Microsoft recently launched ‘Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform’. The platform enables contact center agents to engage customers across voice, video, and other digital channels and provides customers the ability to perform self-service or connect with a virtual or live agent. The bulk of functionality makes extensive use of AI (artificial intelligence) technology. To deliver the platform Microsoft is partnering with a wide network of independent software vendors (ISVs) and system integrators as well as leveraging several Microsoft tools.
Microsoft is introducing the platform to capitalize on a crucial juncture for contact centers. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, contact centers have become more central to managing the customer experience in multiple ways. Contact centers: have expanded from brick-and-mortar to virtual environments; support channels beyond traditional voice such as chat, SMS, email, video, and social media; have coupled multi-channel support with customers’ growing appetite for remote engagement; have made every employee potentially customer-impacting through technology linking agents with internal SMEs; and have become more efficient at resolving customer issues through heavy use of AI.
Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform fills a large gap in the company’s UC&C portfolio. Among major competitors, a ‘common core’ of platform features has emerged largely consisting of meetings, chat, calling and webinars. Microsoft Teams has delivered this common core exceptionably well and has established itself as the dominant platform in the market. However, up until now, contact center capability has been largely absent from the company’s portfolio. While the company marketed its voice-enhanced Dynamics 365 customer experience platform as its contact center offer, it was in effect a proxy. Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform equips the company with genuine contact center capabilities.
The arrival of Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform terminates the game of ‘catch-up’ which Microsoft has been playing in the contact center space. Key competitors such as Cisco, Zoom, and Google have already had a robust contact center offer. Cisco Webex Contact Center is an omnichannel platform steeped in AI that is available as part of the Cisco Webex Suite or a la carte. Zoom Contact Center is optimized for video and combines unified communications and omnichannel capabilities. Google recently augmented its ‘Contact Center AI’ with the introduction of ‘Google Cloud Contact Center AI Platform’, a CCaaS offer that combines AI, cloud technology, and omni-channel capability.
On balance, ‘Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform’ possesses several appealing features. Extensive use of AI powers important capabilities such as proactive identification of customer issues, self-service chatbots, and supplying agents with tailored recommendations. The wide partner network of ISVs (e.g, Avaya, Genesys, and NICE) and system integrators (EY, HCL, Hitachi, KPMG, PwC, TCS, and TTEC) allows companies to grow their contact center operations by ensuring interoperability and compatibility with other contact center and CRM systems and components. Compatibility with Microsoft tools including Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Power Platform, Azure, and Nuance layers on functionality such as production of low-code workflows, team collaboration, and data analytics.
But for all the allure of Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform, competitors’ offers stack up well and they enjoy an early go-to-market advantage. In the near term at least, Microsoft could struggle to gain traction in the contact center space, but the multitude of installed Office and Teams users will mean there is a lot of interest.