Microsoft Releases Cloud Contact Center Platform

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Organizations that need to set up or refresh cloud contact center technology stacks — especially those on Microsoft Azure — have another choice in the Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform.

The contact center as a service (CCaaS) includes telephony in the form of Teams Phone. It also includes Teams and Dynamics 365 integrations, natural language processing (NLP) features, and AI from Microsoft and Nuance Communications, which Microsoft acquired earlier this year for nearly $20 billion.

The AI tools perform voice recognition and NLP, but also look up and suggest relevant content to live agents and self-service bots during customer engagements. They can also point customers and live agents to relevant and personalized offers; such features cross-pollinate sales and marketing automation with customer service.

The Teams integration not only gives users a telephony option but also connects agents to experts in their company who can solve thorny customer problems. For more complex issues, Teams users can form groups of people to work together, called “case swarming.” Salesforce Service Cloud with Slack is currently beta testing its case-swarming features.

Interoperability with competitors a priority

According to Opus Research founder Dan Miller, the Microsoft cloud contact center’s most important feature might be under the hood: integration tools with the Microsoft Power Platform. It reflects a philosophy of enabling users to bring well-established applications to their organizations — such as CRM and telephony — instead of forcing them to buy all Microsoft products.

Microsoft released the cloud contact center at Inspire, its partner conference. Partners such as Accenture Avanade, Genesys, HCL, Nice, Avaya, Five9 and TTEC were included in the release — some of which could be considered competitors, or at least partial competitors, to the Microsoft CCaaS.

Miller added that the Nuance acquisition was another key component of the CCaaS launch. Microsoft previously had legacy speech-recognition server technology, but Nuance interactive voice response and Nuance Gatekeeper biometric voice authentication represent more modern technology that will appeal to contact center technology buyers.

“Voice biometrics and other authentication technologies are proving to be important as enterprises try to figure out how to respect people’s privacy, recognize their identity quickly and have a personalized response,” Miller said.

Nuance brought sophistication to vertical markets such as financial services and healthcare, said Charles Lamanna, Microsoft corporate vice president of business applications and platforms. Its technology can recognize many industry-specific data points such as credit card numbers and prescription names.

Technically, the features and integrations of Microsoft Digital Contact Center could have been assembled by users prior to its release, Lamanna said. But that would have taken much time and developer bandwidth on the part of the customer, and the new bundle makes it much more straightforward and quicker.

One of the factors that could drive the success of the Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform will be how it is received by customers using Salesforce, the dominant CRM. Salesforce also offers Service Cloud — an agent desktop that isn’t a full CCaaS — and has partnered tightly with AWS for users to build more complete contact center stacks.

Lamanna said that nuance has many customers who use Salesforce for CRM and Salesforce Service Cloud with AWS’s Amazon Connect contact center services. The majority of contact centers, however, still use on-premises software — and therein lies the greater opportunity for Microsoft, he added.

“We don’t have a mindset of, ‘You must switch everything, all aspects of the contact center platform [over to Microsoft] to be successful,'” Lamanna said. ” Allowing and supporting interoperability is the future of enterprise software. The IT market’s gotten so big that no customer will be all on one stack; there’ll be a fragmented, heterogeneous IT environment. Making sure things like our Digital Contact Center Platform seamlessly connects to these other offerings is key.”

Pricing on Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform is contingent upon what licenses for which services the user purchases, with discounts applying to customers as they buy more components.