Technology for managing contact centers is transforming quickly due to innovations like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). It is also splintering into multiple market segments that overlap: Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS), conversational AI (which is a modern form of self-service), cross-functional analytics, and integrations with tools for sales and marketing users. For buying organizations, it can be hard to identify exactly which vendors and market segments serve specific needs. For example, a business that needs a chatbot can go to dozens of suppliers with varying degrees of specialization, and with different approaches to the underlying business problems creating the need in the first place.
Conversational AI can be an especially difficult tech segment to navigate because it sits at the cutting edge of current technology development while also supplying a very basic, universal need (the self-service front end). In this complex mix sits 7.ai with a set of products centered around voice automation but extending into some aspects of agent management, analytics and even BPO services.
7.ai was founded in 2000 and is privately owned. With more than 10,000 employees and 250 enterprise clients, the organization has made several significant acquisitions in the last decade that have enabled it to innovate in some of the most promising technical areas related to contact centers. In 2012, the company acquired some assets of Tellme and the entirety of Voxify, and later bought IntelliResponse. These helped it build out what ultimately became 7’s virtual-agent tools.
The main product currently on offer is the 7.ai Engagement Cloud, which is a platform containing natural language processing (NLP) applications, intelligent virtual assistants, IVR and knowledge-management tools. It also has basic voice ACD and agent-management features related to helping reps find specific solutions to customer problems, as well as quality management.
7.ai markets this platform as a CCaaS, which is accurate insofar as it does contain the operating software tools needed to run a contact center in the cloud. But the real value of the platform (and 7’s extended software toolkit) is in its focus on automating as much of the front-end interaction processing as possible. The company puts its AI expertise front and center as the key to building bots that understand customer intent and respond in real time, circumventing much of the agent’s traditional role. It also has a component called Target that melds basic outbound communication with a more marketing-friendly tool that dynamically designs and delivers personalized interactions across contact channels.
The company’s products are aimed at large enterprises with complex needs and ample resources for customer experience (CX). Engagement Cloud can serve as the contact center’s main operating system or it can coordinate functions with other vendors’ interaction-handling platforms. 7’s feature set is among the most advanced in the industry. But those features are most likely to appeal to enterprises that are relatively mature in their approach to CX. For example, the features related to personalizing each interaction and understanding customer intent require an organization to have or adopt streamlined processes connecting the contact center to teams that orchestrate interactions (often marketing). This connection is often missing or is achieved as part of a large-scale digital transformation project.
Engagement Cloud’s objectives are to help organizations maximize the efficiency of the deflection process by automating the front end. It has demonstrated some strong results in containing calls within self-service. The AI models employed continue to improve as they are exposed to more interactions over time. The company puts its AI expertise front and center in its go-to-market strategy, which is likely to appeal to IT buyers. Ventana Research asserts by 2025, AI will have become pervasive in the software stacks used to manage customer experience.
The company has some impressive technology and a great deal of legacy contact center expertise. It has targeted its technology innovation at some of the thorniest problems in modern centers: containing the interaction before it hits an agent and providing agents with the exact information needed to process the interaction if it cannot be contained within self-service.
Engagement Cloud is an example of how the core elements of contact centers (specifically the interaction routing) are becoming less important as a competitive differentiator than features designed to make customer interactions and long-term experiences better and more productive, and more measurable.
Buyers who need a very advanced AI-powered platform for interaction analysis and agent empowerment would do well to consider 7’s capabilities as part of their selection process.