This week I attended the Interactive Intelligence (InIn) annual conference in Indianapolis, along with a day-long program for consultants, media and analysts. I’ll comment on the new PureCloud platform and a Social Customer Service offering that really enables, um, social customer service.
PureCloud Distributed Platform
The big news was InIn’s announcement of PureCloud, a multi-tenant platform to deploy contact center, unified communication and business process automation. These same capabilities have been available the past few years via a single-tenant cloud model they call Communications as a Service (CaaS).
CaaS was founder/CEO Don Brown’s big bet in 2008 to create a real cloud-based service, using virtualization and other techniques to manage costs. It paid off. From 2009 to 20013, the percentage of cloud orders jumped from 5% to 50%, and 2014 will be higher still. While it has created some financial challenges due to the size of the investment and how subscription revenues are accounted for (deferred), Brown decided to double down on the Cloud and committed to develop a new multi-tenant PureCloud℠ platform to be full available by early 2015.
PureCloud uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) to tie everything together. Smaller companies could run a contact center without any locally installed equipment (other than phones, of course). But most mid- to large-sized contact centers will probably install “edge servers” which contains the common logic to route calls, run IVRs, etc. If the Internet connection is broken, the contact center can continue to run, although some functions might be degraded and updates can’t be done until AWS access is restored.
This approach makes good sense to me, but I’m sure some cloud vendors will object to InIn using the term “pure” to describe their new platform, when it depends on distributed appliances. But in recent years Oracle, Microsoft and other vendors have introduced many different types of hybrid cloud implementations, and now InIn has joined in.
My take is that PureCloud is a bold move intended to appeal to larger enterprises, and especially their CIOs, that want to place a big bet on the cloud, and seek strategic vendors with a long-term vision. PureCloud is a more robust architecture that will enable InIn to innovate faster and operate more cost effectively than its current CaaS offering.
They’ll need every advantage they can get, because contact industry heavyweights like Avaya, Cisco and Genesys can throw a lot more resources at the cloud opportunity. Furthermore, there are formidable cloud-only contact center providers like InContact, Five9 and LiveOps that want to make it to the Big Time.
What I like about InIn’s approach is that they have a deeper set of functions than the cloud-only vendors and now can deliver it in a next-generation architecture. But, I wonder whether the company’s pockets are deep enough to win the war. Cloud vendors typically need to spend big for a long time before they turn the corner. And InIn plans to keep supporting its traditional installed (CIC) solution along with the CaaS.
Customers may like all those choices, but that could be difficult and expensive to manage. Since it seems highly unlikely that InIn will abandon its considerable install base (and the profitable maintenance revenue that goes with it) to go “all in” on the cloud, my bet is they’ll move the CaaS offering to PureCloud in a few years, giving customers a single-tenant implementation that rides on the new platform at lower operating costs.
Surprise! Customer service really can be social
When people use the term “social customer service” they mean using social media channels for customer service — like Twitter, Facebook or online communities. In other words, engage with a customer that complains then try to solve their problem or invite them to connect in a more traditional support channel.
That’s fine, but not really “social” in the sense of personal engagement, unless the customer just happens to get lucky and connects with an agent they like.
What InIn means by “social” is quite different. Let’s say a customer needs help and goes to the web site to figure out how to call, chat or email. Instead of just picking a channel and hoping for the best, a list of agent profiles can be displayed, showing skills, interests, wait times, ratings — whatever you want to share with the customer. Like this…
Let that sink in for a moment. This is what being social is all about — sharing info with customers and empowering them to choose. Some customers may want the agent with higher overall ratings. Others might choose an agent with similar interests. Those in a hurry could pick the next available.
To make social service work externally, you’ll need to be more social on the inside, too. InIn offers a PureCloud Directory for employee profile info, and tools to help managers decide what to share and how to manage the incoming contacts. You might not want your “five star” agent getting all of the calls, for example.
I really like this idea, but fear very few companies will have the courage to try it. I think highly approachable and engaging brands like Zappos will be among the first to offer what Gartner describes more clinically as Customer Choice Routing. But give it time, and someday it could be commonplace to see agent ratings just like you get for hotels, books, etc. And which do you think will be more motivational — reviews from the boss or customers?
This was my first time getting to know Interactive Intelligence, a company that keeps a pretty low profile outside its target market. In contrast with Silicon Valley-based tech companies that spend heavily on sales and marketing, InIn’s reputation and market visibility seems to lag its actual performance.
As I’ve said, I think the new multi-tenant PureCloud platform gives InIn a shot at competing for large strategic cloud deals, while managing costs more effectively for everyone. Innovations like Social Customer Service could help brands stand out in a world where everyone expects basic customer service to be done quickly and easily.
Disclosure: Interactive Intelligence provided a complimentary pass for me to attend this conference and paid my travel expenses. This post is part on my independent coverage of industry developments; no endorsement is implied for any companies mentioned. Some vendors have been CustomerThink sponsors within the past year. Please visit our sponsor page for information on companies that have supported the CustomerThink community.