Stay Nimble with “A La Carte” Customer Service Solutions

This article was originally published on as part of my regular advisor column on December 7, 2017. Click here to read the original post.

Just a bit over a year ago my boss approached me and asked me to start an “Emerging Technologies Team” at FCR. This was basically license for a few of us to watch a lot of sales demos and get familiar with the variety of support technology on the market. There have been several wins with our clients as a result of this initiative — some that I’ve shared in previous columns.

A la carte vs All-in-one

There’s one genre of software that’s been a challenge to translate to the needs of our clients. It’s the all-in-one customer engagement platform. These include companies like InContact, Calabrio, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, Bright Pattern, and others that offer the ability to manage any and all support channels under one system. They also include other added features like quality assurance, speech analytics, and workforce management. Make no mistake — there’s definitely an allure to the promise of having everything in one platform.

At the end of each of these demos, I’ve been left asking, “When does it make sense to switch to a platform like this?” You see, a quick survey of the the clients we work with shows that the majority of them use either Zendesk or Salesforce as the main hub for their customer communication. We see a sprinkling of others but these two are the biggies. Both platforms offer the ability natively to handle other support channels like chat, phone, and social media but they also boast robust app marketplaces and APIs that give companies a variety of tools to choose from. I like to call this the “A la carte” model.

The goal of this article isn’t to sway you either way but rather to discuss some of the benefits of adopting the a la carte model, especially as your business scales. I’ll then wrap up with some interesting trends I’m seeing with regard to omnichannel and invite those readers with “all-in-one” savvy to present their rebuttal.

The benefits of A la Carte

There are a number of clear benefits to businesses of all size that go the a la carte route. Here are five that come to mind:

1. Add channels and features as you go (and grow) – I’ve worked with a number of startups that limit customer service to email only for as long as they possibly can. An email platform that easily integrates with tools for chat, phone, email, social media, and others makes it easy to add other support channels as needed in the future.
2. Use best of breed rather than the only available option – When using an all-in-one solution, you might be stuck with the functionality they’ve developed for handling each support channel. Not so with a la carte where you have several software options for each channel. For example, we have clients integrating InContact, Interactive Intelligence, Five9, and Talkdesk into Zendesk in addition to Zendesk’s own Talk product for handling phone calls.
3. Swap out one, rather than all – Whether you outgrow a system or simply find something better, the a la carte model allows you to swap out individual parts rather than taking on the daunting task of migrating everything. For example, if the chat platform you’ve chosen is having issues, there’s no need to move your entire customer engagement platform. Instead, just sign on with a new chat support company and easily integrate that into your pre existing platform.
4. Don’t wait on your all-in-one – When switching platforms is easier, there’s somewhat less of a sense of being trapped by a lack of functionality. If another system offers a feature you need, you have the option to switch. Also, consider the fact that there’s an integration for other systems and tools to make your support channels better. These might include tools that leverage the power of AI and machine learning or talk to other systems like a CRM. I’ve been fascinated by the variety of creative integrations that middleware companies like Zapier and Workato make possible. No need to wait for one company to innovate anymore.
5. Many all-in-ones also offer a la carte options – There’s so much a la carte business to be had that the all-in-ones don’t want to miss the party. Many all-in-ones like Genesys, InContact, Interactive Intelligence, and others also offer the ability to use one of their features, like voice, and hook it into a system like Salesforce or Zendesk. Don’t feel like you have to go all in on the all-in-one.

Where does this leave omnichannel?

Do you know how much time is wasted in your contact center when agents have to search for duplicate tickets from the same customer? Or how many customers call in after emailing with an agent only to have to explain everything all over again to the next person? Omnichannel support is something that’s slapped on a lot of websites of vendors claiming their software delivers it — and while they offer customers many more options to contact support — many fall short of a true omnichannel experience.

That’s why I’m closely watching the likes of Kustomer and Gladly who are daring to reinvent support as we know it. They start with the customer at the center, and regardless of the support channel(s) the customer uses, it’s all just one continuous conversation with customer support. This is new and a bit outside of the box, but I think they’re onto something. It’s a different and perhaps better way of doing all-in-one and we’ll see which other players in the market follow suit.


The customer service technology space is rapidly changing and will continue to do so. For businesses that expect to scale or simply want to save money while keeping their options open, a la carte offers the ability to adapt and adjust quickly. Furthermore, with a variety of plugins and integrations, companies can build what more closely resembles an omnichannel experience that’s truly tailored to the needs of customers while also optimizing the agent experience.

That being said, my colleagues and I want to hear from you. Where do the all-in-one platforms outperform the a la carte model?

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