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December 26, 2023
2023 was the year of (AI) artificial intelligence − more specifically, generative AI − a tool that dominated unified communications and collaboration. That is a fact when you consider nearly every provider added some form of AI to their offerings.
From Zoom's contact center offering to Dialpad and Five9, the industry became saturated with AI-infused services, expressly as providers added the technology into nearly every crevice. Generative AI is now ubiquitous, with Gartner predicting by 2026, more than 80% of enterprises will have used GenAI APIs, models, or deployed generative AI-fueled applications in production environments, a figure slated to rise by more than 75% by that time.
It notes that in early 2023, that number sat at less than 5%.
Teams Phone also saw a significant uptick in usage, a trend one expert we spoke with expects to persist into 2024. IT spending is on the rise also, according to another expert who shared his 2024 UC predictions.
And that same Gartner report agrees, with the report forecasting worldwide IT spending growth by some 8%.
"AI will disrupt the seat-based pricing model for SaaS, as it increases productivity, fewer seats needed for SaaS products.," said Tim Shi, co-founder and CTO of Cresta.
He believes products that add AI functionalities must consider alternatives to capture the value they bring.
"We predict that volume-based or usage-based pricing would better align with the COGS(cost of goods sold) of the product and thus become more popular in SaaS," Shi said.
Shi further predicts that the AI model will not collapse "and that language models will start learning in 'self-play' fashion, like how AlphaGo got trained to be the best Go player by playing against itself."
Shi believes AI will have a profound impact on a daily task: typing.
"Typing will start to disappear in everyday life," he said, and we will see the rise of features like auto-compose along with speech-to-text. "Think less time for typing and more time for creative thinking," Shi told Channel Futures.
Ribbon's Greg Zweig
"Microsoft Teams has added 5 million Teams Phone seats in the past 12 months, 17 million in total. Webex just announced 2 million additional seats for 13 million in total," said Zweig.
The growth rate for both solutions is accelerating. And Webex will ramp up selling seats via service providers, having announced more than 5 million seats sold via that channel.
"Concurrently, Microsoft is expanding Operator Connect services via channels. We, thus, expect that the account reach of Cisco and Microsoft will become evident in 2024 as their sales and marketing groups focus on this market, each other’s customers, and channels," said Zweig.
Dimitris Sotiriou, director of product management at Twilio, also shared his 2024 UC predictions. Among them was a futuristic one.
"2024 will bring forth the rise of 'machine customers' set to interact more with contact center agents," said Sotiriou.
He believes that consumers "intrigued by AI’s capabilities to outsource their customer service needs" will create chatbots, or what Sotiriou calls “custobots.” He told us that these custom bots will interact with contact center agents on the customer's behalf.
"This will be particularly true for following up on more basic customer service requests like refund tracking, order updates, etc.," he said.
Sotiriou believes this will mean that contact center agents who leverage AI-powered chatbots to expedite requests "will need to make sure to relay the appropriate information to communicate with these chatbots and ensure they communicate back to the customer." The trend may indicate the role of customer service agents has evolved.
"As more of these simplistic contact center requests get outsourced to chatbots, customer service agents must prepare to manage more complex customer inquiries and offer more personalized communications to consumers that chatbots won’t be able to provide," Sotiriou predicted.
“IT spending will rise in 2024 as mission-critical industries turn to mobile technology to empower workers, streamline operations and reimagine workflows," Jamil King, director of U.S. mobility channel, Panasonic Connect, North America, shared with us.
Panasonic Connect's Jamil King
King believes that this will stretch already "thin IT teams" looking for help when it comes to deploying, managing and servicing assets. He asserts that channel partners can help mitigate said challenges by offering integrated, value-added services and support.
DiMaio also believes that "the advent of generative AI, in-app communications and leveraging contact centers as tools to improve other business functions will transform the CX landscape in 2024."
Similarly, customers will leverage tools developed for the contact center environment to solve challenges in other lines of business, DiMaio told Channel Futures.
"That includes features like agent assist," which DiMaio says "will quickly become sales and supervisor assist, with back-office task management eventually seamlessly melding with contact center work."
All this, he argues, will extend "much deeper insights into customer outcomes and costs." He added that customer profile data and identity resolution will drive marketing workloads and contact center experiences to his list of 2024 UC predictions.
"Artificial intelligence and automation continue to transform the contact center, with many of these technologies leveraged to drive innovation across the entire organization, empowering sales, marketing and back-office leaders," the AWS exec told us.
Citing analyst Jay McBain at Canalys (a part of Informa Tech), Zane Long, senior vice president of global partner sales at RingCentral, told Channel Futures that the new customer journey is more than 28 interactions.
"That means the most pivotal time with a customer will be the first 30 days after a purchase, but retention is a cycle of every 30 days that lasts forever," he said.
Long believes that because of this, partners will need strategies that "build trust and deeper relationships with their tech stack customers."
A successful partner will be the one who influences and "lands." They will then expand, Long said.
"This trend is especially true with SMB customers, who often turn toward trusted partners to make buying decisions."
Finally, on the partner front, Long said that partners closing deals independently equates to lower cost of customer acquisition.
"That means vendors can and should pass on a greater share to partners," said Long.
With so many experts weighing in on the future of UCC, we can expect 2024 to be eventful. That is to say, providers and partners will be at work constructing solutions to fit the needs of their customers, leveraging many of the technologies and trends listed above.
While customers realize they need AI, it will still take the work of vendors and partners in the channel to champion the tool so customers understand its advanced use cases.
And it still holds that AI is not a money maker, as many providers can't or don't charge for the feature. What will make money for the channel in the future is upselling. This means getting clients to adopt generative AI and informing them about additional services that might enhance said functionalities.
Here resides the opportunity for the channel with the tool known as generative AI, which seems to have more than captured our attention.
As for the concept of machine customers, that should also prove fascinating to see play out before us, as those who deploy said technology will have to possess some technology savvy to pull off the feat.
Contributing Editor, Channel Futures
Moshe has nearly a decade of expertise reporting on enterprise technology. Within that world, he covers breaking news, artificial intelligence, contact center, unified communications, collaboration, cloud adoption (digital transformation), user/customer experience, hardware/software, etc.
As a contributing editor at Channel Futures, Moshe covers unified communications/collaboration from a channel angle. He formerly served as senior editor at GetVoIP News and as a tech reporter at UC/CX Today.
Moshe also has contributed to Unleash, Workspace-Connect, Paste Magazine, Claims Magazine, Property Casualty 360, the Independent, Gizmodo UK, and ‘CBD Intel.’ In addition to reporting, he spends time DJing electronic music and playing the violin. He resides in Mexico.
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