yalcinsonat - stock.adobe.com

AI to drive Zoom to new levels in 2024

Collaboration and communications company’s GenAI technology to be cornerstone of hybrid workspace where technology aligns with real user needs

Noting that “great teams do everything together”, Zoom Video Communications has plotted a course for the early part of 2024, aiming to take advantage of investments in AI-based customer experience technologies and services to continue its stated mission to redraw the modern hybrid workspace and give back to businesses one of their most valuable commodities: time.

And given that it was on the verge of a key enhancement of its offer in a matter of months, Zoom said a fundamental aspect of its approach going forward would be to address the issue that to date a lot of hybrid workers haven’t felt the technologies are working on their behalf.

Speaking at Zoomtopia Leaders Connect London, Zoom chief product officer Smita Hashim established a basepoint for the company at the end of 2023, observing just how far it has grown and evolved, not only since formation in 2011, but also over the past four years, since it became the breakout technology firm of the pandemic and was elevated to verbal brand status with the likes of Sellotape and Hoover. Hashim stressed that the company had at its core the communications and collaboration products, but was also broadening reach through its meetings, notes, events, contact centre and companions products to result in a smarter platform designed specifically and better capable to meet the needs of a new flexible workforce.

“We have been adding more productivity tools, like Zoom Clips and asynchronous video,” she said. “We added a Zoom notes product, and we already had a whiteboard project. So, we think of employee experiences and expanding into that, which is really important is in this day of hybrid work.

“Expectations have really changed for how our customers engage with their customers. We had a webinar product from the early days, and we have been expanding into hybrid events. We have our contact centre, which has been growing really nicely, again built very much with hybrid in mind. It’s a full suite with a virtual agent, and it has workforce engagement management scheduling and quality management.”

Explaining what addressing the needs of the modern enterprise means, Hashim added that a key task was to ensure application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) were supported seamlessly so that business applications could be embedded effectively in the core Zoom platform. A key example offered was CRM. To provide an extent of how far this integration could scale, she calculated that the average enterprise has somewhere in the region of 200 applications.

Yet in addition to investments in contact centre technology, the key element of the expanded platform has been the use of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) to “uplevel” capability, and at no extra cost to customers.

Unique approach

Hashim believes Zoom is taking a unique approach in how it’s implementing a GenAI assistant. “Some of the folks in the market have gone with one very large foundational model, most notably Open AI, but for us, what we take is a federated approach. Early on, this is a very dynamic space, and you don’t need to use really large models for all use cases.

“We have partnered with Open AI, with Anthropic, with Meta Llama, and we have Zoom’s own model. So, with this federated approach, we can do things which are more cost effective. This innovation helps us go into market with a more cost-effective approach. It also gets us better quality, and it’s faster [as we can] use the smaller modules. [These are] the core AI companion capabilities, but within our contact centre, we have advanced AI expert assist, [and so] those would be with a charge capability, our Zoom revenue accelerator, which is a sales product which also uses a lot of AI.”

In its recently released financial results for the quarter ending 30 September, Zoom showed particular strength in the enterprise sector and in growing accounts that spent more than $100,000 over the previous 12 months. Explaining the drivers for the business expansion, chief sales and growth officer Graeme Geddes singled out the Zoom One collaboration suite. Launched in 2022, it includes core video capability supporting use solutions for the conference room – and use cases that have seen users migrate their video workloads – as well as what was described as a significant increase in the Zoom phone business.

“It’s a pretty rapid uptick that we’re seeing as our customers look to modernise the way that they interface with their customers,” he said. This was not the only uptick: Geddes added that in the just under five years he has been with the company, indirect sales channels represented less than 5% of revenues. It’s now at 35% of revenues, growing from £300m to $4.5bn in top line revenues.

Looking at the next wave of business, Geddes highlighted GenAI use cases. “AI is top of mind and our customers are really excited about our AI companion capabilities,” he said. “They are loving the quality of the product, the specific use, [and] they also really appreciate the federated approach. They appreciate the inclusion of AI [at no] additional charge with paid licences because this means they can give it to all their employees, as opposed to having to pick and choose, and say ‘who can I afford it for?’”

As it developed its strategy further, the company also recognised the fundamental fact that hybrid workspace was here to stay, and there was a simple expectation from workers that it had to be supported by their firms. Yet this did not mean that challenges did not exist. Indeed, a key one identified at the event was employee disengagement.

To combat this, Hashim emphasised it was essential to set up a workspace so everyone can fully participate. She also said hybrid work and AI are beginning to intersect and drive a lot of innovation across the board, from the employee side, from the customer side and also from the ecosystem side. That is to say, connecting various apps and workflows.

Read more about Zoom

But even if the technology promised productivity technology gains, another question emerged as to how these gains could be measured, and more broadly how could key performance indicators (KPIs) be constructed. Geddes suggested that gains in businesses would be “persona-specific”.

“Our Zoom revenue accelerator product works for sales departments, so it’s about driving efficiencies and productivity gains or driving top line revenue,” he said. “Those are very measurable and acute things. There [is also data regarding] higher close rates, larger deals, shorter sales cycles, we measure those very closely. And that’s where our customers see a lot of value for the marketing persona.

“The KPIs that we see are really efficiencies [in terms of] brand reach brand awareness. In that regard, it’s really about how you get your message out to the masses and then internally, [such as] doing internal webinars. Employee sentiment … and employee engagement are really key critical items.”

The technology can survey employee engagement before, after and through phases of technology deployment to develop a best practice to make sure users are driving results and also measuring customer satisfaction scores. A critical area in which such measures are being used extensively is in contact centres, especially with an increasing number of agents being remote. Zoom said it was very cognisant that the amount firms can reduce agent turnover reduces costs significantly. Using employee engagement platforms can keep people engaged and build a sense of camaraderie.

Concluding, Hashim recognised the fundamental challenge of getting technology to work for workers in a hybrid environment. While confident in the capability of the current service set with workspaces, AI and intelligent directors, she felt, and speaking as a use of hybrid technologies herself, that there was more technological innovation to be done, driven by those who needed it.

“Sometimes we take for granted the new capabilities that we have,” she said. “I think, as a hybrid user, I feel like I want users to have really high expectations that keep pushing us to do more and more, and the products are getting better.”

Read more on Collaboration software and productivity software

Data Center
Data Management