Musings from the Cisco 10th Annual Contact Center Sales Summit

Musings from Cisco 10th Annual Contact Center Sales Summit

Last week Cisco held its annual Contact Center Sales Summit in Hollywood, Florida. This year's gathering of product managers, sales overlays, channels, and technology partners increased in size by 50% and, for the first time, included some customers. Cisco collaboration applications business grew 15% last fiscal year, a noticeable uplift over the previous ones. It gave the company the opportunity to share its ambitions for its contact center product line. It gives me, after writing a lot about news entrants in the space, the opportunity to provide an update on a historical market leader.

Consolidating changes

The Cisco collaboration business went through significant changes after it acquired Broadsoft and Accompany in the first half of 2018. The company adopted the Broadsoft technology as its go-to software for cloud communications and contact center. It also pivoted away from Spark to focus its collaboration applications on Webex Meetings and Webex Teams. Amy Chang, who was the founder and CEO of Accompany and also a Cisco board member, took the helm. She focused her first 12 months on executing the massive undertaking implied by these transitions. In March of this year, Amy unveiled the company's new cognitive collaboration vision at Enterprise Connect. At the Summit, the company continued to flesh out its vision.

More AI use cases

At Enterprise Connect, Cisco gave a glimpse of what Artificial Intelligence (AI) can bring to collaboration applications such as face recognition in a video conference. Then, using the technology acquired from Accompany, it surfaces a comprehensive profile in Webex Meetings based on the participant’s name. The 250 million-strong contacts database is maintained current by the continued crawling of the internet, uncovering insights and news about people and companies. It uses AI to match information with the right person with now over 95% accuracy. In its contact center technology vision address, CTO Ryan Plant revealed the company’s ambition to build a data layer into its platform. This data layer will consolidate all the data needed by contact centers that, today, is scattered across many disjointed systems.

This summer, Cisco announced two new AI acquisitions, Voicea and Cloudcherry. Voicea provides a real-time voice transcription service. It was acquired first to strengthen the Meetings application. At the event, Cisco showed live demos of how it plans to apply the technology to contact centers, not just for transcription but also for agent assistance, coaching, and analytics. The Cloudcherry acquisition has yet to close and fewer details were provided. Cloudcherry gathers feedback at every customer interaction channel. It uses AI to correlate feedback to what took place in the contact center, in person or online and well as recorded transactions. It aims at predicting how changes made to attributes of the customer experience translate in terms of specific outcomes. Cisco wants to leverage the technology to show the business impact of contact centers, a historical industry challenge.

A broader collaboration play

Cisco is adamant that contact centers, communication, and collaboration applications should come from a single integrated stack. The company brought to the event all the executives leading its other collaboration product units to further foster synergies. Industry pundits have already commented on the sharp difference between this approach and Five9’s, whose current CEO and former head of the Cisco Collaboration business, Rowan Trollope, advocates instead for the best of breed contact center software.

Besides the AI synergies above, Cisco points to security and a wide range of connectivity options as the main benefits of a common platform. It stresses that integrated connectivity reduces latency and costs, in particular for global deployments. At the event, Cisco announced the integration of the Webex Contact Center with Webex Calling and Webex Control Hub, its unified management console. It also announced data centers in the UK and in Australia, the first steps of an aggressive global rollout of its cloud solution.

Cloud-first but not cloud-only

Cisco shared a “cloud-first but not cloud-only” philosophy. It noted that the cloud transition has so far happened in the small and midsize markets. It acknowledged that larger enterprises need more features and flexibility for deploying their technology assets. It includes the choice of the public cloud platform and the ability to mix public and private cloud assets in a single unified deployment. It is interesting to note the difference with Genesys’ strategy, which, coincidently, announced last week it reorganized into two business units by deployment model.

Cisco's strategy also includes the harmonization of the various experiences – agent, supervisor, reporting, and administrator – to ease the migration to the cloud. It shared an immediate focus on scaling its Webex Contact Center platform. It announced support for 3,000 agents on a single tenant and plans to ramp to 35,000 agents on a single tenant by 2020. 

Committed to the contact center market

Cisco reaffirmed its market leadership with over 3.6 million agents deployed and the number 2 position worldwide in agent count. It asserted its commitment to this market, stressing the investments it has been making, both in terms of acquisitions, the development of its Webex Contact Center cloud solution and the refresh of its legacy software.

I couldn’t write about this event without mentioning an inspiring presentation from T-Mobile’s Tamara Jensen. The company has adopted an innovative model with teams of 47 assigned to an area and accountable for all aspects of service in their territory. The model discussed in a Harvard Business Review article has reduced the company overall service cost by 13%, lifted its Net Promoter Score (NPS) by more than half, and reduced both its customer churn rate and employee attrition to record lows.

After the “Spark” years during which contact centers had taken a back seat, the event allowed Cisco to demonstrate its vision and commitment to this business to its customers and partners. It needs to continue to flesh out the evolution details of its various product lines.

Disclosure: I am CMO for Servion, a Cisco partner in which Cisco has a minority stake