At Ignite 2020, Microsoft today announced a new communications offering called Azure Communication Services that’s built on top of Azure. Microsoft says it leverages the same network powering Microsoft Teams to enable developers to add multimodal messaging to apps and websites while tapping into services like Azure Cognitive Services for translation, sentiment analysis, and more.

With customer representatives in India, the U.S., and elsewhere required to work from home during the pandemic, companies are turning to managed solutions to bridge the gaps in service. The platforms aren’t perfect, but COVID-19 has accelerated the demand for distributed contact center setups, particularly those powered by AI. Amazon recently launched an AI-powered contact center product — Contact Lens — in general availability alongside several third-party solutions. And Google continues to expand Contact Center AI, which automatically responds to customer queries and hands them off to a person when necessary.

Voice, video, and chat capabilities are available through Azure Communication Services APIs and software development kits starting today, to be followed in October by SMS and phone number support. It’s now possible to shift between voice and video calls instantaneously and launch chats with a single click. When it arrives, SMS will integrate with existing Azure services like Logic Apps and Event Grid. As for phone number support, it will extend to provisioning numbers capable of inbound and outbound calls and porting existing numbers, requesting new numbers, and working with on-premises equipment and carrier networks via an SIP.

“In this remote-first world, businesses are looking to quickly adapt to customers’ needs and connect with them through engaging communication experiences,” Microsoft CVP Scott Van Vliet said in a statement. “Every day, we find a new challenge that changes customer, developer, and business needs. Our goal is to meet businesses where they are and provide solutions to help them be resilient and move their business forward in today’s market. We see rich communication experiences — enabled by voice, video, chat, and SMS — continuing to be an integral part in how businesses connect with their customers across devices and platforms.”

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The launch of Azure Communication Services follows the debut of call center platform Genesys Engage. Genesys developed the platform, which runs on Azure and is set to arrive in late 2020. The companies say Engage will offer contact centers a “cooperative customer experience solution” with Teams, Dynamics 365, and Azure Cognitive Service integrations.

According to a 2020 report by Grand View Research, the contact center software market is anticipated to grow to $72.3 billion by 2027.

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