8x8, Inc. was founded in the 1980’s to provide semiconductor products to the emerging personal computer market; in 2002 it was relaunched to focus on Voice over IP (VoIP) services. By 2008 it had become the second-largest independent VoIP provider in the U.S., and its product, Virtual Office, was widely used by businesses for telecommunications. In 2011 8x8 acquired Contactual and entered the cloud-based call center market. Today the company brands itself as a “communication and collaboration solutions provider in the cloud” and has two main product lines, Virtual Office and Virtual Contact Center.
Each of these is a suite of products. Virtual Office includes IP telephony and unified communications, presence, unified messaging (fax, email and voice mail), virtual meeting (Web and video conferencing and collaboration), instant messaging and chat, Virtual Office Mobile (access through smartphone or tablet) and call recording. Virtual Contact Center includes multichannel support (voice, IM, chat, email and fax), single-queue routing (in which all interactions are routed on the same basis) and skills-based routing (in which interactions are routed to the person with the skill that best matches the interaction). These capabilities are accessed through a Web browser, which supports remote and home-based workers, and they are underpinned by a set of APIs that enable integration to a number of popular workforce management (optimization) and CRM (customer service) products. All the code is owned and managed by 8x8, which has developed it to support high levels of security, compliance and availability. The company itself has a strong financial track record and a presence in more than 40 countries. Over the last two years, several of my research studies have shown that customer engagement involves multiple departments, with every business unit except IT involved in handling customer interactions. In our latest research on customer engagement, the research identifies the need to support at least six areas of the business with customer interaction support today and in the future. 8x8 is virtualizing the support of these interactions including contact centers, branch offices, and other departments.
During a recent briefing I learned about new capabilities in the latest releases of these product suites. A key update to both is in the user interface. This is key because my benchmark research into both next-generation customer engagement and next-generation customer analytics finds that usability is a top selection criterion for companies evaluating new software; users expect software to be easy to use, to include point-and-click capabilities and increasingly to offer access on mobile devices. Other enhancements to both suites include new security and compliance capabilities, more mobile features, a self-service portal so users can administer the software, single sign-on, more integration, access via more browsers and enhanced queuing. All of these are backed up by comprehensive support services, which start with assessment services and run through design, configuration, training and ongoing support that is coordinated through a dedicated project manager. If you want to read more on the version 8 of Virtual Contact Center (VCC), here is a link to their announcement.
Communications is a multichannel issue, with companies now supporting on average more than six channels of communication. My next-generation customer engagement research shows that this dispersion contributes to the three challenges businesses face most often in trying to deliver superior customer experiences: difficulty integrating of system, channels managed as silos and inconsistent responses across departments and channels. In my research into the contact center in the cloud, 44 percent of participating companies said that deploying integrated communication systems in the cloud will improve customer engagement, and in the next-generation customer engagement research 19 percent said that collaboration systems will improve cooperation between all parties handling interactions. The two products of 8x8 include both of these capabilities, as well as mobile access to the systems and extensive integration capabilities.
As I wrote recently, at the ICMI Contact Center Expo I saw several vendors that provide contact centers in the cloud. Each of these has different bundles of products, so in evaluating them businesses should select the one whose bundle most fully meets their needs. For companies seeking to integrate channels of communication and improve collaboration between business units in serving customers, I recommend including 8x8 in the vendors given consideration.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director