Q&A—Former Cisco executive Trollope takes on contact center challenges as CEO of Five9

Five9 CEO Rowan Trollope is looking to revolutionize call center technologies with AI and machine learning. (Pixabay)

In May, Rowan Trollope left his position as a member of Cisco's executive leadership team to take on the role of CEO at a contact call center company.

Trollope was senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's application group before becoming Five9's new CEO. As the leader of the application group, which is a $5 billion business, Trollope played a key role in Cisco's transition from a pure hardware company into more of a software company.

RELATED: Cisco acquires an AI company but loses a software executive

"Rowan had a tremendous opportunity to be CEO of a publicly traded company, which was always an aspiration of his," Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said at the Cisco Live event earlier this month. "I actually supported him and tried to make that happen. Rowan did an amazing job of getting our portfolio rationalized and then did an amazing job of cloud enabling our portfolio."

Five9 provides cloud-based contact call center software to corporations. Trollope was familiar with "call center as a service" from his stint at Cisco, and from taking customer calls as a help desk operator early in his career.

Five9's software runs on its own data centers as well as Amazon Web Services' data centers. By using artificial intelligence, the cloud-based customer contact center can cut down on costs for companies while also improving quality of service for end users.  

In an interview with FierceTelecom, Trollope said the contact center sector was slow moving. Traditional call center vendors include Avaya, Cisco and Genesys. In addition to Five9, the cloud software as a service companies include inContact, which is owned by NICE, and Interactive Intelligence, which is owned Genesys

"It's a steady shift to the cloud," Trollope said. "With true cloud contact centers as a whole, cloud is 10% or less penetrated in this space. It's a $24 billion category and the industry is pretty slow moving and pretty conservative in general.

"The good news is that the evangelism phase for contact center as a service is largely over. Most IT folks and call center people really understand that the cloud is a viable place to consume your services from. It eliminates a tremendous amount of complexity, and there's a significant ROI savings."

Trollope recently spoke to FierceTelecom about why he  left Cisco, what his company does and how it will evolve using machine learning and artificial intelligence. This Q&A was lightly edited for context and length.

FierceTelecom: You had a pretty high-profile job at Cisco, why did you decide to leave for Five9?

Rowan Trollope: When I was at Cisco, one of the things we got involved with a lot was digital transformation discussions with our customers. Part of our portfolio, a relatively small part, was the contact center. That piece of the portfolio kept coming up over and over again as a critical piece for large customers with regards to their ability to transform their customer experience, which is the face that they presented to their customers.

Contact center technology was really coming into view for me as a very strategic and business relevant area of technology that was the midst of being disrupted. Customers are needing a new technology base to deliver a far better experience, to be more engaging, more interactive and more proactive with their customers and for their end users Those business users were asking about the contact center and how they could get into the cloud.  That's what led me to this opportunity, the digital disruption and cloud contacts being first and foremost on people's minds.

FierceTelecom: How would you describe what Five9 does?

Trollope: The company does inbound and outbound calls. It does all of the pieces and parts of the contact center solution that customers need and we have professional service group that does implementation.

We deliver it as a SaaS (software as a service) so our service runs in the cloud. Our customers sign up on our website, their agents log into our website, plug in a USB headset and their supervisors connect to our website and configure the product for that particular use case. You plug in your phone numbers and you're off to the races.

We're a full service end-to-end contact center shop in an area where customers are looking for a better platform for them to innovate on.

A lot of folks are seeing that if you're going to leverage this wave of AI that is here and increasing, you're going to need a modern cloud platform to base that on, and that's fundamentally what we have here at Five9.

FierceTelecom: Where is Five9 in terms of using machine learning and artificial intelligence?

Trollope: We launched our  AI platform, which is called Five 9 Genius, about two months ago. We believe that the self-learning contact center is really where the future is at and Five 9 Genius is our platform to do that.

When you look at the contact center, it’s a really rich place for machine learning because there's a tremendous about of data that flows through contact centers; all of the things your customers are saying to you, essentially.

There's a lot of dark data, such as voice recordings, that is sitting in the contract center. Voice recordings and every call that goes through our network gets recorded on behalf of the customer. In the past, they really weren't that useful because voice technology hasn't really been there until just very recently. If you think about the progress that Amazon has made with Alexa or that Google has made with its voice recognition stuff, voice recognition is now largely a solved problem.

We can now apply those technologies to voice recordings and all of sudden you can get things like real time transcription. With real time transcription you're also seeing an AI field that has been developing for some time but now it's accelerating and that's natural language understanding. Rather than just having a fairly monolithic, bunch of unstructured data, which is the text of what every customer said, now I can start to classify it and drive intent from that data and understand the sentiment. Those technologies have been in the infant stage for the last 20 years and in the last year or two they've really accelerated with machine learning.

FierceTelecom: What would be some examples of how this dark data could be utilized?

Trollope: This deep learning of convolutional neural networks has opened up these fields, such as natural langue understanding and automatic speech recognition, to a place to where they are driving incredible value. Our platform, Five 9 Genius, is our starting platform and we believe the future for us is in helping customers make sense of all of that data using AI, and also providing a better experience for their customers using AI.

If you can transcribe and understand the conversation that the customer is having in real time, and also simultaneously understand the knowledge base of the company, you can start to automatically tie what the customer is saying into the knowledge base and prompt the agent with intelligent actions. You can make your agents smarter and augment your customer support agents so they can give better answers faster.

A long time ago when I was actually taking phone calls, I realized the secret to customer service was knowing the answers to every question. If you know the answer to every question, then as soon as the customer started asking you could give them the right answer instantly. Customers love that. There's nothing better than getting your problem solved immediately by a very helpful person.

In the real world that takes a lot of training of your agents but it's just not feasible given the complexity of most products being supported. In this new world, AI can make that possible. AI will improve handle times, improve customer satisfaction and even eventually be able to take the calls automatically

FierceTelecom: So are any of the features you just described available today?

Trollope: Everything I just described is in the future, but we have some machine learning in our platform and some AI in our own cloud platform, which is natural language processing. The direction of Five 9 Genius is to open up the dark data that is running through our pipes so other companies can apply AI and machine learning to it.

We're investing in that, but the Genius platform is really about opening up that data to third parties. We have a whole host of third parties that leverage machine learning and other technologies that are already building on our platform. It's early days in this transformation, but I think you'll see it accelerate pretty quickly.