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Customer Experience and Hybrid Work Highlights Webex News at Cisco Live

Memorial Day has passed, meaning conference season is shifting into high gear. The first event after the long weekend is Cisco Live, held this week in Las Vegas. Since this event falls between Enterprise Connect and WebexOne, Webex announcements are typically lighter, but that wasn’t the case this year. The news from the 2024 edition of Cisco Live focused on two areas – customer experience and hybrid work, which is consistent with the innovation from Webex over the past couple of years. During a pre-briefing, Webex CMO Aruna Ravichandran explained that the laser focus on these areas is because they have board-level visibility within their customers.

Automatic CSAT & Agent Wellness

The first announcement was Cisco's unveiling of its own native virtual AI agent, a move that complements its existing integration with Google Contact Center AI (CCAI). This integration brings many new capabilities to the Webex Contact Center, including the highly sought-after features of Automatic CSAT and Agent Wellness. These additions are crucial for any modernized contact center, as they introduce new metrics to gauge contact center effectiveness.

Traditional KPIs, such as average handle time (AHT), are becoming obsolete in the face of changing agent roles. For instance, AHT is no longer a reliable metric as many brands have transitioned their agents into revenue-generating roles, necessitating longer calls. Customer satisfaction (CSAT) is more accurate, but most brands have yet to grasp their customer satisfaction score fully, as customers tend to respond only to extreme experiences. Automatic CSAT, on the other hand, can gauge customer satisfaction based on sentiment, tone, and other factors, providing a more nuanced understanding.

This would be like if Uber scored a ride automatically scored a ride using how many times a driver changed lanes, brake pressure, car temperature, and other criteria. I’ve talked to some brands that have implemented auto CSAT, and they’ve found their actual customer satisfaction is much lower than they understood. Once businesses have this data, they can use other AI tools, such as call summaries and coaching highlights, to better train and work on CSAT improvement.

The second new feature, Agent Wellness, is essential to reduce agent churn. For all the industry chatter around cost savings, automation, and AI, the enormous cost item for most contact centers is agent churn. Some brands have told me their churn is well over 50%, driving the cost of onboarding and training through the roof. Contact centers should consider agent wellness a top KPI to measure, as cutting churn down a few points will greatly impact a business's top and bottom line.

BYO Virtual Agent

Adding to the AI capabilities, Webex Contact Center now supports a “Bring Your Own Virtual Agent” where customers can use their homegrown AI assistant. This lets Cisco customers leverage any internal investments they have already made. For Cisco, the contact center AI approach is about giving customers a choice, and it now supports its own native AI, Google CCAI, and a bring-your-own model.

New AI-powered Collaboration Features

Shifting to hybrid work with Webex Meetings, the company is introducing AI Assistant Custom Dictionaries, which lets businesses add industry-specific or brandable company terms to the AI vocabulary, creating more accurate summaries. Anyone in tech, healthcare, legal, or financial knows how large the set of custom terms is. I always experience this as I use for most of my calls. Across all the vendors I deal with, there are so many custom terms and brands that I continually have to go through transcripts and re-listen to calls to understand why they transcribed what they did.

Webex is also introducing an AI assistant for developers to speed up documentation searches and provide incremental coding assistance. While much of the focus of AI has been on improving meetings, the developer audience can significantly benefit from using AI. This is another audience that initially looked at AI as a threat to their jobs but, in reality, can make average developers great ones and give great ones superpowers.

Webex has added a new AI Workspace Ranking for administrators to help IT pros better manage hybrid work environments. If equipment is not working in a room, people won’t use it, creating wasted space. If the IT organizations know about the problems, they can address them, but often, the state of meeting room equipment is a black box. With this new capability, IT pros can “stack rank” the rooms based on problems, enabling them to fix issues proactively and ensure all spaces are up and running.

Another administrator-facing feature is Remote Device Access Management, where IT pros can remotely take control of a device and see the problem. As a former IT pro, I know the frustration of having a user try to explain the situation to me. Non-technical people often need help explaining things to administrators in a way that accurately describes the problem. Now, IT pros can see for themselves.

My Take

Overall, it was a strong set of AI features for Webex. In particular, the Webex brand is still emerging as a contact center vendor. The more AI features it can bring to market, the faster it can close the gap on the mainstream CCaaS providers. Looking at core features, Webex is now at parity with most vendors and needs more “at bats” to grow outside its install base. Having Webex as part of the mainstream news in front of the large Cisco Live audience will augment its activities at WebexOne and the industry trade shows.