Thursday, 29 November 2012 09:05

Is the Contact Center in Microsoft's Future?

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With the introduction of the new Windows 8 operating system and the Microsoft Surface tablet, the company’s first foray into the hardware market, Microsoft has received a fair amount of media attention over the past couple of weeks.  Naturally this has led to an equally fair number of inquiries from clients and members of the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) wanting to know whether this is indicative of a push by Microsoft into new markets and if it will have any impact on the contact center industry.  The simple answer is yes and no.


Microsoft is in the throes of a major strategic shift, and it isn’t toward customer service.  Microsoft has made its fortune providing software solutions to the enterprise.  It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Microsoft has essentially owned the personal computer (PC) and enterprise software market for much of its existence.  However, all good things must come to an end.  Welcome to the post-PC era.


Today smartphones, tablets and cloud services are rapidly replacing laptops and desktops in the enterprise.  Demand for these mobile devices is being driven by the consumer market – a market that Microsoft has not done as good a job at cultivating as has their rival, Apple.  Apple has figured out that staying close to the customer and providing a superior customer service experience is a primary key to success in the consumer market.  Here we find Microsoft low on the learning curve.


So what does this have to do with the contact center?  My contention is that Microsoft is going to be obsessed by its major strategic and tactical shift from an enterprise software provider to a consumer products provider over the next several years.  Microsoft made a $15 million investment in Aspect a few years ago – a drop in the bucket for a company with $60 billion in cash among its $118 billion in assets.  While Aspect has made Microsoft a major highlight of its contact center strategy, it hasn’t been reciprocal on the part of Microsoft.  Beyond the Aspect relationship, there isn’t any evidence that Microsoft has any interest in planting its flag in the customer service industry.


A few years ago Microsoft hired several managers from Envision Telephony, a small contact center company in Seattle, and they hired a strategic manager to help Microsoft evaluate contact center industry opportunities.  Today those former Envision employees are working on Microsoft CRM products and the contact center strategic manager position was eliminated a couple of years ago.  This indicates to me that Microsoft’s brief infatuation with the contact center industry is long over.


The new reality for Microsoft involves more of a focus on better understanding consumers and creating a new customer base rather than helping someone else take care of customers.  While the contact center industry offers steady growth and stability, Microsoft won’t have time for modest market opportunities.  They need to hone their competitive skills to quickly learn how to appeal to consumers and create the kind of customer relationships that Apple has mastered.  This isn’t a bump in the road for Microsoft, it’s a major hurdle.


As far as Microsoft and the contact center goes, I believe it begins and ends with their partnership with Aspect to provide Lync unified communications and Lync-based applications for the customer service industry.  Don’t expect much else beyond that.  If you are still holding out for that new portfolio of contact center solutions from Microsoft, I recommend you don’t hold your breath. 

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