When Ray Noorda, the Founder of Novell, coined the term ‘coopetition’ in the 1990s, he could have been speaking directly to the contact center industry of the 2020s. With the explosion of SaaS customer service offerings and proliferation of CCaaS (Contact Center as a Service) platforms, one might have guessed that the all-in-one platforms would do away with the multi-vendor solutions that plagued the on-premise contact center world. However, quite the opposite has occurred. We are now seeing a wave of OEM integration and consolidation hit the contact center industry.

Most modern CX platforms have slick product marketing that presents each platform as a ‘complete solution,’ but when you unpack the solutions, you will often find layer upon layer of underlying OEM, white-label and third-party dependencies like the Babushka Dolls of my childhood. This creates a number of headaches for prospective CIOs and CXOs looking to acquire new technology, who need to understand what they are buying and from whom.

In full disclosure, I have a dog in this fight. My company, Local Measure, runs its own native - messaging platform for customer service free of underlying Babushka Dolls! It’s our own IP where end customer data lives exclusively within our client’s data storage. Most of our competitors use one of the three large messaging services (Zendesk Sunshine, Twilio and Messagebird) as an OEM or resale, who then, in turn, integrate with Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter. This means customer data traverses through multiple platforms and multiple points of failure.

Market Consolidation

Over the last few years, we have publicly seen coopetition play out in the contact center industry. At the 2022 Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando, Google announced an OEM of CCaaS platform Ujet, which in turn has core capabilities powered by Twilio. Similarly, Zendesk’s recent entry into the CCaaS industry is also powered by Twilio. Possibly the most famous OEM in the industry is Talkdesk, who have built an incredibly successful contact center business built with capabilities provided by Twilio. Twilio, in turn, also has a competitive contact center platform called Flex which competes directly with the very same platforms it’s services power.

So with all the consolidation, resale and OEM going on in the contact center industry, what do buyers need to know before engaging with a potential vendor?

Data Security

The most critical question when ‘Babushka Dolls’ enter the equation is, “where does my customer data live, and whom is it processed by?”. With the recent introduction of GDPR, most software vendors maintain a list of all their “sub-processors.” This is an easy way to cut through the marketing spin to see what is really under the hood of a technology platform. GDPR best practice requires that a vendor outlines the sub-processors they use to fulfill their obligations to you as well as the functions performed by any such subprocessors. The more OEMs and integrations, the more third parties that have access to your customer data and the wider the surface area for any potential future data breach.

Multiple Points of Failure

It goes without saying that the more dependent underlying services a platform requires, the more things can go wrong. Several colleagues told me that a recent outage by a major telephony provider cascaded across numerous CCaaS vendors, impacting end customers across all of the independent CCaaS platforms for many hours. This was one of the first wake-up calls to these customers that their “complete solution” was, in fact, composed of multiple underlying services that provided telephony, web chat, SMS messaging and social messaging.

Complexity

Some CCaaS platforms are better than others at obfuscating OEM relationships and removing complexity. However, what is normally a universal issue (particularly with messaging OEMs) is that the use of a third-party solution introduces multiple contact routing engines, double handling and significant ongoing cost to maintain.

One of our clients recently told me of their efforts to manage routing rules, agent availability and knowledge base integrations across their webchat vendor, their social messaging vendor and their telephony platform. Unfortunately, the “complete solution” that was presented to them by the telephony platform was, in fact, an OEM of two separate platforms, which forced the contact center team to keep three services in sync and made the blending of agents across channels almost impossible.

Cost

Whether it is made transparent to the buyer or not, the less native a platform is, the more costs are involved in providing the service. Particularly in asynchronous messaging, there are a number of cost considerations depending on the preferred platform and whether a messaging is a customer service inbound message or an outbound marketing initiated message. Layering on messaging platform costs on top of the social platform costs, in addition to the margin from a CCaaS platform, can add significant duplication in costs for the end customer.

What is the solution to the ‘Babushka Doll‘ conundrum where you open up a CCaaS platform only to find multiple other dolls within dolls?

In short, the solution is to really understand what you are buying before you contract with a CCaaS vendor. Partnerships and ease of integration should be viewed as a positive for the industry. The challenge occurs when platforms present offerings as native capabilities when in fact, they are composed of multiple underlying third-party solutions. This is not always inherently bad, but it does require the buyer to be extra savvy about the cost, complexity and risk of the proposed solution.

Local Measure has a native messaging solution for contact centers that integrates directly into Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp, WeChat, email, and SMS, allowing brands to deliver a powerful omnichannel communications experience to their end customers. To find out more, check out Engage