Back in the 1980s, when I first started working in tech, I worked for ROLM Systems, which made advanced PBXs. PBXs made the then next-generation business phone systems work. Eventually, I found myself in competitive analysis with part of a lab focused on handsets and voicemail (Phone Mail). We developed a critical CRM-like capability that blended computers and phones and provided detailed information about a caller back then. We’d get the caller’s title, to whom they reported, a history of prior calls, and a background on the current call record, including transcripts if the call was forwarded.
This capability was so much more than caller-ID, and it meant that not only didn’t you waste the caller’s time forcing them to repeat what the company should have already known, you were ready and informed before you said hello.
Cisco shared some survey results that agreed with the work I’d seen back in the 1980s, which was that customers would abandon vendors if that vendor makes them jump through annoying and, from their perspective, needless hoops, like having to repeat their problem and history with the company over and over and over again.
With this capability, you could differentiate from your competitors and assure customer satisfaction and loyalty, making these improvements competitive gold. But this is just part of what Cisco covered.
Cisco Webex Takes the Lead
The collaboration market is dominated by-products that are more about virtualizing meetings than true collaboration. Most of the collaborations I’ve done or covered didn’t occur in meeting rooms and required the team to surround the subject on which they were collaborating in groups that were often geographically spread out, forcing in-person meetings.
The pandemic drove a profound change, and surveys indicate that almost all meetings going forward will have at least one remote attendee likely feeling disenfranchised because they are remote. Up until now, I’ve thought of Webex as a lagging product that is harder to use and less interoperable than its competitors, but that changed last week. Cisco has added a host of features that included a holography feature allowing you to scan and bring a 3D image that the meeting attendees could manipulate into the meeting, making Webex a genuine collaboration product.
In addition, Webex has reporting tools that preserve employee privacy but provide feedback to the employee and their manager on issues like meeting effectiveness and participation. These tools can help managers and employees maintain work/life balance.
Cisco’s new Webex hardware is the only hardware from any major vendor that easily allows users to switch between collaboration platforms. The other products I’ve tested either don’t support all three platforms or require a reboot to switch from one platform to another.
With this change, Webex went from a product I couldn’t recommend to the only product I’m likely to recommend for voice and video collaboration, and I’ve been covering this product class for over 30 years.
Cisco continued with telephony features in line with what I had in those old ROLM systems where calls and the caller’s information are co-located so that you know as much about the caller as the company does automatically when the call comes in. This feature isn’t just for call centers, either, as there is nothing more annoying than calling into a company you’ve been working with only to find the person you are calling doesn’t know you, the project, or any history, so you constantly have to boil the ocean with redundant information.
Then Cisco added automated features so that if a customer had a problem the company knew about, the company could initiate contact with them rather than forcing the customer to wait for extended periods to get help. For instance, just today, our high-end, Samsung-connected washing machine crashed and threw a code. It has an extended warranty, but it took us several hours to call in and provide what the service should have been able to pull from the washer and schedule a repair. With this new Cisco capability, that could have all happened automatically with less manual overhead; the washer could have told Samsung I had a problem, would have generated a text or email note setting up the repair, and I would have been so impressed I’d likely not buy anything but Samsung in the future.
Brand and Employee Loyalty
Vendors bleed customers all the time, and the event called the “great resignation” is causing employees to leave companies that don’t get remote work for companies that do. Cisco announced a host of Webex and telephony features that not only seemed to integrate telephony and video conferencing but could effectively address both problems, making both customers and employees more loyal and far happier with their company interactions.
And what is fascinating is that this is just the start of Cisco’s efforts. There is every possibility that if the company keeps this up, it could end up alone at the top of the entire office communications and collaboration segment. It has been decades since I’ve been impressed with an offering like this, and I worry that I’ll never again see the capabilities I worked on in the 1980s. In short, Cisco knocked my socks off, and I’m tickled pink that it did.
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