When NICE acquired inContact in 2016, it began a transformation that saw it broaden its product offering and positioned itself to play a larger role in the contact center and customer experience industries. It was a prescient move, creating a firm that could supply end-to-end contact center functionality in the cloud. And it anticipated today’s market dynamic, in which NICE and its competitors are racing to define (and capitalize on) the post-contact center future.
At its analyst conference in October, NICE laid out its take on what that future is going to look like. And much of that future is already here, in the form of increased reliance on digital interactions, self-service, and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered automation side by side with agents. One can argue about the impact the pandemic had on accelerating trends that were already in motion, but the outcome is clear: vendors in the contact center space need to have a wider view of the platforms and applications that power customer experiences than they did even five years ago.
NICE unveiled a framework for its products called CXi which stands for Customer Experience Interactions. CXi is the term NICE is using to describe the industry in which it operates, moving away from contact centers with a purposeful description of the primacy of digital interactions over traditional voice-based agent interactions. Those are not going away, but they are changing to reflect new information resources for agents and heightened customer expectations, including increased acceptance of self-service.
CXi is also how NICE is describing the basket of tools that sit atop the company’s CXone platform, including integrated CCaaS, workforce optimization, analytics, AI, digital interactions and self-service. Ventana Research assessed through our Contact Center in the Cloud Value Index that NICE has an Exemplary rating and its CCaaS portfolio (including CXone) is clearly best-in-class.
At the event, NICE executives suggested that part of the transition the industry is experiencing has to do with those functional areas coming closer together, moving from what amounted to separate industry segments a few years ago into more tightly connected products whose boundaries grow fuzzier all the time.
CXi is not a product, it is an organizing principle for explaining the products that NICE already has and the pathway those products map out when examined together. NICE is turning its attention to “digital entry points” – the company says that a large majority of interactions begin digitally, even if they end up at an agent. And, increasingly, many of them end digitally as well, agent or no.
NICE is not the only company in the space to pivot to digital, but by virtue of its size and market influence it foretells a wider move among vendors to go beyond the contact center as the primary mechanism for interacting with customers. (NICE and other vendors are not driving this shift alone; much is due to changing demands from consumers who have moved to digital channels with remarkable speed.)
In NICE’s telling, the glue that holds together a broader service interaction environment is AI and the data that it works on. At its event, NICE displayed a series of use cases for AI that permeate contact center operations, providing enhanced information for agents to move more efficiently through interactions, for example. It is also essential to orchestrating the process of customer journeys, which necessarily extends well beyond the boundaries of the contact center. Most important, AI is core to preparing agents with real-time information during interactions, personalized to the customer and contextually relevant to the query.
The market dynamics that stem from this pivot to digital are varied. Once an organization accepts the notion that digital-centric entry points are the norm, systems like CXone and its competitors have to appeal to a different set of buyers with broader responsibilities and accountability for a wider set of outcomes. Ventana Research has been following the trend of developing CX suites that are composed of different components for interaction routing, agent management, self-service, audience creation and segmentation, analysis and personalization, along with other functions. These CX suites come from many different legacy origin points (i.e., vendors with experience in different markets, like data management, contact centers, marketing, content management, etc.), creating overlapping offerings that have some elements in common, but are not fully comparable apples to apples. The new set of buyers looking at these composite applications can use CXi as a starting point to understand the way journeys and digital interactions take CX beyond the contact center into other departments. It provides a way to begin evaluating tools that are difficult to compare.
NICE’s description of CXi as an industry framework supports this notion. It is one of the strongest examples to date of a major vendor deliberately setting out to create a CX suite based on the needs of the many user personas involved in customer handling, rather than just on the existing toolkit of the creator.
These developments have significant ramifications for buyers. CXi and CXone are essentially a promise to buyers that settling on a platform aimed at today’s needs and problems will provide a clear runway for future needs. It also represents one of the clearest statements of what that future is going to look like: digital, underpinned by AI, and focused on self-service. To that end NICE has not been static in any of the functional areas covered by CXi, acquiring companies to fill technical gaps along with continuous internal development across its portfolio.
Buyers should look at this new framework as a way to apply new and existing tools in the current environment and can plan their own operational pivots beyond reliance on contact centers to broader service and engagement environments. High value interactions and customers can be served by combinations of human agents and automation, or customers can make their own journeys using self-service automation, or a combination.
Ventana Research has asserted that by 2024, one-half of all customer interactions will be entirely handled by automated systems, with no human in the loop, helping to minimize the cost impacts of increasing volume. NICE’s CXi framework, and the CXone platform below it, appear to validate that idea, providing material evidence that the interaction-centric model of customer support is giving way to a more holistic, journey-centric model that requires better technology and tools to meet the challenge.