Zoom has announced their intention to acquire cloud contact centre service provider Five9 in an all-stock deal for about USD 14.7 Billion. This is Zoom’s largest-ever acquisition as the communications platform continues to expand their services and launch new products. The deal is expected to be completed in the first half of 2022 and Five9 will be an operating unit of Zoom.
The last year has seen Zoom scaling up their product offerings, including cloud calling solution – Zoom Phone, conference hosting solution – Zoom Rooms, and applications and productivity tools – Zoom Apps and Zoom Marketplace. Zoom also acquired real-time translation startup Kites GmbH to offer multi-language translation capabilities, and Keybase – a secure messaging and file-sharing service to build end-to-end encryption for its video conferencing platform.
Ecosystm Analysts share their thoughts on Zoom’s strategy and roadmap, how Five9 will augment Zoom’s capabilities, and the impact the acquisition will have on Zoom’s competitors and the market.
Why Contact Centre?
Ecosystm Principal Advisor Tim Sheedy says, “Zoom is moving beyond its period of ‘organic hypergrowth’ brought on by the pandemic. While the paying customer base for their core video collaboration service will continue to grow, growth rates are likely to begin to track the market. To grow beyond market rates, Zoom needs to move into new markets – through product development or acquisition.”
Talking about the importance of voice services, Sheedy adds, “Voice services are an obvious adjacent market to help drive growth, and Zoom already has seen some success with their Zoom phone service and associated devices – in fact, they already have 1.5 million users. The Five9 acquisition gives the company a stronger and deeper capability in the voice sector; buying them a significant chunk of the voice services in business – the contact centre. In many businesses, the contact centre already accounts for over 50% of their voice minute usage, so winning this space will go a long way towards winning the overall voice and collaboration supplier in enterprises.”
Ecosystm Principal Advisor Audrey William predicts exciting times ahead for Zoom. “With Zoom already having a platform for video, then bringing voice into that equation and now a contact centre solution, makes them take on their competitors in an all-native cloud stack. There is a still a large installed base of on-prem UC customers and with Zoom seeing success with Zoom phones in the short time frame since its launch, this is where this will get exciting for Zoom. The telephony piece is still important in the race to simplify how we work, communicate, and collaborate today. It is that same voice/telephony discussion that can lead to a routing discussion, which then leads to a contact centre discussion.”
Ecosystm research shows that 54% of organisations are challenged in their customer experience delivery because of integration issues between multiple platforms. William sees this as an opportunity for Zoom. “The use cases to integrate workflows into the video environment is going to be important for Zoom. Video is now being used to solve customer service issues like letting the agents take over the screen to see how to help solve the customer problem immediately by using video and contact centre applications. The ability to bring this natively together will be very powerful. Zoom is investing heavily into apps and working to partner with ISVs who can develop workflows suitable for easy customer communication in specific industries such as Healthcare and Financial Services.”
Five9 is considered a pioneer in cloud contact centre solutions and owns a comprehensive suite of applications for contact centre delivery and customer management operations across different channels. Five9 has made several acquisitions and enhancements to their CCaaS solution in recent years to make their stack more complete with richer AI offerings. They include Inference Solutions to offer their customers a Conversational AI solution and Whendu’s iPaaS platform which provides a no-code, visual application workflow tool.
William says, “More contact centres want to do away with monolithic IVR systems that confuse customers with too many long menus. The Agent Assist solutions are also gaining importance especially in the hybrid work model where agents face challenges working in isolation and not being on a floor with their colleagues and managers.”
Five9 has acquired a cloud workforce optimisation provider Virtual Observer. “So, we are not looking at just a basic level contact centre solution but an offering with important capabilities demanded by customers,” says William. “During the investor call this week, Zoom’s Eric Yuan and Rowan Trollope made it clear that they have been listening to customer feedback on how effective it would be to have a single platform that can accommodate UC and contact centres in the cloud. Zoom also sees Five9 as a good fit culturally; and their goal now will be to disrupt all legacy systems with cloud-native communications.”
What lies ahead?
William thinks that Zoom’s competitors will be watching this integration closely, especially those that lack an all-in-one native cloud UCaaS and CCaaS stack. “However, some of Zoom’s competitors have an established base of large enterprise customers and have done well to grow revenues and defend their base over the years. Working with in-country partners and ISVs will be critical for Zoom’s growth across regions.”
