Inspire 2022: Microsoft Unveils Digital Contact Center Platform

‘Contact centers specifically are at the heart of CX transformation … a big initiative for many of our customers,’ Charles Lamanna, Microsoft corporate vice president of business applications and platform, told CRN in an interview.


Microsoft executives say partners will play a critical role in the newly introduced Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform offering, which combines technology from Teams, Azure and other portfolio products with newly acquired voice-to-text company Nuance.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft introduced the offering during its Inspire partner event, which occurs from Tuesday to Wednesday online.

Unlike other tech conferences, which have returned in person or done a mix of live and online events, Microsoft held Inspire entirely online as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19.

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Phil Walker, CEO of Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Microsoft partner Network Solutions Provider – a member of CRN’s 2022 Managed Service Provider (MSP) 500 – told CRN in an interview that a cloud-based contact center could appeal to his customers looking to improve customer experience.

“Moving away from old school voice products will reduce the amount of spam and get a more laser-focused approach to telecommunications,” Walker said. “Microsoft may be making a huge splash with this product.”

What Is The Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform?

Partners are “absolutely essential” to bridging the contact center platform to market, Charles Lamanna, Microsoft corporate vice president of business applications and platform, told CRN in an interview.

“Contact centers specifically are at the heart of CX transformation, or customer experience transformation, which is a big initiative for many of our customers,” Lamanna said. ‘And doing that is something that people look for a partner to help them with.”

Some of the earliest partners to work with Microsoft on the contact center platform, he said, include PwC and Accenture – No. 1 on CRN’s 2022 Solution Provider 500.

The platform –which pulls in technology from Teams, Nuance, Azure, Power Platform and Dynamics 365 – integrates with other contact center and customer relationship management software, including Genesys, HCL, Nice and TTEC.

Microsoft closed on its $19 billion acquisition of Nuance in March. Microsoft will also roll out training and certification for the new offering, Lamanna said.

New Microsoft Platform Features

The platform brings in artificial intelligence (AI) to power self-service and live customer engagements, collaborative experiences with live and virtual agents, business process automation, fraud prevention and advanced telephony, according to Microsoft.

Technology from Nuance improves the conversational AI, security and automation capabilities with the goal of resolving customers’ issues faster and with more personalized service. Contact centers can also offer targeted incentives to improve customer loyalty and upsell opportunities for more revenue, according to Microsoft.

The platform uses AI and Microsoft’s Context IQ feature to anticipate customer requests and predict intent, according to Microsoft. Customers are protected with integrated biometric identification, authentication and fraud prevention. Users also receive customer journey analytics to improve experiences.

Lamanna, who oversees Dynamics and Power Platform, said that partners have long been a key part of bringing business apps to customers.

“Dynamics has a very rich history of the partner channel being a major way that we bring products to market, and that‘s because so much of your business applications requires consulting around business process transformation and customization,” he said. “So it’s different from a completely off-the-shelf SaaS product, and that there‘s a lot of implementation and consultation that happens after you purchase it.”

The contact center platform should please smaller and midsize businesses as well, he said. Companies of all sizes need help talking to customers with more than just customer support over the phone.

“There are oodles of stats out there about how much of a struggle it is for so many companies to do a great job here,” he said. “And it‘s really existential for so many B2C (business-to-consumer) companies. If you don’t have great customer care, great customer support, you‘re not going to have a great brand and people aren’t going to have a great relationship with you.”

As for future updates to the contact center platform, Lamanna said to expect more integration among Dynamics, Teams and other business applications and the contact center as well as advancement in artificial intelligence for more customer experiences.

“That‘s going to have all kinds of great ramifications – cost reduction, customer and consumer experience improvements,” he said. “And most importantly, just making the agents feel like they spend their time on creative and engaging activities as opposed to lots of data entry and data copying. So that’s a big area of investment for us as well is AI and what it means for the contact center and customer engagement.”

Partners well-versed in Teams and Teams Phone might want to consider adding the contact center platform to their practice as the next step in using Teams to interact with customers, Pete Daderko, director of Microsoft Teams product marketing, told CRN in an interview.

With a quarter of a billion users, Teams has brought new customer service features to Microsoft users, Daderko said. He’s seen attach rates – a measure of the number of add-on services and products sold – of up to 40 percent with Teams Phones.

“You see this team customer service coming to bear where you‘re turning any Teams channel into a team-based call queue,” Daderko said. “So you can collaborate, share information before, during and after the call.”

Even outside of the contact center platform, partners still have a lot of opportunity for growth with Teams, Daderko said. Globally, less than 10 percent of meeting rooms are video enabled

“That’s a massive opportunity,” he said. “As bullish as we are on cloud calling, it’s still a much smaller segment than than the on-prem world as well. And so there is plenty of opportunity.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had hinted at an upcoming contact center service back in April during the company’s quarterly earnings call.

When updating analysts on Microsoft’s Nuance acquisition, Nadella said that “Nuance is a platform layer for these AI-driven applications that are getting deployed, whether it’s in health care or even in the enterprise contact center.”

“So we’re very excited about Nuance now being part of the Microsoft family,” he continued. “You will see us pretty aggressively go innovate there and grow the impact of these solutions in both, sort of the large percentages of our GDP, like health care, where I think things like tackling issues like physician burdens with new innovative solutions is much needed.”

In February, Zoom Video Communications unveiled its first homegrown cloud contact center offering coming off its abandoned acquisition of cloud contact center software provider Five9. The company included its contact center offering in its new Zoom Up Partner Program.

In May, Avaya announced the expansion of its contact center-as-a-service solutions and re-entering the networking arena.