8×8 unveils a bevy of new customer-facing AI capabilities

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala – SiliconANGLE.

This week 8×8 Inc. held a financial and industry analyst event at the Nasdaq building in Times Square, and with a venue like that, one would expect something big. The company certainly delivered, going news-heavy today by loading up its product with several new artificial intelligence capabilities targeting customer experience improvement.

The infusion of AI into CX platforms, such as contact centers, has been a growing trend as AI has matured and moved out of the labs. Improving CX is a key initiative for almost every business leader I speak with today as it’s now the top brand differentiator. An interesting data point from my research is that last year, two-thirds of millennials changed loyalties to a brand because of a single bad experience and that trend will obviously continue.

The challenge for companies today is that there are so many channels and sources of data that even the best-trained agents struggle to provide great service. Enter AI, which can augment people interactions and help companies offer self-service tools but then give agents more timely information as well.

At the event, 8×8 announced updates to its eXperience Communications as a Service or XCaaS platform with new capabilities that leverage several advanced technologies, including AI, machine learning and natural language understanding.

The new capabilities include 8×8 Intelligent Customer Assistant and 8×8 Supervisor Workspace for 8×8 Contact Center, in addition to a platform-wide integration with OpenAI LLC, maker of the chatbot phenom ChatGPT. Intelligent Customer Assistant and Supervisor Workspace are aimed at improving the customer experience and team productivity, while the integration with OpenAI adds more powerful AI capabilities to the platform.

Conversational AI can help organizations automate routine customer interactions, provide personalized recommendations and assist agents in resolving complex issues. This removes many of the low-complexity repetitive calls from agents, allowing them to focus on more challenging issues.

8×8’s new conversational AI solution, Intelligent Customer Assistant, comes with several key features that help organizations achieve those benefits, including a self-service feature that uses natural language understanding and machine learning to handle customer requests through conversations. It supports more than 100 languages, so organizations can build conversation flows once and apply them to any channel. It also comes with graphical scripting tools for building and deploying chatbots across different channels.

The use of AI has greatly improved self-service tools such as chatbots. Without AI, a bot is nothing more than a text-based interactive voice response where customers would say something like “balance” instead of hitting “1” on their phone. If it doesn’t match exactly, the bot can’t answer. AI brings natural language understanding where a customer can talk normally and the AI will interpret it and take the best action.

A common challenge for contact center supervisors is having to manage multiple applications, which can be time-consuming and overwhelming. With Supervisor Workspace, administrators can view and manage their teams and information on a single screen. The solution provides supervisors with coaching and performance recommendations based on AI insights. It also allows supervisors to create multiple workspaces based on individual needs and priorities, making it easier to switch roles and responsibilities. Supervisor Workspace has a user-friendly design with out-of-the-box role-based templates for faster onboarding.

This feature is key to managing a remote contact center. Historically, supervisors would manage agents by walking around the facility listening for audible queues as to whether an agent is struggling, or a call is going awry. This can’t be done when workers are at home because supervisors can’t listen to all calls in all locations – but machines can. The new world of work requires new tools to manage, and that’s what 8×8 has built with its Supervisor Workspace.

Both Intelligent Customer Assistant and Supervisor Workspace have built-in analytics capabilities and they seamlessly integrate with customer relationship management systems and other enterprise applications. Another key integration that 8×8 introduced in XCaaS is with OpenAI, a leading generative AI engine provider. This is a significant development for organizations looking to leverage the power of AI in their contact centers.

AI-driven innovations, including conversational AI, personalized workspaces for supervisors, and accurate transcription and translation services allow businesses to deliver consistent experiences across all channels and meet their customers’ needs. By using AI at large scale, organizations can understand and interact with their customers on a much deeper level.

For 8×8, I believe this marks a seminal moment in its history, because I’m expecting it to lead more with customer-facing versus employee-facing features. About 18 months ago, 8×8 introduced XCaaS, which is its go-to-market term for integrated Unified Communications as a Service, or UCaaS, and Contact Center as a Service, or CCaaS. The value proposition of bringing the two together is that it enables workers to interact with customers and employees though a single pane of glass.

To date, the 8×8 sales motion was to lead with UCaaS capabilities and then upsell CCaaS. That is getting more difficult because most UCaaS vendors are at or near feature parity with one another, making pricing the differentiator. In fact, one marketing executive from another cloud communications company described UCaaS as “one big sea of sameness.” Although I don’t think this is completely true, it’s certainly trending that way. I believe 8×8 is making the shift to having XCaaS be contact center led and then will look to sell unified communications as the add-on, which should create more stickiness within its customer base.

A few years ago, this wouldn’t have worked, since contact center tools were used only by contact center agents. But in this CX-driven world, businesses are now giving contact center capabilities to other worker types such as marketing, customer success, receptionists, field service, inside sales, account managers and more. This has created a much larger addressable market for contact center platforms.

Also, though I believe the average selling prices on UCaaS at best stay flat and likely decline, the infusion of AI into the contact center will cause the pricing to rise, because there is significant customer value generated. I don’t want to downplay the importance of an excellent employee experience, but anything that affects customers generally gets a larger share of wallet inside companies.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.