James Diel is a St. Louis-based entrepreneur who came up with very clever idea. He knew that text messaging was a great way for businesses to communicate with their customers, particularly those of the millennial generation, but the available options for text messaging software were costly and complicated. Most large companies already had toll-free numbers. Wouldn’t it be cool if their customers could send a text to these toll-free numbers? Diel and his associates developed the software to do this and formed Textel to bring the product to market.
Textel is part of part of CXexchange, an online marketplace from NICE inContact, a major Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) provider. CXexchange features products from developers that integrate with the NICE inContact CXone platform. Another partner, IMImobile, gives users of CXone the ability to quickly and board digital and mobile functionality to support customers CXexchange gives Textel, IMImobile and other partners the boost needed to achieve national distribution. Diel explained, “If we had to market this on our own we would not get very far with the big-name brands that the NICE inContact has as its customers.”
App Stores for Contact Centers
CXexchange is an example of an application marketplace—a new generation of distribution channels for contact center solutions. Although Apple launched its App Store in 2008, virtual marketplaces for contact center solutions are a much newer phenomenon. Credit Salesforce for pioneering the concept with its very successful AppExchange—The Salesforce Store. Contact center app marketplaces are an evolution of the concept of development partners.
Since the standardization of computer telephony integration (CTI) links in the late 1980s, PBX/ACD manufacturers have offered development partnerships to independent solution providers. The nature of these relationships varied but, in general, the platform provider (sponsor) was a passive enabler, not an active participant in the marketing of partner solutions. Other than collecting development fees and licenses for the CTI link, the platform provider had little financial interest in the success of partners seeking to profit from its investment in the sponsor’s development program.
The sponsor has a financial and philosophical interest in the success of their partners. Financial interest comes from revenue sharing and continued partner loyalty. The philosophical interest comes from a shared passion for the platform and the belief that successful partnerships should transcend mutual financial interests to encompass personal relationships and shared commitments to technologies, superior customer care and a clear focus on customer problem-solving.
How CC App Stores Work
Sponsors are major platform providers. The platform may be an all-in-one CCaaS business or a producer of cloud-based core communications platforms. Solutions accepted for inclusion in search directories must have certified integrations with the platform and agree to sponsor requirements.
Depending on the arrangement, contact center buyers may purchase the software directly from the website or through the individual partners. The sponsor’s compensation is subject to responsibility for payment risk and the specific status of the partner.
Graham Allen, Senior Director of Product Management, Partner Programs for NICE inContact, explained that NICE inContact DevOne partners sign a contract and can participate at three levels, from developer level to premier level. Partner support and compensation is related to the level of participation. As a general rule, sponsors prefer applications that address niche markets and specific applications that extend the value of their core platforms.
Advantages to Centers
I asked Jim Kraeutler, VP of ISV & Technology Alliances at Genesys, why his company decided to create the Genesys AppFoundry. His quick and direct answer was to “reduce friction for customers associated with sourcing, procuring and deploying third-party solutions that enrich our core software.”
Kraeutler added that enterprise customers often have special requirements for which Genesys does not have a native solution. The AppFoundry provides a marketplace where customers and channel partners can find solutions that meet these needs and are specifically designed to integrate with one of the Genesys platforms. All AppFoundry listings can be purchased through Genesys or directly from the partner.
Genesys has also just released Premium Client Applications for PureCloud, which make using third-party applications as simple as going to the AppFoundry website, executing the purchase, and clicking to deploy the software. This is a big time-saver for major corporations since they do not have to go through the sometimes arduous process for approving a new vendor. Kraeutler sums it up this way: “For our customers, the Genesys AppFoundry reduces time to value.”
Advantages to Development Partners and Sponsors
The primary advantage to development partners is expanded market reach. The searchable listing on the marketplace offers access to hundreds and sometimes thousands of potential customers. And unlike the bland directory listings offered by traditional PBX/ACD manufacturers, application marketplace sponsors may proactively promote partner offerings. For Genesys, the AppFoundry has its own marketing arm. The Genesys AppFoundry marketing team offers marketing packages and helps partners launch digital campaigns geared to the marketing calendar.
The compensation system is structured in a way that incentivizes all players to rely on the app marketplace to close sales. For the sponsor’s sales team, solutions provided by marketplace partners can prove critical to closing large enterprise sales. The salesman can reply, “Yes, we can do that.” According to Kraeutler, about 20% of the traffic to their AppFoundry is from Genesys sales reps, searching for applications to solve customer problems.
Graham Allen of NICE inContact explained that, through their long history of working with partners, starting with the inContact Ecosystem (”ICE”) program, they learned how to create a referral business driving a robust ecosystem marketplace. Matt Holloway from IMImobile, a NICE inContact CXexchange partner, pointed out that development partners and sponsors build stronger ties as a result of working together. Long-lasting relationships develop between sponsor and partner technical personnel and between partner owners and corporate executives. Relationships also develop among the partners themselves. They meet at conferences and sponsored events and get to know each other’s strengths, which sometimes leads to joint proposals or subcontracting arrangements.
Finally, faster innovation is a very important benefit to both partners and their sponsors. According to Allen, “Faster innovation is one of the top benefits that our development partners deliver to NICE inContact customers.”
Where to From Here?
Marketplaces have been around for as long as people engaged in commerce. Primitive bazaars sprouted up around 3000 BC. The common thread behind the colorful vendor stalls we still see today and sophisticated e-commerce sites such as Amazon.com is the desire to reduce customer effort. It’s simply a lot easier to do all your shopping in one place.
In the contact center space, we expect to see the most activity with CCaaS providers. In addition to inContact, Talkdesk and Twillo also have mature exchange marketplaces. These providers crave “stickiness.” They don’t want their customers to wander off to another provider that may offer similar services at a lower price. For this reason they choose to expand their service offerings. A first step, which several have followed, is to form an OEM relationship with a workforce optimization vendor.
The addition of WFO functionality expands platform providers’ offerings to include all the basics but this still leaves fast-growing niches such as mobility, messaging, analytics, agent workstations, consulting services and reporting. That’s where app exchanges fit in. Primarily because it makes so much sense at multiple levels we can expect the popularity of contact center marketplaces to continue to grow.