Microsoft logo at office building, Munich Germany
Image: dvoevnore/Adobe Stock

One of the bigger announcements at this year’s Microsoft Inspire event was the launch announcement of its Digital Contact Center Platform. Intended to be a cross-channel contact platform, it brings together a mix of existing applications and services as well as the recently acquired Nuance voice recognition tools.

Microsoft has had many of the features needed to build a contact center in its portfolio for some time, with Dynamics 365 offering a fully featured CRM platform, Power Platform providing no-code and low-code workflow tools, and Teams providing a multi-channel desktop with voice, text and video all built in to one application for internal and external communications. It’s a timely response to competitors like Twilio and Salesforce who have deep experience in features essential for contact centers, but who lack the breadth of Microsoft’s product portfolio.

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Putting all these tools together and adding features from Azure’s Cognitive Services suite of pre-built machine learning models makes a lot of sense. Users expect companies to meet them where they are, not chase down phone trees to sit on hold for hours, and if contact can be automated where possible while still maintaining a natural flow, organizations can use smart tooling to triage and manage calls, only handing over to humans where necessary.

A tool for customer experience

The underlying driver for the new Contact Center platform is consistency. Many of the pieces that come together under the Digital Contact Center umbrella are already in use, either separately or together. By bringing them into one platform, Microsoft can remove disconnects between tools, simplifying flows and improving integration. The intent is to bring together these different channels and outcomes, so that voice can trigger tickets or link calls to CRM systems, delivering the right information to the right desk at the right time as part of the overall customer experience. As Microsoft’s introductory presentation at Inspire put it: “Connect the stack, connect the experience.”

By using a combination of tools to both open up channels and allow applications to share key customer data, what’s traditionally been seen as a way of building out call centers becomes part of a more intelligent business that can use information captured in a conversation, chat or bot interaction to get better insights into its customers. The platform also uses predictive ML systems to determine how to respond to a user to turn a prospective customer loss into a save.

Making the Power Platform part of a contact center platform should simplify integration with existing software. There are already over 700 connectors to applications, allowing Contact Center tools to both query and write data, keep systems up to date whether the call is being handled by a bot or human, and take advantage of support for Teams as a multi-channel communication hub and as a way of using tools like active cards to link scripts directly to data inputs. Using no-code and low-code tooling will allow businesses to quickly customize solutions and respond to both internal and external demands, adding support for new systems and channels.

Another advantage of taking an umbrella approach like this is that the platform is extensible and scalable. Start-ups can begin with a few small components, extending them and adding more as they grow, while established organizations can build on top of what they already have in place. Microsoft is strongly pushing the role of AI in the platform as a way of adding automation and working with data as well as helping ensure that calls are secure and that users are who they say they are, reducing the risk of fraud in e-commerce and in financial services.

Adding Nuance to the platform

Perhaps the most important part of this announcement is that this is the first major Microsoft platform to build on Nuance’s voice recognition tooling. Microsoft’s $16 billion acquisition of Nuance is one of the company’s biggest to date, and while Nuance had a strong customer base of its own, Microsoft was looking for places to bring the two companies closer together. Using Nuance’s existing Interactive Voice Recognition tools here makes sense, as they’re already in use in many customer service applications across many different types of business.

Nuance’s experience here should help deliver consistent experiences without the overhead associated with building Cognitive Services-based voice recognition systems. As it has existing tooling, designed to fit into application workflows, it should be relatively easy to integrate its voice tooling into Microsoft’s Contact Center platform.

One important feature is support for Nuance’s biometric-based ML to help identify and verify users. If you’ve spent ages on the phone answering questions and trying to remember letters in memorable words, the ability to go straight to an agent and have your details up on screen in front of them should help reduce stress and make interactions easier.

Building a contact center

This isn’t a product you can buy off-the-shelf. Implementing a digital contact center is a complex process, requiring integration with existing line-of-business systems. No two businesses are the same, and as a result contact centers need to be customized to support the channels you want to use. It’s not surprising that Microsoft is working with partners and existing contact center specialists to help implement the service.

Launching at its annual partner event underscores Microsoft’s approach: Treating the contact center as a way of selling software and services along with the expertise needed to build one. It provides the software and services while partners provide the skills and missing parts of the platform like digital PABX systems or call routing tools. The platform remains open, so you can bring in parts from outside Microsoft’s offering and still end up with a complete call center.

Yes, you may have some of the tools and services used to build the Digital Contact Center Platform already in place, especially if you’re already using Dynamics 365. But it’s not the tools that really matter here — it’s how they’re put together, and what gets built with them and on top of them. That’s the key to giving your customers the best experience possible and ensuring that they keep coming back to you.

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