One Week, Six Cities, Two Conferences, and Seven Takeaways

By Jon Arnold
30 Apr 2018

It’s not often I have two events in the same week, but that’s what unfolded recently, and being the only BC Expert to attend both, this is a perspective you won’t find anywhere else. First up was MoNage 2018, followed by Cisco, and along the way, I was in or traveled through six cities, so the week was a bit of a blur. I’m the only BC Expert involved with the MoNage event, and I’ve written about it before, and will share some relevant takeaways here.

For Cisco, the Collaboration Summit overlapped with MoNage, and since I was speaking there, I had to miss it, but was able to attend the final day, which was focused solely on customer care. Highlights from the Collaboration Summit have been covered by Blair Pleasant, and I’ll add some thoughts here from the customer care day.

Cisco Customer Care Day – Four Takeaways

I have a lot of ground to cover here, and could easily add another four takeaways, but these are the ones that resonated with me the most.

1. Welcome, Vasili Triant

This sure looks like a great addition to the Cisco team, as Vasili recently joined, taking on the role of GM and VP of Customer Care. Coming from Serenova, he brings a solid track record, and spoke about the time being right now for cloud-based contact center. No argument there, and it was interesting to hear how customers have been asking when Cisco will have this offering. It’s always much easier selling where demand is already in place, and as with all the other contact center players, cloud is an important growth opportunity.

2. Flex Plan for Contact Center

In terms of actual updates, this one was fairly notable. During the Collaboration Summit – which I could not attend – this new pricing plan would have been covered in more detail, along with the shift in naming from Spark to Webex Teams. Nothing stays still in this space, and the rationale behind these changes isn’t always so clear. Extending Flex Plan to customer care, however, does make sense, especially considering the above comments about cloud.

At face value, Flex Plan provides all-inclusive pricing for the contact center, meaning that both licensing and support are covered. More importantly, it works across both premises-based and cloud-based deployments. This provides a seamless bridge for contact centers to make the migration Cisco so badly wants them to make. For example, they talked about a case where a perpetual license – such as with CCE – would receive a credit to move over to a hosted version, such as HCS.

3. Branding and BroadSoft

While the Webex/Spark branding change was a bigger issue, Cisco has different integration challenges with BroadSoft. The big change here was re-naming the entire contact center portfolio CJS – Customer Journey Solutions, and within that, the BroadSoft CC One platform will now be known as CJP – Customer Journey Platform. Those generic monikers led to some spirited discussion, and all I’m going to say is that it’s pretty awkward nomenclature. There’s a lot to unpack here, but I need to move on, and I can’t imagine that the BroadSoft folks are fond of the change.

4. Opportunity is Bigger Than Contact Center

I’ve been saying this for a while and am really glad it came up. I enjoyed the related discussion around the reporting of metrics to analysts, and how Cisco has shifted from number of seats sold to overall revenues. There’s room for ambiguity on both counts, but I liked where the broader conversation went, namely around defining TAM – Total Available Market. They used the baseline of $20 billion for the contact center opportunity, and I very much agree with their contention that the TAM for their CJS portfolio is much bigger.

No dollars were attached to this, but the basic idea is that the new forms of business value that come from Big Data and the analytics attached to AI go beyond the engagement handled by contact center agents. This is largely about solving problems, but the same forms of data are also of great value to sales and marketing teams who are tasked with driving revenues and customer acquisition. Arguably, this is the domain of CRM vendors, but by thinking along these lines, the cloud opportunity for CJS becomes much bigger and more interesting.

MoNage 2018 – Three Takeaways

I could easily keep the Cisco narrative going but need to add some thoughts from the preceding event that same week. MoNage won’t be as familiar to BCS readers, but building on Cisco, I think the following takeaways make for a richer understanding of how the market is changing.

1. Let the Disruptors be Disruptive

Jeff Pulver is the driving force behind MoNage, and this is what you would expect to hear from him. It sounds like motherhood, but the underlying sentiment is important. Disruption happens when the status quo isn’t working, and there’s no doubt that’s exactly what’s happening in the collaboration space. There simply isn’t one way for workers to collaborate, and there certainly isn’t one type of vendor in the game.

When it comes to enterprise collaboration, that was very much the message for the talk I gave, along with my long-time co-presenter, Chris Fine. In my view, this should resonate with the channel community, not just for considering Tier 1 disruptors like Amazon or Slack, but also emerging players from the AI community, several of which were on hand at MoNage.

2. New Voice is Happening

This was a core focus of my talk, but to varying degrees was also reinforced by presenters from companies such as Conversation One and Vonage/Nexmo. MoNage attracts a lot of developers, and while I don’t speak their language, it’s clear that a lot of effort is going into leveraging AI to make speech technology more conversational between workers and chatbots.

The speaker from Vonage Business also had interesting insights around how technology changes our behaviors. In terms of new voice, this means improving speech technology to the point where we don’t think twice about talking to a chatbot. That’s exactly the world Amazon has in mind with Alexa for Business, and already, it’s just taken a few months for people to engage with their Echo as casually as they would their desk phone. Mark my words, but the behavior change will be so subtle that the Echo will become our go-to endpoint without even realizing there’s a desk phone right next to it. Kind of like walking down the street yakking on your mobile phone and ducking into a lonely-looking payphone booth to find a quiet space to yak.

3. Messaging is Happening Too

This has been the focus of MoNage since inception, and companies like Midori Interactive, SAP Digital Interconnect and Toronto-based Skrumble kept that stream of discussion going at the conference. Whether in mobile or desktop settings, there was plenty of discussion around the business value for both person-to-person and person-to-machine interactions. Chatbots were certainly cited as a driver for efficiency and workflow automation, but in the contact center, the greater good comes from creating more touchpoints for customer engagement.

That’s the message about messaging I was looking to hear, and I’m hoping it sinks in with contact center decision makers. It’s easy to frame the AI value proposition around streamlining operations and perhaps reducing headcount. However, I maintain you’ll get more value by applying it in ways that improve the customer experience – and based on the narrative above, I have no doubt that Cisco would agree.

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