated from the constraints of having to develop and maintain multiple platforms.

        The heart of a contact center platform is the automatic call distributor (ACD), a software engine that moves voice interactions from the public network to an agent based on many varied criteria. ACDs used to be the pinnacle of business telecom systems: high volume, high velocity switches that were extremely expensive compared to the common business alternative, the private branch exchange (PBX). This is no longer true. ACDs have become software applications, reducing their cost to develop and purchase. This has allowed other parts of the contact center stack to emerge as potential differentiators between vendors. Most important now is the ability to handle digital interactions across a variety of contact channels, including voice, chat, SMS, different kinds of messaging and, increasingly, video.

        The contact center market is now divided into four camps: legacy, on-premises vendors that have migrated some or all of their platforms to the cloud; legacy cloud vendors that focus on voice routing; newer cloud vendors that are more agnostic about the channels they deliver; and vendors from outside the contact center space that have entered the market with either platforms for developing contact center applications, or broad interdepartmental suites that integrate contact center tools into those used by sales, marketing and back offices.

        The diversity of vendors makes it difficult to continue to use “CCaaS” to describe the market. Usually, it is shorthand for cloud-based centers, but the breadth of vendors who provide tools in this space render that term incomplete at best. While the industry discusses what comes after CCaaS, or beyond CCaaS, or even what CCaaS really means, the underlying transition marches on: contact centers are becoming hybrid entities that handle voice as one of many digital channels.

        Making that transition requires attention to activities like analyzing sentiment, improving the information available to agents or automating more of the self-service system. These actions bring contact center planners more deeply into activities more closely associated with their peers who orchestrate marketing campaigns, and with IT teams who integrate the center’s tools with broader enterprise systems.

        Going forward, we expect that contact center technology will differentiate on factors like the availability of APIs to connect more dispersed tools, on ease of integration and administration, and on the ability to automate more processes across the customer lifecycle. This evaluation pays special attention to these factors, as well as to the ways in which vendors use modern artificial intelligence (AI) to improve performance across their platforms. Instead of looking at the broad presence of AI within platforms, our research considered specific use cases for AI that are directly relevant to contact center goals like cost control, increased efficiency and better agent awareness.

        Technology vendors that did well in this research are characterized by several features:

        • Openness, through APIs and an ease of integration into software ecosystems that go well beyond contact center operations. This is a recognition that, going forward, centers must be more tightly connected to enterprise activities, success metrics and data resources.
        • Broadness of vision, meaning attention to as many interlocking components of the stack as possible. If the core offering is a minimal platform designed to encourage application development for key functions, the product is effectively incomplete for most buyers.
        • Experience in contact centers. For all the changes in technology, a contact center toolset has to be reliable, market-tested and able to manage the high-volume, mission-critical interaction handling needs of a typical mid-sized center. Some vendors are relatively new to the space and have yet to demonstrate complete awareness of the needs of those buyers.

        For contact center platforms directly, and separate from dedicated agent management tools, the research found that success often correlated with a vendor’s ability to quickly pivot and redirect development resources to new areas. New areas do not necessarily mean cutting edge; rather, investing in best practices consulting and training is one area that can differentiate a vendor in an increasingly confusing and complex marketplace. Vendors that are able to articulate benefits and ROI, can describe specific use cases that provide value, and can help buyers with sensible, non-disruptive transitions to new tools are the ones that will prosper in the next several years.

        In this Buyers Guide research we examine the offerings of 21 vendors: some cloud-only, some on-premises based, and some hybrid; the common element being the centrality of the ACD or call routing engine. This Contact Center research had specific product evaluation criteria for capabilities that included: interaction routing (voice and digital), workforce management, quality measurement, agent desktop, remote workforce and automation and self-service. In addition to the core platforms starting with voice and digital interaction routing systems, our research examined self-service and related capabilities including AI, chatbots and intelligent virtual assistants, remote workforce management, migration from on premises to cloud, automation and workflow creation, data, and integration capabilities, among numerous other issues important to contact center buyers. We also evaluated agent-related applications as part of those platforms, but minimally. An assessment of dedicated agent management vendor offerings is available in the Agent Management Buyers Guide, and one of broad contact center suites, including those without an ACD, is in our Contact Center Suites Buyers Guide.

        This research evaluates the following vendors that offer products that address key elements of contact centers and platforms, focusing on the routing engine as the core component, and including a minimum viable set of agent-optimization features: 8x8, Alvaria, AWS, Avaya, Cisco, Content Guru, Dialpad, Emplifi, Enghouse Interactive, Five9, Genesys, LiveVox, Microsoft, Mitel, NICE, RingCentral, Salesforce, Talkdesk, Twilio, Vonage and Zoom.

        You can find more details on our site as well as in the Buyers Guide Market Report.


        Keith Dawson


        Keith Dawson
        Director of Research, Customer Experience

        Keith Dawson leads the software research and advisory in the Customer Experience (CX) expertise at Ventana Research, now part of ISG, covering applications that facilitate engagement to optimize customer-facing processes. His coverage areas include agent management, contact center, customer experience management, field service, intelligent self-service, voice of the customer and related software to support customer experiences.


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