Sheedy thinks that the most important takeaway from this acquisition is not that Zoom is moving into the contact centre space. “It is that Zoom realises they have a “once in a generation” opportunity to grow beyond their core and cement their position as a supplier of collaboration and communication services – and that they are willing to flex their balance sheet and share price to create their future. The competition – from Microsoft in particular – will be strong. Google, AWS, Salesforce, and Facebook are also making a play for this market. Zoom has found themselves in their current position of strength due to good luck and good timing – and they appear to be telling the market that they aren’t going to give up their leadership without a significant battle.”
“Enterprises will be the true winners in this battle – with better, more integrated, lower cost and easier to implement communications and collaboration solutions for their employees and customers,” adds Sheedy.
Five9, a cloud-based contact centre solutions provider announced the acquisition of intelligent virtual agent (IVA) platform provider, Inference Solutions for about USD 172 million. Five9 and Inference Solutions have been partnering for the last couple of years, with Five9 being a reseller for Inference Solutions’ IVA platform. The acquisition is expected to provide a boost to Five9’s AI portfolio, automate contact centre agent activities and provide AI-based omnichannel self-service solutions.
The need to drive greater automation in the contact centre is high on the agenda, and this acquisition demonstrates how important AI and automation is to contact centre modernisation. The old-fashioned ways of long wait times, being passed on through different menus on the IVR and being asked to repeat yourself through the older speech recognition engines is starting to not only frustrate customers but will become obsolete. Based on Ecosystm’s research, close to 60% of contact centres globally stated that investing in machine learning and AI is a top customer experience priority in the next 12 months.
Inference has come a long way since its inception at Telstra Labs
Inference Solutions (founded in 2005) was spun out of Telstra Labs. It has since expanded to the US and developed a suite of solutions in the IVA segment. They have a good partnership strategy with the leading telecom providers globally as well as the UC/contact centre vendors. Inference Solutions uses resellers such as service providers, UC, and contact centre software providers – and these include AT&T, Cisco (Broadsoft), Momentum Telecom, Nextiva, 8×8 and many others. The Inference Studio solution will see a new release in the next few months where the solution will come pre-built with the ability for the contact centre team to pre-load the contact centre conversations. These can be conversations that have been going on for 6 months or longer. The Studio solution will then be able to analyse and understand the underlying intent of the conversation, match the intent so that it can be used to auto train the bots accurately. That process of matching the intent and training is expensive and if you can automate some elements of that, it will bring the cost of the deployment down. Its solution integrates into NLP engines from Google, AWS, and IBM. In Australia they continue to work on patents in close partnerships with Melbourne University and RMIT. Throughout its journey, Inference has built a good base of customers in the US, UK, and Australia.
Five9 to accelerate on its vision of AI and Cloud
Contact centre modernisation is high on the agenda for many organisations and this will lead them to build AI and automation at the core of their customer strategies. The discussion spans across the CEO, Digital and Innovation, and the Contact Centre teams.
Five9 had acquired Whendu, an iPaaS platform provider empowering businesses and developers with no-code, visual application workflow tool, optimised for contact centres in November 2019, and Virtual Observer, an innovative provider of cloud-based workforce optimisation, also known as Workforce Engagement Management (WEM) in February of this year.
The pandemic has resulted in increased engagement of contact centres with customers. Companies are gradually looking for ways to automate tasks, deliver better communication, speech and text recognition, decipher languages, and implement solutions mimicking humans. As a solution to these challenges, IVAs are being viewed as efficient and effective digital workers for a modern contact centre. IVAs represent increased throughput, more accurate results, and better-informed agents.
Successful use cases have shown that conversational AI can reduce calls and repetitive queries by 70-90%. IVRs with monolithic, complicated menus will start becoming unpopular and force contact centres to embark on a modernisation and automation strategy. If we evaluate the shift in priorities after COVID-19, we see that organisations are ramping up their self-service capabilities and their adopt of AI and machine learning (Figure 1).
The acquisition will give Five9 a foothold in the Asia Pacific region with an initial focus on the Australia market. The Australia market is by far the most advanced cloud contact centre market in the Asia Pacific. Five9 gains a team of staff that will help them fuel the contact centre modernisation discussion across the Asia Pacific. As the region has a complex market, the need to work with local carriers and partners will be critical for further expansion. Five9 has made an important acquisition in building in IVA capability into its CCaaS solution.
Click below to access insights from the Ecosystm Contact Centre Study on visibility into organisations’ priorities when running a Contact Centre (both in-house and outsourced models) and the technologies implemented and being evaluated