A Recap of Spring Analyst Events
Conferences are back – with a vengeance. During May and June, I attended five conferences/analyst events:
- Zoho Zoholics in Austin, Texas
- Five9 Analyst Summit in Porto, Portugal
- NICE Interactions in NYC
- Verint Engage in Las Vegas
- Avaya Engage in Orlando
Now that I can catch my breath, here’s a recap of the event highlights.
Zoho held its analyst event in Austin, the home of its U.S. headquarters. Serving 600K+ businesses worldwide with more than 90 million users, Zoho started in the small and medium business segment and is now moving upmarket to the mid-range of the enterprise segment. At the analyst event the company discussed its plans for the enterprise market, as well as the challenges it needs to overcome.
While not as well-known as some of its larger counterparts, Zoho has an impressive and amazingly large product portfolio (over 50 products and counting...) covering a wide range of solution areas. The portfolio includes Zoho Workplace (business email, chat, files, and meetings), CRM, appointment scheduling, financial applications, project management, most recently, cloud-based telephony – and much more. Zoho’s portfolio is larger than any company I’ve dealt with. One interesting thing about Zoho is that everything is based on Zoho’s own technology. For my coverage area, I focus on the Zoho One suite and Zoho Workplace, a unified office platform that combines productivity, collaboration and communications tools in a centralized virtual work hub.
At the event, I was pleased to hear about the expansion of Zoho’s unified communications capabilities, with the addition of Zoho Voice for cloud-based telephony, webinar, events, etc., as part of the Zoho One suite. The offering includes a unified directory, presence, calling, meetings, messaging, and more.
With its roots in the CRM space, Zoho is no stranger to CX, with offerings for sales, marketing, service, and e-commerce. However, the company doesn’t provide a full-blown CCaaS offering, and is not actively going after the contact center space.
Of course, Zoho representatives spent time discussing AI and generative AI. The company notes that it’s been offering AI capabilities for at least six years, notably Zia, an AI-powered assistant.
Zoho’s AI capabilities are based on its in-house AI and run in the Zoho cloud. The key tenets of its AI strategy are customer experience, customer privacy, and customer value.
ChatGPT integration is available in 14 Zoho applications, including ZohoDesk, ZohoSocial, ZohoWriter, ZohoMail, ZohoAssist, and ZohoSalesIQ. Zia can be used to help write and improve content, create checklists, generate notebook covers, draft emails, summarize notes after a meeting, optimize marketing content on web pages, summarize customer chat conversations, generate a summary for a support ticket, and much more.
During the event Zoho introduced a number of new products, including a suite of tools for entrepreneurs and solopreneurs to provide comprehensive assistance for users at various stages of their business journey. Zoho Solo is a small business kick-starter, aimed at freelancers and solopreneurs. Other new products include a business formation service called Zoho Start, as well as Zoho Publish and Zoho Domains.
Ulaa, a new privacy-centric web browser was also announced. The slide below shows Ulaa’s capabilities and features.
In addition to its vast product portfolio, what’s most impressive about Zoho is its culture and people – it really is unique. Zoho truly is an impressive company, and I look forward to seeing what it does next in the UC and CX worlds.
Five9 hosted a group of industry analysts in Porto, Portugal, the home of its new innovation center and the company’s European engineering headquarters. Porto was a logical choice for the event, and highlights Five9’s international expansion, which has been a key company focus for several years.
As I wrote in my post-event article, while I expected the buzzwords de jour at the Five9 Analyst and Influencers Summit in Porto, Portugal to be “AI” and “ChatGPT,” the word we heard most often was “joy.” According to CEO Mike Burkland, Five9 is all about bringing joy to the customer experience. “Joy” and “customer service/contact center” aren’t terms that generally go together, but Five9 is working to change things, noting that customer experiences should be fluid, effortless, and enjoyable.
As Burkland acknowledged, “We’ve come a long way but there’s much more to do. We will not stop until we’re #1 CX Platform for customer engagement.” That’s a pretty tall order, as there are some fierce competitors in this space. That being said, Five9 is leveraging its AI capabilities and expertise and introducing a slew of products leveraging generative AI. Five9 sees AI as delivering practical business solutions resulting in real ROI for customers, and focuses on what it calls “collaborative intelligence,” which brings together the best of humans and machines. As we heard repeatedly at the event, large language models are like jet engines and Five9 is building an airplane, not an engine, and there aren’t many companies that have the ability to build a world-class airplane like the Five9 Intelligent CX Platform.
During the event we saw several demos of Five9’s AI capabilities, including: Five9 Analytics, Fluid Experiences, Five9 Studio, Five9 Agent Assist with post-call summaries (all GA), and Five9 Insights (in beta).
