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Google plays catch-up with cloud-based contact center AI

Google is jumping into the cloud-based contact center market with AI services and vendor partnerships. But is it enough to help Google compete against more established providers?

The digital era has arrived, and organizations are looking for ways to transform themselves to gain a competitive advantage. The digital initiative that tends to have the most bang for the buck is improving customer experience, which often starts with the contact center. A 2017 survey commissioned by cloud-based contact center vendor Five9 found that customer experience is now the top brand differentiator. 

Improving customer experience is the primary reason organizations have been migrating away from on-premises contact centers to cloud-based products. The initial wave of cloud-based contact center adoption was driven by the need for omnichannel communications, where sessions can be switched between different channels -- such as voice, chat and SMS -- in real time, with no loss of information.

The next wave of growth for the cloud-based contact center market will be focused on the infusion of AI into platforms. The value of AI in the contact center is so high that the industry should see accelerated cloud services growth, because while organizations don't have enough data, AI skills, storage capacity and compute power to make AI a reality, cloud providers do.

Over the past year, a number of vendors have made AI-specific announcements in the cloud-based contact center market, including Five9's release of its Genius product and Genesys acquiring Altocloud.  Amazon entered the contact center market with its Connect product, where it could have a disruptive effect with its AI.

Google brings AI services to cloud contact centers

The one vendor conspicuously absent in the cloud-based contact center market is Google. Google has been trying to establish itself as a more serious cloud communications vendor, and contact-center-related products are a requirement. At Google Cloud Next 2018, the company finally unveiled its plans with the introduction of Contact Center AI, which is comprised of a number of existing AI products and features. Google has taken these products and made them contact-center-facing:

Dialogflow Enterprise Edition allows businesses to build AI-enabled virtual agents for contact centers, which includes virtual phone-based agents. Google previewed this in May when it demonstrated Duplex, although the use case for that was outbound calling, while contact centers have a high percentage of inbound calls. Regardless, the AI behind the use case is the same. Dialogflow isn't only for building virtual agents, however, as new features can assist live agents and perform analytics.

Phone Gateway, currently in beta, lets contact centers assign working phone numbers to virtual agents and begin taking calls in minutes without having to deploy any infrastructure. The underlying platform can rapidly scale up and down, which makes it ideal for seasonable businesses. All of the telephony, speech recognition, natural language processing and other infrastructure is managed by Google and offered as a service.

Knowledge Connectors, which is in beta, analyze the information in unstructured documents, like FAQs or articles, and add the information to the current knowledge base to enrich the conversational experience between agents and customers. This type of analysis can be done today, but typically requires some sort of middleware to tie two sets of data together.

Automatic spelling correction, which is in beta, automates spelling and grammar errors in text-based conversations. This feature is similar to what consumers experience with Google Search and can help avoid embarrassing errors.

Sentiment analysis, which is in beta, uses Google's cloud natural language API to score an individual's attitude as positive, negative or neutral. The scoring of conversations can be used to alert on situations where moving the conversation to a human makes sense.

Partnerships could boost Google's place in contact center market

The next wave of growth for the cloud-based contact center market will be focused on the infusion of AI into platforms.

Google is late to the cloud-based contact center market, however, so it could be tough to gain significant traction by going it alone. Google is apparently aware of this and has chosen to go to market through a number of partners. Many of these companies made their own announcements at Google Cloud Next, including the following:

  • Cisco is using Google Contact Center AI to provide agents with relevant documents to steer conversations with higher precision. This is an iterative process, where the AI continuously learns to improve the accuracy over time.
  • Five9 is integrating with Google to deliver a conversational virtual agent, skills-based call escalation and live agent automation.
  • Mitel is using Google to provide a virtual agent, agent-assist functionality and analytics.

Google is also partnering with Appian, Genesys, RingCentral, Twilio, Upwire and Vonage.

Google has been knocking at the door of cloud-based communications for almost a decade and has seen little uptake. Google's challenge with unified communications is it can't seem to reach feature parity with mainstream vendors. Its approach with the contact center is to provide the capabilities to vendors that understand the market, which could help Google turn a late start into meaningful traction quickly.

Editor's note: Cisco, Five9, Mitel and Vonage are clients of ZK Research.

This was last published in July 2018

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