Finally, this year the integration of unified communications as a service (UCaaS) and communications as a service (CCaaS) became a reality! While I’ve been talking about the importance of integrating unified communications (UC) capabilities with contact center capabilities for decades, 2021 was the year it went mainstream. Vendors aggressively pushed this message, and the need for either a single vendor or tightly integrated UC and contact center is starting to show up in customer requests for proposals (RFPs).
Looking ahead, I expect to see more use cases and applications taking advantage of these integrated capabilities, enabling organizations to broaden their perspective on customer service and the customer experience (CX) to include “CX for everyone.”
A Look Back: How Did We Get Here?
The concept of integrated UC and contact centers began years ago. Legacy telephony vendors such as Alcatel Lucent Enterprise, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, Siemens/Unify (remember them?), NEC, and others have all had offerings for telephony (before it was UC) and contact center for years. However, despite the promise of computer telephony integration (CTI), they were on separate platforms with different user interfaces and little or no integration between them.
The cloud did what CTI was unable to accomplish. Thanks to the cloud, it became easier to integrate UC and contact center services, whether from a single vendor or tight integrations. 8×8 was one of the first UCaaS vendors to see the value of this integration with its acquisition of Contactual in 2011. Vonage later acquired NewVoiceMedia, and other vendors followed suit. While the UCaaS and CCaaS offerings were initially separate and standalone, they ultimately came together onto a single platform. These and other vendors more recently developed new, modern cloud platforms that natively integrate UCaaS and CCaaS on single, cloud-native backends, often on communications platform as a service (CPaaS) platforms.
Today, both legacy and cloud-native UC providers tout their integrated UC and contact center offerings as either part of a single vendor stack (8×8, Edify, Dialpad, Intermedia, Vonage) or through tight integrations (RingCentral, Nextiva). Every traditional UC vendor also offers single stack or tightly integrated solutions, including Avaya, Cisco , Mitel, NEC, and more.
As I wrote in this previous No Jitter article, “Come Together on Technology Convergence,” it’s clear that integrating UCaaS with CCaaS provides many benefits to both contact center agents and knowledge workers. The primary use case to date has been the ability for contact center agents to reach out to subject matter experts (SMEs) outside of the contact center to help agents get the information they need to quickly and efficiently solve customers’ issues. More recently, we’ve seen the rise of the “collaborative contact center,” integrating contact center, team collaboration, messaging, and video capabilities to enable agents, customers, and SMEs to collaborate in a shared space and share information to help expedite issues resolution.
What Changed During 2021?
What has changed if the union of UC and the contact center has been in the works for years? 2021 was when Zoom made a couple of contact center plays, highlighting the contact center’s role as part of overall business communication and unified communication offering. Zoom’s new Video Engagement Center (VEC) service, which adds video to customer engagement contact center capabilities, along with the company’s attempt to acquire CCaaS provider Five9, validated the importance of having a single vendor UCaaS/CCaaS solution. While the Five9 acquisition ultimately failed for financial reasons, most industry players and observers noted that Zoom’s move into the contact center space validated the single-vendor approach to UC and contact center.
Another essential milestone in 2021 was 8×8’s introduction of experience communications as a service (XCaaS)—and its initial use case, 8×8 Frontdesk, a new receptionist dashboard offering visibility into the status and entire workforce availability. This application is the first of additional 8×8 Work applications to be rolled out in the coming months, leveraging 8×8’s integrated capabilities and XCaaS platform.
What’s in Store for 2022?
With its introduction of Frontdesk, 8×8 laid the groundwork for new and innovative applications and use cases that take advantage of UC/contact center integration. I expect other vendors to follow, with applications for sales teams, human resources specialists, help desks, marketing departments, and more.
2022 will likely usher in the early stages of what I call “CX for everyone” or perhaps a new acronym (CXE). CXE breaks down the barriers and silos of UC and contact centers, leading to new ways for organizations to engage with internal employees (or internal customers) and external customers. For example, customer-facing workers will have the ability to access UC capabilities such as video and team collaboration. Meanwhile, knowledge workers in various back-office departments will take advantage of traditional contact center capabilities such as routing, screen pop, and more to better serve customers and employees. Customer engagement and customer experience capabilities will be available to everyone in the organization, creating better experiences for customers and employees.
Based on conversations I’ve had with several forward-thinking vendors, we’re at the very, very early stages of CXE. Hopefully, this new approach will lead to some creative use cases that take advantage of integrated UC/contact center in addition to some out-the-box thinking, which can benefit customers, employees, and organizations.