Five9 is being very aggressive on the AI front, which is now essential when it comes to CCaaS success. While in the past it was all about omnichannel capabilities, followed by digital capabilities, today’s CCaaS winners will be those that show leadership in AI. Along with NICE, Five9 is at the top of the heap. Based on what we saw and heard at the event, Five9 will be extremely busy working on generative AI capabilities and ways to leverage these new technologies, delivering solutions that solve real-world CX problems.
NICE held its analyst event earlier in the year, but I had the opportunity to attend the company’s customer event, NICE Interactions, in New York City. NICE knows how to host an event, and the keynotes presented by CEO Barak Eilam, and President of the CX Division, Barry Cooper, were outstanding, both in terms of content and the wow factor. As I wrote in an article about the event, “Once again NICE’s marketing department hit it out of the park.” And kudos to whoever came up with the theme and tagline of “CX and the City,” as the event featured “Sex and the City’s” Sarah Jessica Parker.
Much of the presentations were around – wait for it – AI and generative AI. NICE has years of experience with AI and is well positioned to remain a leader in this area. NICE is not new to using AI for CX; its Enlighten solution is a specialized AI and machine learning (ML) framework for CX that’s embedded across the NICE product line. NICE Enlighten AI is purpose-built AI for CX, with 200+ Enlighten data models trained using billions of labelled CX interactions. Enlighten AI is embedded into all of NICE’s CX applications and can be used for customer satisfaction, sales effectiveness, and complaint management.
With Enlighten AI, NICE uses decades of historical data to train over 200 models and build CX-specific AI. NICE introduced three new solutions, which were all demonstrated on stage at the event:
- Enlighten Copilot – aimed at contact center/customer service agents, Copilot provides conversational knowledge, real-time guidance, task automation, personalized coaching, and brand-specific prompts to promote smarter guided interactions
- Enlighten Autopilot – aimed at consumers, Autopilot is a customer self-service tool that "acts as your best and most trusted employee, creating fully personalized experiences." It provides Conversational AI for self-service using AI-designed virtual agents
- Enlighten Actions – aimed at CX leaders, Enlighten Actions uses LLM to give data a voice and proactively identify optimal areas for automation. NICE claims that it is “the industry-first, AI-powered solution tailored to curate intelligent responses to any business inquiry using a historical dataset of billions of voice and text interactions and GPT generative AI. Enlighten Actions generates actionable outputs that are clear, easy to understand, and brand specific.”
These solutions use Azure’s private instance of GPT (not the public ChatGPT that most of us have tried), while accessing information in the customer data lake, to provide a higher level of security.
Eilam explained that there are three basic steps businesses need to take to fast-track to AI:
- Complete your move to the cloud, but do it right. AI success for organizations requires a consolidated cloud platform for innovation to progress
- Start over with your digital transformation. While this may sound a bit counter-intuitive, Eilam pointed out that digital CX deployed in the last decade didn’t live up to its promise. CX transformation requires a single platform, and organizations may need to restart their digital efforts in order to turbocharge their AI efforts
- Think big and avoid separate point solutions. AI success requires a single platform like NICE CXone rather than a “Frankenstack” of multiple point solutions
As Eilam mentioned in his keynote, “AI will have far reaching implications on the CX world.” I couldn’t agree more. I firmly believe that the CCaaS winners will be those that have the resources and expertise to provide leading-edge AI and generative AI capabilities. NICE is among the few companies that will stand out in a crowded space. With strong financials, an experienced leadership team, large customer base, comprehensive portfolio of products, and AI expertise, NICE demonstrated that the company is well positioned to continue its success in CX and CCaaS.
Verint held its annual customer event, Engage, in Las Vegas, with an executive pre-briefing and breakfast briefings for analysts. In my post-event write up, I noted that the buzzword of the event was “open” – open CCaaS, open data, open platform, etc. Verint used the event to introduce its new Open CCaaS platform that lets organizations choose the right path for their contact centers by openly integrating with their existing CX and contact center platforms. With this open approach, Verint helps customers get the capabilities they need without being tied into a single vendor or basing the CX decision on a telephony model.
As explained in the Verint press release, “Historically, brands built their contact centers on telephony infrastructure and, as the industry started to shift to cloud, the first-generation cloud solutions were telephony-first and closed. Today, brands are focused on using open solutions to increase automation so they can elevate CX across channels.” By adopting platforms that are open in all dimensions, organizations can future-proof their contact centers.
Rather than taking a telephony-first approach, customers can pick best-of-breed applications and use the telephony application that works for them. Note that while it’s called Open CCaaS, Verint does not provide call delivery, but can queue and route calls to be delivered on the customer’s communication platform of choice. Open CCaaS can be seen as a bring-your-own-telephony model, where organizations can use the telephony and ACD of their choice, while adding Verint’s workforce automation and management, digital interactions, AI and automation, and more. Will this create conflict with Verint’s contact center and CCaaS partners? The jury is still out. However, Verint has been moving into the CCaaS world for several years when it began offering its own digital channel capabilities. The idea isn’t to compete with partners but to provide more choices for customers while enabling best-of-breed solutions. According to the Verint executives I spoke with, Verint doesn’t want to replace existing CCaaS solutions, but wants to integrate with them. In addition, Verint would like to alter the discussion about the role of the voice infrastructure so that an organization’s contact center and CX technology decision should be around where and how organizations can deliver CX automation to the customer journey, rather than the telephony platform they’re using.
