The Role of the Contact Center Partner

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This blog entry is a from a recent interview and article I conducted with Sheila McGee-Smith, a communications industry analyst.

“The Role of the Contact Center Partner,
Customers Dependent on You Like Never Before”.

It’s officially autumn, a typical chilly morning in my office in New Hampshire. Coffee in hand, I glance through my morning reading. My virtual “stack” includes a kaleidoscope of product announcements, customer testimonials and acquisition announcements to comb through, much of it dealing with cloud versus premises technology. This constant stream of industry updates, much related to the ongoing cloud versus premises debate, is particularly relevant to customer-facing, risk-averse contact centers.

But enterprise decisions are not just about the technology. A No Jitter post by Dave Michels, 6 Disruptive Forces to Talk About in Enterprise Communications, identified a component of the discussion that is often overlooked, the channel. Specifically, Michels highlights the changing role of the value added reseller (VAR) responsible for architecting the collaboration solutions on which many enterprises depend.

Days after Michel’s post, I had the opportunity to speak with Tim Brannock, CMO of Cameo Global, a Cisco VAR specializing in Contact Center, about how these changes are impacting his customers, his business, and the technology Cameo offers.

SMS: How are industry dynamics impacting your business? There is a customer expectation that you are responsible for solution delivery on an ongoing basis, from concept through day-to-day support. What retooling has been necessary to be successful in this new model?

TB: The retooling we have done has focused on enabling both the cloud platform and the cloud consumption model. Other than that, we’re essentially doing the same things. Implementation and support are the same; it’s just a matter of who consumes the licenses and the technology. What’s different is we’ve become a cloud service provider. That’s an entirely different kind of retooling.

In fact, retooling isn’t probably the right word; creating a true cloud services business includes an understanding and responsibility for delivering SLAs, telco services, provisioning as well as billing and operations systems (OSS/BSS). That’s a radical shift from a traditional VAR. In the old model, you sell a customer a technology solution, wrap it all up, hand them the keys and walk away. Or you do some of form of managed services for them, which always provides value. But in this model, you’re delivering it for months on your platform. They are dependent on you like never before, it becomes a true partnership.

SMS: While some companies use contact center partners, others buy directly from a vendor. Describe when a partner makes sense and when purchasing direct can be the right answer.

TB: There’s a real difference between buying from a traditional integrator – who really knows contact centers – or directly from the (newer) cloud competitors when customization is needed. I think the cloud vendors have done a good job in the sub-100 agent model, but I believe that it’s going to be a struggle for those companies to get to the higher end customers, the 500-1000+ agent deals, when their systems are not necessarily customizable. Cameo focuses on the customer’s business process, aligning with what they do, holistically, in delivering value to their end users. It takes a lot of understanding the customer’s business and what drives their metrics. That’s where Cameo shines.

SMS: There are a lot of changes occurring in the contact center market, from new deployment options like the cloud to significant vendor consolidation. What have these changes meant to your organization in its role as a contact center partner?

TB: As a VAR that has been in this business for as long as we have, we have seen the model go from premises, to hybrid, and now full cloud and all three deployment models are still relevant. It’s also interesting how fast vendor consolidation has happened. We started our business with Avaya, Nortel and everybody else, the big players. And, if you look at it now, this model is completely flipping on its head. We have a new shift going on within the VAR community, where there is also consolidation occurring.

Looking back at our strategy, it was a good move for Cameo to align exclusively with Cisco because it has been the one consistent contact center player over the last 15 years. Cisco is stable, and they’re the one continuing to grow and add value. You know where they’re going to be next year.

SMS: There are new technologies that promise to impact the contact center market in the next few years, e.g., the Internet of Things and chat bots with artificial intelligence (AI). What role does the contact center partner play in helping a company understand when and how to start trialing new technologies?

TB: There’s value with chat bots and AI, but customers are not there yet. They are still trying to capture and deploy basic omnichannel. You’d be surprised how many customers still today do not have a valid strategy or system that delivers email or web chat, let alone the internal resources to support it. I would guess eighty percent of the market is still trying to figure out an omni-channel strategy which was the big buzz word three years ago. Helping customers fill these technology gaps and delivering a better customer experience is an absolute value for what we do.

I think that’s another area where our cloud platform makes a difference. Customers struggle; they know what they want to do and by us doing it as a cloud offering, it allows us to stand up omnichannel, self-service tools and the analytics without them needing to add additional, highly skilled resources.

SMS: Has Cisco said anything about the future role of the acquired MindMeld technology in Cisco customer care applications to the contact center partners?

TB: I can definitely see how MindMeld, within the Spark offering, will add a nice front-end, self-service app to the overall experience for client self-service, using a knowledge base supported by AI, to augment the contact center. I think MindMeld is a great acquisition and look forward to seeing where it’s going to go, but we’ve had no official communication yet.

About the Author
Sheila McGee-Smith, the founder and principal analyst at McGee-Smith Analytics, is a leading communications industry analyst and strategic consultant with a proven track record in new product development, competitive assessment, market research, and sales strategies for customer care solutions and services. Her insight helps enterprises and solution providers develop strategies to meet the escalating demands of today’s consumer and business customers. She is the contact center track chair for Enterprise Connect, and her views on the market can regularly be found on NoJitter.com and through her Twitter feed @mcgeesmith.