Google tiptoes into enterprise customer interaction tech with Contact Center AI

At Google Cloud Next ’18 the company announced – among many other things – a new bundle of enterprise-focused technologies specifically aimed at organisations building (or revitalising) multi-channel contact centres. Work automation vendors Appian and UiPath are part of the story.

The foundation of Google’s new Contact Center AI is the high-end Enterprise version of Google’s Dialogflow conversational interface development toolkit, packaged as Contact Center AI’s Virtual Agent. Dialogflow leverages a number of Google’s existing natural language, speech and conversation technologies, and also enables customers to integrate corporate knowledge (in the form of written FAQs, documentation, etc) into conversational interfaces so bots can provide automated answers to questions. A telephony gateway enables bots to answer the phone and provide first-line ‘human-like’ voice conversations; sentiment analysis helps to identify conversations that need human intervention; automated spelling correction enables bots to make sense of hastily-typed messages; and the whole thing can be built to operate in multiple languages.

As well as Virtual Agent, Contact Center AI also bundles in an ‘Agent Assist’ (currently only in Alpha) framework that promises to provide intelligent content and resource recommendations to contact centre agents; together with an (similarly immature) customer interaction analytics proposition that works by analysing historical audio and chat logs.

There’s no doubt that in part, Google’s Contact Center AI is designed to compete with AWS’ Connect ‘cloud contact centre in a box’ offering (announced in 2017). Whereas Connect is positioned as an all-in platform, and available as-a-service direct from AWS, though, Contact Center AI is positioned more as a set of services/capabilities and currently only available through Google’s partners. As Google starts to make its first serious steps into offering services that make sense in a business context (not services for developers, data scientists etc) this makes a lot of sense – it’s the partners that Google has recruited that have the existing business relationships and real understanding of client issues.

Speaking of partners – work automation vendors Appian and UiPath are both in the mix, with Appian pitching Contact Center AI as adding value to its own recently-announced Intelligent Contact Center platform. Interestingly, Appian partners both with Google on Contact Center AI and with AWS on Connect. Where Salesforce and others work with AWS for Connect, though, they’re absent from Google’s partner list.

The announcement of Contact Center AI is one small step, but I expect it’s the first of many it will make in working with partners to bring its AI, compute and data chops to enterprises. Having partners lead – if it can continue to pick smart partners – makes for an interesting twist in its competition with AWS.