Microsoft is officially entering the contact center fray.
The company announced the release of its Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform on Tuesday, which combines voice, video and chat services from its array of products across existing services like Dynamics 365, Teams, Power Platform and Azure, as well as the recently acquired Nuance.
With the launch, Microsoft is taking direct aim at the hotly contested customer service space, which counts Zoom, Salesforce and incumbents such as Genesys or NICE, as well as a whole array of startups, as competitors.
Microsoft’s product, a blend of productivity, collaboration and customer-service technologies, follows in the footsteps of Zoom’s new Contact Center product and Salesforce’s acquisition of Slack.
Microsoft's Digital Contact Center Platform offers a blend of productivity, collaboration and customer-service technologies.Image: Microsoft
The value in combining the three allows Microsoft to capture additional customer information that might fall through the cracks otherwise, said Pete Daderko, director of Microsoft Teams product marketing.
The advantage Microsoft has is that more than 250 million people are already on Microsoft Teams, according to Daderko. “It's really only natural that organizations would want to take the productivity or collaboration platform that they're already using and use it to better serve customers,” he said.
While Microsoft already had some pieces of a contact center, like Dynamics 365 Customer Service, the Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform is a more full-fledged product.
Historically, Dynamics 365 Customer Service was “very focused on the support agent experience … but it didn’t provide engagement channels,” said Charles Lamanna, corporate vice president of Microsoft Business Applications.
That started to change last November when Microsoft added voice and chat to Dynamics 365 Customer Service, which was based on the Microsoft Teams infrastructure.
But the big change was Nuance, the AI-based communications company Microsoft acquired in March for $19.7 billion. By adding AI to the contact center, Microsoft intends to provide support agents with everything from recommended responses to sentiment analysis.
It isn’t the only one: from Zoom’s acquisition of Solvvy to Asapp and NICE inContact, startups, cloud giants and contact center incumbents are all racing to use AI to handle increased call volumes and optimize agent efficiency.
‘Openness is key’
With the combination of telecommunications infrastructure, agent experience and AI, Microsoft is able to address the three main pillars of a contact center, according to executives.
Still, Microsoft knows it won’t replace every customer’s contact center. Recognizing that very few customers will switch their entire tech stacks to Microsoft overnight, the company plans to play nice with others (for now).
Microsoft is able to address the three main pillars of a contact center, according to executives.Image: Microsoft
That’s why Microsoft has been touting an open ecosystem approach to its contact center, highlighting integrations with Genesys, Avaya, NICE inContact and others. “When we called it the digital contact center platform, we called it that very deliberately — the platform piece — because we think integrations and interoperability and being open is so key,” said Lamanna.
Nuance, which “has a rich history and legacy of connecting to really any kind of CRM, or any contact center infrastructure or contact center as a service provider,” is a key part of that open platform strategy, he said.
With cloud penetration still low across the legacy contact center industry, which still relies on a lot of old-fashioned telephone wires, there's tremendous opportunity for Microsoft to help its customers move from on-premises to the cloud. It will just have to beat out the likes of Zoom, Salesforce and others with a longer history in the market.