The rebirth of Interaction Management?

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The volume of news about the Contact Center industry has reached an all-time high lately. Interactive Intelligence and Avaya disclosed they were exploring strategic options, Nice bought InContact, and private equity firm Hellman & Friedman invested $900M in Genesys.

These events signal an acceleration of the market consolidation. However, there is actually more happening to the larger customer interaction management space. Let’s me share my observations, sometimes pulling the market in different directions.

Consolidation is accelerating

The Contact Center and Workforce Optimization (WFO) markets used to be fragmented across both product categories and players. Today, almost all Contact Center software vendors provide multichannel routing for calls, emails, chat, and social channels. Their platforms often include an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and a dialer. Workforce Optimization was a vendor created category comprising recording, quality management, workforce management, and various agent-centric analytics and performance management tools. For a while, only a few vendors would offer all modules. Today, most WFO players support some form of all these capabilities.

As predicted by Gartner, the two categories have started to come together. The largest Contact Center providers have been building or acquiring WFO capabilities. The two dominating WFO vendors, Nice and Verint made or announced acquisitions to penetrate the Contact Center market: Verint acquired both Kana and Contact Solutions, and Nice announced its acquisition of InContact.

Based on an estimated $8-10 billion market size, seven vendors —Aspect, Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, Nice, and Verint— now account for almost half of it.

Margins pressure

The contact center market has become a tale of two stories. Sales of cloud solutions have been growing at a sustained 25% annual rate for the past 5 years while the remainder of the market was flat and is now declining. If Cloud Contact Center vendors enjoy a significant growth, they often have lower margins. Many are engaged in a race to get bigger to become profitable. The three largest, Five9, InContact, and Interactive Intelligence, despite being over $100 million in revenue are still not profitable. This financial pressure is having InContact merge with Nice and Interactive Intelligence explore strategic options. I found particularly striking that InContact, despite projecting $664 million in revenue in 2020, decided it would be more beneficial to sell itself. The decline of legacy markets is pressuring historical players. Aspect had to file chapter 11 to restructure its debt and Avaya is exploring its sale.

Customer service and contact center are coming together

The Contact Center market can no longer be looked at in isolation. Contact Centers are often used with Customer Service software. For many years, CRM vendors have been eyeing the Contact Center space. They have been adding email, chat, and other digital interaction capabilities but stayed away from telephony. Late 2015, Zendesk broke that pattern and announced a voice offering. It was followed by Salesforce unveiling the addition of call management to its platform earlier this year. At its June analyst conference, Interactive Intelligence shared its intent to add case management to its application suite. I expect more moves bringing further these two markets together.

New adjacencies are pushing further the market boundaries

Customer interaction management is not just for contact centers. Two adjacent industries, sales communications and customer success management, have been developing rapidly, almost independently of customer service. As companies embrace customer lifecycle management and account based disciplines, we should expect bridges to be built between them.

Unified Communication solutions are integrating Contact Center capabilities

For many years, Contact Centers could be purchased either as standalone solutions or bundled with telephony systems. The combination of interaction management with telephony is enjoying a renewed traction coupled with the rapid growth of Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS) solutions. 8x8 was the first vendor starting this trend when it purchased Contactual. Today, 20% of its business is contact center related. 8x8 has been since followed by RingCentral that added InContact to its portfolio. These bundled offers aim at simplifying contact center acquisition for small and midsize businesses. But they are also adopted by other customer facing departments looking atbetter managing their customer communications.   

Contact Centers have become too complex

Over the years, enterprises have stacked many technologies and solutions to operate their contact centers. The complexity of these assemblies has been holding back enterprises from improving their customer service. There is now a strong desire to remove this complexity and consolidate technology stacks. Integrated suites are compelling but many companies are finding these transitions long and difficult. Eventually, a growing number are trying to stay away from big and complex projects and considering alternate approaches.

Contact Center Augmentation is attractive

One such approach consists in improving the existing set of technologies in small increments, using an agile methodology. Point solutions that can be added quickly and are easy to manage become compelling. It is a popular way for adding self-service and analytics, or supporting emerging channels.

Do-it-Yourself using communication Platform as a Service is on the rise

Custom development is another approach. A new set of players has emerged, simplifying telecom with communication Platform as a Service (cPaaS) offerings. Twilio that went public in June is a poster child. cPaaS vendors offer APIs to integrate communications into business processes, shielding developers from the intricacies of telecom. This is, for example, the approach that Uber has used to connect drivers and riders in a seamless experience.

The latest entrants are looking to disrupt the market with simplicity

Reviewing the latest cohort of entrants, I am finding several looking at disrupting the industry not just with a cloud delivery model, but by making multichannel and omnichannel interaction management much simpler. They are aiming at taking complexity out of the adoption and operations of these technologies for both enterprises, vendors, and consumers.

Despite the consolidation of large contact center providers, the interaction management market remains vibrant. Three powerful forces, expansion, simplification, and innovation have been adding new participants to the landscape.  I was able to identify more than 450 players. I will share in my next post the framework I created to look at these evolutions. Stay tuned…

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