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Genesys CEO on the future of contact center tech

In this interview with Genesys CEO Tony Bates, we discuss the intersection of empathy and technology, as well as the future of video in the contact center tech stack.

Contact center technology can aid customer journey orchestration, and Genesys's recent acquisitions of Exceed.ai and Pointillist will help enable that, according to CEO Tony Bates. In this Q&A with Bates, we discussed the company's acquisition strategy, as well as his plan for Genesys contact center technology to orchestrate customer experiences.

Genesys had a pretty big 2021, with acquisitions, product launches and more than half a billion dollars in new funding from investors including Zoom and Salesforce. What is the most significant of these events for the growth of Genesys contact center technology?

Tony Bates, CEO, GenesysTony Bates

Tony Bates: Three things: No. 1, a major shift in our business model. We have been the leader for many, many years in on-premises, large-scale enterprise contact center software. We now have the leading CCaaS product in the world in terms of scale, breadth of capabilities and combining capabilities. We also have the leading multi-cloud architecture.

No. 2, when I joined [in May 2019] I really saw this much bigger opportunity: Experience as a service. At its roots, experience as a service makes the contact center the most relevant, important strategic element of a business -- the new engagement center. Everyone has super-high expectations of end-to-end service. When we started, it became very clear that we also had to completely shift our approach. To orchestrate [digital customer] experiences, [our users must take] in all these different data sources in from all the other major technology stacks. So I think the second most important thing was really focusing on our strategic partnerships, and you've seen that play out with AWS, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce.

No. 3 is being there for our customers when it really mattered. I can't underestimate how important that has been to the success and the interest of Genesys. When the pandemic first [emerged], everything changed. I think our ability to get customers business continuity in new environments, within hours, is one of the things I'm most proud of. Folks had to work from home by necessity, they had to often move to cloud-based environments ahead of schedule. By really leaning into that and creating sort of turnkey programs, it really accelerated moving customer experiences to the cloud.

How would you describe Genesys's acquisition strategy?

Bates: I grew up with a very simple build-by-partner framework. That's a constant part of the way that we think about executing our strategy. So it really starts with what's the right partner, and then where we can get a time-to-market advantage. We'll continue to look at mergers and acquisitions. But I think you should think about it much more in a holistic business approach versus emphasizing one versus the other.

In your new book, Empathy in Action, you set forth principles to create customer and employee experiences that foster loyalty and trust. Do you think empathy can ever be automated in the contact center, or is that something that's just going to be the province of humans? Forever?

Bates: Think of empathy as a underlying framework, at first listening and then taking all of this signal and understanding. Then you can start to emulate parts of empathy to predict an outcome, right? So the more I know about you, your likes and your dislikes -- in your context, in your history -- I collect all that data, I can serve a response better, I can start to predict maybe what you would like to do next.

But the trick in all of this is that it's not a one-time thing. It's going to be different for different types of interactions, different types of experiences.

I think the underlying framework of empathy can be automated, and we've built that systematically.
Tony BatesCEO, Genesys

So I think the underlying framework of empathy can be automated, and we've built that systematically. And it's just a continuous learning loop. But I want to be clear that will often include humans in that equation. This is not "everything's going to be replaced by bots, and we're going to have AI that can emulate the human empathy." So I think my answer is really yes and no. It's a combination of both. And that's really what we're working on.

Zoom almost bought your competitor Five9, until Five9 shareholders blocked the deal. Zoom now is a major contributor to your latest funding round. What is your perspective on that whole sequence of events?

Bates: Honestly, I don't have a perspective because I wasn't in the discussion with Five9 and Zoom. What I can tell you is that Zoom is a strong ecosystem and technology partner. They see what we're doing and they invested. So my answer would be that it's wonderful to have them as partner. They were already a technology partner, and they just reinforced that commitment.

Speaking of Zoom, what is the state of video in the contact center technology stack, and where are we going with it?

Bates: It's hard to predict. If you think about all of these modalities and forms of communication, especially in the customer experience, context is very one-on-one. So even when I'm interfacing with an automated bot, I feel like I'm interacting with a single stream. I learned [as CEO of] Skype the power of a personalized experience to escalate into the right modality or de-escalate at the right time. I think that the pinnacle of that is video. [Since then] it's become much more ubiquitous in the way we work, live, learn and play -- [especially during] the pandemic.

Video has a very important place. I think there are some use cases that probably make more sense than others, such as B2B field service use cases where maybe you have to actually see a device or the thing that you're working on.

So many contact centers are moving toward self-service automation and call deflection, yet many also plan to or already have added video channels -- it seems contradictory.

Bates: Most contact centers are very much about efficiency. Call deflection and minimizing wait time really are ways of not treating [customers as people] but as a phone number, a queue or a channel. That helps us with some business efficiency metric, but really, if you want to create lifetime value for your customer, you've really got to dial up the empathy.

And that will show up in many forms. One of the places I think it will show up is this fluid ability to be in the right channel at the right time, for the right situation. I think video is one of those channels. This is something that we hear a lot from our customers. They're leaning into cloud-based technology because it gives them this option to start to orchestrate these things

This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.

Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service and enabling technologies for TechTarget.

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