Rowan Trollope on His Leap from Cisco to Five9

Is contact center technology hot? If you ask industry veteran but contact center newbie Rowan Trollope, the answer is assuredly yes. Trollope, best known to us for the five years he spent at Cisco reviving the company's Collaboration business, moved on from there in early May to become CEO at cloud contact center provider Five9 -- a move that many industry watchers found surprising.

As UC analyst Zeus Kerravala wrote on No Jitter at the time, "Trollope's move to Five9 is certainly interesting -- and unexpected, given he isn't thought of as a contact center person and that being the one area of collaboration about which he rarely talked."

Why Contact Center?

But as Trollope told me in a recent interview, the question for him wasn't "why contact center?" but rather "why not contact center?" After all, he said, "that's where all the action is these days. ... it's such a hot space."

And from his days talking with Cisco customers, Trollope said he knows C-level executives increasingly see the customer experience as a top priority for digital transformation. "So even though [contact center] was a relatively small part of my business, it was a really important thing to our customers" --and how important something is to customers is his signal for how important something should be to him, he said.

Those same customers that came to Cisco for best practices in digitally transforming their business and customer experiences asked for cloud solutions, too, so they could seamlessly connect their contact centers to Salesforce and so on. So Five9, a contact center provider born in the cloud, excited him as a next career move, Trollope said.

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Rowan Trollope, Five9 CEO

AI's Contact Center Influence

Artificial intelligence (AI) was a hot button for Trollope at Cisco, and it will be at Five9, too. AI is a "once in a generation shift that impacts everything," he said. "So I can't find an area of the contact center that's not going to be revolutionized by AI."

One of the most important factors that's powering this revolution today is the massive amount of data available for training AI engines, Trollope said. But for a company to take full advantage of AI, it needs to be on a cloud platform, because that's where the data lives, he added.

"If you're using an on-premises based system, and you are Any Company USA and you're taking 100 calls a day, that's not enough to train an AI engine. You need hundreds of thousands, and in many cases, millions [of calls]. The more data you have, the better the model gets," he said.

Going through the various parts of the contact center, Trollope sees AI transforming everything from call routing and distribution to IVR and agent assistance.

In thinking about the future of the contact center, Trollope even draws experience from a call center job he had 25 years ago. One day, he recounted, he had the epiphany that the best way to get the highest possible call ratings was to answer customer questions as quickly as possible. "And you layer on a bit of personality, and all of a sudden you're delivering a great experience. 'You answered my question quickly, it was efficient, you knew my problem, you didn't ask me a bunch of needless questions' -- AI can help with that process," he said.

"My epiphany was that's how you do it, but you only get there with years of training... and with experience and intuition. Well, the computer can help with that," he continued. "And certainly, AI in just the last few years has gotten to the place where it can augment the agent in dramatic ways. So you can take someone who is a first-year agent or new on the job and really just fast-track [her or him] to becoming a master at helping customers with their challenges."

In Five9's Spring Release (announced roughly two weeks after Trollope joined the company), AI features heavily. It introduced Five9 Genius, an intelligent routing engine using natural language processing and machine learning for matching customers to agents that can best address their needs. It also introduced Engagement Workflow, which incorporates machine learning technologies to determine optimal workflows for customer interactions across channels.

At the time, I spoke to Gaurav Passi, who had been EVP of products and technology, about the importance of AI for the company going forward. "Our customers want us to invest in AI; we need to invest. So we made sure our applications leverage this technology, and keep listening to our customers to develop use cases."

Passi, however, won't be carrying the AI banner at Five9 any longer. Passi left Five 9 early this month, as noted in an 8-K form filed just last week. His departure leaves Trollope with an important position to fill, one that will require deep technical expertise, extensive experience with enterprise SaaS apps, and, of course, AI knowledge, he said. In the interim, the research and development team will report to him, Trollope told me.

Taking the Helm

Since joining Five9, Trollope has been spending a lot of time getting "plugged in" to everything and connecting with lots of customers -- "listening and hearing where they want to go," he said. "The company already has a very detailed strategy that we've been executing, so job one is keep executing that strategy and doing that flawlessly."

He's also keeping on top of a bunch of "in-flight projects," he said. "... a big part of what I'm up to is helping the company on the product roadmap and next steps on what's being delivered to customers."

While innovation with AI is important to staying competitive for Five9 -- a 14-year-old company going up against newer CCaaS players -- reliability is also key. While innovating sometimes can mean moving fast and breaking things, "that's not what a contact center or call center really wants," Trollope said "They want something that is rock-solid and reliable. And so innovation in reliability is really important."

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