At the core of the Open CCaaS model is the new Verint Engagement Data Hub. Data is usually siloed and trapped in different systems in the contact center and enterprise. The Verint Engagement Data hub brings together the siloed engagement data from all parts of the contact center. This consolidates the data generated through interactions from every channel, workforce performances of contact center employees, and customer experiences, into one place and makes it open for everyone.
Another key element of Open CCaaS is Verint Da Vinci AI, which is built into the core of the Verint platform. Verint Da Vinci AI has been around for several years, but with the open approach now includes any commercially available AI models – including generative AI models – rather than just proprietary Verint models. It blends together Verint AI services along with GPT, Microsoft Cognitive, Facebook AI, Google AI, etc., and more commercially available AI will be added. Da Vinci AI is trained on real engagement data that Verint has been curating for 20 years.
At the event, Verint introduced and demonstrated a number of specialized bots that are designed to perform unique customer engagement tasks, including interaction summarization, interaction transfer, knowledge suggestion, knowledge author, forecasting, data insight, compliance, agent coaching, and more.
Verint also demonstrated a generative AI-based Data Insight Bot that discovers and understands customer data and domain-specific vocabularies to provide actionable insights. Users can drill into details using natural language search and can ask questions such as:
- What is the average handle time by shift compared with forecast?
- What are the top demand drivers by channel?
- What are the top channels by sentiment for login issues?
Verint is trying to differentiate itself from other vendors by focusing on its open CCaaS platform, enabling organizations to use the contact center/telephony/CCaaS vendor of choice, while using Verint workforce engagement management and workforce optimization tools, as well as Verint’s AI, digital channels, and other capabilities. As more CCaaS providers offer workforce optimization and workforce engagement management capabilities, it only makes sense for Verint to expand and offer new capabilities.
Another Engage event, this time across the country in Orlando, Avaya Engage is the company’s annual customer event. Engage was held in conjunction with an Influencer summit for industry analysts, consultants, and media, as well as a Partner Forum. As I wrote in a post-event article, the key message is that Avaya is back.
CEO Alan Masarek and other speakers highlighted Avaya’s “Innovation without Disruption” message, helping customers move to the cloud at their own pace, adding on cloud-based enhanced capabilities on top of their existing on-prem products and platforms. Avaya’s key strength is its installed base of customers, many (or most) of which are still premises-based. Avaya knows that a good portion of these customers are not ready to move to the cloud, and some may never move fully to the cloud. Avaya remains committed to its premises-based solutions and customers, while providing a path to the cloud. For example, Avaya Experience Platform Connect empowers organizations to leverage their existing on-premises infrastructure for voice routing, call handling, and more, while accessing omnichannel voice and digital channels from the cloud.
Noting that their financial issues are behind them and that Avaya is in a strong financial position, Masarek and the Avaya team focused on how Avaya is all about the customer experience and that the holy grail for Avaya is CX. The company has “set our north star around Avaya Experience Platform (AXP)” and rationalized much of its product line so the engineering team can have more focus. Masarek noted that unified communications is becoming more of a commodity, and the contact center is the “heart, lung, and liver.”
Artificial intelligence is now a key element of contact center and CX solutions, and Avaya is partnering with key vendors to provide AI capabilities, including Cognigy, Google, Microsoft, Afiniti, Verint, and others.
Over the past few months, Avaya has been reinvigorating its sales team and channel partners with a customer-first approach, focusing on use case sales. At the same time, marketing has refreshed its branding, with new colors, new website design, new images, and more.
The main messages from the event were:
- Avaya is back
- CX is where it’s at
- Innovation without disruption will help customers get to where they need to be, enabling customers to choose their journey
Avaya has been working hard to regain the trust that was lost among some customers and partners, and to that end has been more transparent, publishing roadmaps and delivering on its promises. Based on the discussions I had with customers and partners, Avaya is succeeding in this area. There’s new enthusiasm among customers and partners, and Avaya is clearly a different company than it was a year ago.
It’s been a tiring but fun couple of months as I traveled from conference to conference. There have been A LOT of changes in the UC and contact center industries, with much more to come. While there were some similarities and common themes in many of these vendor events, they all view things slightly differently, with different approaches to common problems that customers are facing. It’s great to see the progress that these vendors have made, and how they’ve quickly adapted to changing customer needs.
The next few months will bring about even more changes to our industry. I can’t wait!