UPDATED 11:00 EDT / JULY 19 2022


At Inspire, Microsoft leverages AI to move into the crowded contact-center market

In one of the biggest announcements to come out of Inspire 2022 today, Microsoft Corp. has said it’s taking on rivals including Google LLC, Amazon Web Services Inc. and Zoom Video Communications Inc. in the contact center business.

The new Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform is a comprehensive contact center offering that looks to be every bit as capable as those rivals’ platforms. An open and extensible platform that’s designed to be easy to integrate with companies’ existing contact center infrastructure, it incorporates technologies from a number of familiar Microsoft offerings, including Teams, Dynamics 365, Power Platform and Nuance, the artificial intelligence-powered transcription platform that it acquired for $19.7 billion last year.

That’s key because, as Microsoft explained in its announcement, these days there are multiple ways for consumers to communicate with brands. Indeed, most people today use more than one channel to interact with companies — be it messaging, voice calls or something else.

To that end, Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform serves multiple channels and provides a high dose of automation to resolve customer needs as fast as possible. Using AI, the platform can connect customers with either virtual or live agents using “self-serve” features, routing them to the best option based on capacity and availability. AI also provides smart recommendations for agents to help them do their jobs faster.

Personalization is a big thing too. Customers today demand a personalized experience and Microsoft said that starts with using AI to identify and authenticate customers using biometrics in a secure manner. AI also plays a role in securing each customer interaction, the company said, while there are big data-based tools that provide insights on customer journeys to help brands improve customer acquisition and retention.

For agents, Microsoft said, the benefits are numerous. The platform provides a 360-degree view of each customer and their journey, the company explained, with AI-powered intent prediction capabilities that help them to understand why customers are calling and what their needs will be.

There’s also a healthy dose of conversational intelligence, Microsoft said, including sentiment analysis to try to understand customer satisfaction. Moreover, the platform will use AI to suggest recommended knowledge articles to agents based on what the customer is saying. In addition, the Digital Contact Center Platform’s AI chops extends to “intelligence case swarming,” enabling agents to connect with experts quickly to resolve more complex customer issues.

Besides solving customer’s problems faster and more efficiently, companies will benefit from increased customer acquisition and retention, Microsoft said. By integrating rich, real-time analytics, Microsoft said the Digital Contact Center Platform can help agents drive upsell with real-time offers as they’re engaging with customers. This is aided by “predictive targeting” that tracks user’s behavior to quickly identify optimal engagement opportunities, Microsoft said.

Liz Miller, an analyst with Constellation Research Inc., told SiliconANGLE she had been looking forward to Microsoft’s entry into the cloud contact center market for some time because the company has two extremely powerful differentiators with Nuance and Teams.

“Microsoft is marching into an increasingly crowded field where they will come up against the cloud infrastructure promises of scalability and flexibility, such as AWS Connect and Google, as well as the specialization promises of communications experts like NICE CXOne, 8×8, Five9 or Genesys,” Miller said. “Add to that, Microsoft is also going up against business platform players like Salesforce, Oracle and SAP, each of which offers their own flavor of cloud, integration, scale, globalization and holistic CX delivery solutions.”

The analyst said Nuance and Teams can help give Microsoft an edge over its competitors as conversational AI and collaboration have become table stakes in the space. However, while it’s fairly simple to stack Microsoft’s Digital Contact Center Platform against Amazon Connect and Google’s platforms, it’s tougher to contrast it with some of the native contact center-as-a-service player’s offerings, she said.

“The CCaaS players have been on their own cloud-native journeys for some time and may be better suited to managing things in the real world, where lifting and shifting to the cloud isn’t as easy, nor as budget-friendly as promised,” Miller explained. “Sometimes, specialization and knowledge of a space really matters, and not everyone is ready or able to be cloud-only.”

Regarding that last point, Microsoft said it recognizes that many are likely to find the cost and complexity of upgrading their contact center infrastructure extremely daunting. The open nature of the Digital Contact Center platform enables enterprises to build on what they already have, adding any combination of the above capabilities to improve their existing setup.

For those that need assistance, Microsoft is partnering with Accenture Avanade, a customer service transformation specialist that can work with them closely to reimagine their contact center infrastructure. In addition, Microsoft said it’s working with systems integrators, including Hitachi Ltd., KPMG International Ltd. and PricewaterhouseCoopers Ltd., that can help customers integrate all or some of its contact center offerings.

Miller said the bigger trend at play here is Microsoft’s desire to integrate customer service fully into its larger experience strategy, a trend that encourages enterprises to stop thinking of their contact centers as “cost centers,” where optimization is measured in lower costs and faster resolutions.

“The modern contact center can be a growth and revenue opportunity with AI-powered recommendations and direct commerce integrations,” Miller said. “With this trend, contact centers are being recognized as the front line of CX delivery, which demands flexible, data-driven and intelligent tools.”

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