Unified communication

8x8 Brings AI, Machine Learning to UC&C

8x8 Inc. debuted its single platform play in the Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) space Monday, adding in machine learning and artificial intelligence as differentiators for its X Series, which combines call, collaboration, conferencing and contact center solutions.

Like many UC&C companies, 8x8 Inc. (Nasdaq: EGHT) got its start in the voice-over-IP world, but has moved well beyond that stage and today has an open platform and partnerships with Google G-Suite, Salesforce.com, Zendesk and NetSuite, among others. The X Series platform, due out this summer, is designed to take in a vast amount of data about customers and provide it real-time in context to customer service personnel and others, to enable one-call handling of problems, questions or other issues, says CTO Bryan Martin.

8x8's announcement comes a week after rival RingCentral unveiled its single platform push. (See RingCentral Makes Major Platform Play.)

Using its own built-in customer relationship management and the data pulled from a range of sources that includes previous calls, post-call surveys, social media postings, chat room discussions and more, the X-series can provide a context for any kind of customer contact. That includes the traditional calls into a contact center, but also emails to support teams or engineers, or online chats, essentially communications on any channel, Martin says.

"In order to enable a good customer experience, you have to drive employee engagement," Martin says. "Whether a customer is calling into a call center, messaging an engineer or sending an email, you want to be able to arm that employee with all the history behind that customer and the current issues so the employee can immediately respond with all the data and bring in the right experts so there is first call resolution -- and not just from the call center."

The idea is to build that intelligent context into every single communication with a customer, not just when they are calling in with problems, to treat the customer better but also to use employee time and engagement more efficiently, he says. The single worst thing that happens to customer experience is not being able to have information or experts available immediately and having to get back later to that customer, Martin claims.

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In addition to integrating with multiple partners, listed above, to get those data points, the X-series platform also features a collaborative contact center that enables peer and expert collaboration and what 8x8 calls "Advanced Customer Journey Analytics," which is the single view of the customer's recent activity and advanced analytics of that activity.

That's where the ability to use AI and machine learning comes in. 8x8 has been investing in both over the last year, including hiring Ali Arsanjani, the founder of Deep Context and former CTO for Analytics and Machine Learning at IBM.

"We are using AI and machine learning to shift through all of the different data and figure out what is relevant in the context of this information," Martin says. "A lot of the data we get is extremely unstructured -- it's spoken sentences, SalesForce records, connection frequencies. The world of machine learning fits that perfectly, because it can suck up all the unstructured data and point out the relationships and trends that are important."

Human analysts might be able to make sense out of that data in time, but machine learning and analytics allows it to happen much faster and drive strategic business decisions more quickly as well, he adds.

Martin admits that many of his customers don't yet understand this customer experience trend or are just beginning to understand. The first step is getting them to see the value of a single platform because pulling data together is much harder when it is coming from different phone systems, contact centers and collaboration tools.

"We can show them an ROI [return on investment] from improved Net Promoter scores," he says. "That's where this space is going to go -- you can only do this if you can do this on a common platform."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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