Here is the deal: my boss might have stirred up a bit of controversy recently. At this year’s Enterprise Connect, Barry O’Sullivan (Altocloud CEO) joined a panel on the topic of AI and the future it has to disrupt the Enterprise Communications industry. When asked for his “moonshot idea,” Barry replied,
“We want to save the world from call centers”
Obviously this statement, made to a courtyard full of hundreds of communications professionals, was met with some skepticism. The conversation continued when No Jitter wrote this follow up piece, Saving The World From Call Centers.
With mixed reactions across the board depending on who you asked, I took the chance to exchange a few Spark messages with Barry this week to learn more about his bold prediction, as well as his thoughts on where the industry is heading in general:
Q: What’s this “save the world from call center” talk I’m reading about?
A: I think everybody can identify with the current experience of interacting with a call center. That moment of dread and terror when you realize you have to call the cable company to get your router fixed. What I actually said on stage of Enterprise Connect was that we wanted to save the world from call centers, as we know them today. Today’s experience is completely disjointed; having to re-authenticate multiple times, press one for this, press two for that, explaining over and over again why you’re calling, and who wants to listen to that terrible music? It’s an analog experience in a digital world. The technology we’ve built at Altocloud joins the dots across the customer journey and uses intelligence to connect the right customers to the right employees at the right time - greatly improving the experience for the customer and driving better business outcomes.
Q: So we aren’t actually going to try and eliminate call centers from the face of the earth? How are we going to make things better?
A: Our goal is to make it a better experience for customers and to make it more effective for businesses. We ‘join the dots’ by collecting events across the entire customer journey. An event being any interaction a customer has with your business. Examples are web events like: the customer viewed a certain webpage, or downloaded a piece of content, or added several items into a shopping cart on an e-commerce site.
Other events could be choices a customer has made in an IVR system, or calls they made to a call center. We use these events to build a model of the entire customer journey. As we ingest millions of events and thousands of journeys, our system learns which journeys lead to the right outcome for the business and customer. That machine learning is then applied to decide what the next best action is for the customer to achieve an ideal business outcome. This could be: offer web chat, a phone call or just simply show them a piece of content that would have answered their question. This means customers get a better experience, agents are better prepared to help and the business is more successful.
The good news is that to take advantage of this functionality you don’t have to get rid of your call center. Altocloud integrates with the product you have today, whether that is Cisco, Five9, or other vendors. By integrating Altocloud with your call center we can help you see your customer journey, notify reps when important customers arrive on your site, automate these interactions for scale and predict the next best action to take. By doing this we are making agents smarter, customers happier and driving better outcomes for your business.
Q: Cloud is obviously changing the industry. With the Avaya news, we’ve also heard a lot of talk that the industry is ripe for consolidation. How do you see things playing out over the next 12-18 months?
A: Well we’ve already seen significant industry consolidation with inContact and Interactive Intelligence being acquired by bigger players. There’s also significant disruption from cloud players with companies like Five9 growing very fast, and recently we’ve seen Amazon dip their toe in the water. The Avaya story is very interesting; clearly Avaya is still a leader in the call center market. That’s a position of strength. However, Chapter 11 is not a good news story, no matter how you spin it. Some are saying their strategy has been correct and that they have simply been constrained by their debt burden. I don’t agree with that - the strategy to date has not worked. I believe Avaya needs a new strategy built around cloud – and the industry needs a strong Avaya. Hopefully the financial restructuring that is underway will give them the room to invest in that new strategy. The contact center market might be mature, but the customer experience market is not. I think we’re going to continue to see a combination of consolidation amongst the call center vendors and disruption in the digital customer experience space from new market entrants.
Q: Lot of talk about Amazon announcing their entrance in the market, what is your take?
A: The industry reaction has been surprising. It reminds me of when I was at Cisco in the early days of voice over IP and IP telephony. At the time competitors used to say, “Oh well, they don’t have all the features, or it’s not reliable enough, or they don’t have any customers yet. This can’t be a serious business priority for them.” Well, Cisco made it a priority and invested, and is now clearly the number one market share leader in that space. What the incumbent vendors did not realize was that a huge market transition was taking place, and that for the first time there was a new vendor with serious ambition entering the space. Most of those incumbent vendors of that time are no longer in business.
I’ve been hearing similar things from industry folks since Amazon entered the contact center market with Amazon Connect. “They don’t have the features, they don’t understand the market”. Here we are again with a market that’s in transition to cloud and a serious vendor entering the market. The only question is Amazon’s level of ambition in this space. Is it an experiment that will ultimately fail like Amazon Mayday? Or is their mission to change the world of customer experience forever? Time (and money) will tell.
Exciting stuff! We are thrilled at Altocloud to be at the center of such a fast changing industry and can’t wait to see where things go this year. If you are interested in learning more about what we are up to, drop us a line!