Brian Schnack, Director of Product Management at Five9, shares his views of the history and future of the contact center, and the ways in which the Cloud has revolutionized service.
In this podcast, Brian is interviewed by Oracle’s Jeffrey Wartgow.
We’ve been talking a lot about IoT and artificial intelligence. Today, we wanted to get back to the bread-and-butter of customer service, and really talk about innovation at its most foundational layers.
With us today, we have Brian Schnack, Director of Product Management at Five9. Brian, thanks for joining us on the podcast today. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you end up in product management over at Five9?
Brian Schnack: Well, I grew up in Iowa on farms, I got kicked out of West Point, I went back to Iowa, graduated with a Russian degree, drove to Silicon Valley and it was all uphill or downhill depending upon your perspective.
Jeffrey Wartgow: Brian, who is Five9?
Brian Schnack: Five9 are the people making the Cloud real for contact centers and call centers. Last year, our platform connected agents and customers over four billion times — that’s four billion contact center interactions, smartly routed, assigned, handled by agents all over the world.
We’re the only pure Cloud provider in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, and we also happen to be awesome folks. Here’s the key thing — it’s not just about the technology. Five9 didn’t get here simply with the right technology or the right features. We’ve earned our customers’ confidence by doing what our customers themselves do best and what the leading service organizations do best, and that is by listening, by empowering, and by engaging.
We’ve been in business for 16 years, and every day for those 16 years our team’s woken up and challenged ourselves and asked, “What can we do better so that our customers can unleash their business on this awesome world of ours?” Speaking personally as a product manager, that role with that company surrounded by that family is an excellent job to wake up to, and Oracle of course is also an excellent partner to do that alongside with.
Jeffrey Wartgow: Absolutely. You guys are the backbone for anybody who’s managing a major contact center in the Cloud. Is that the best way to say it?
Brian Schnack: Yeah, and that’s great, because like you’re hitting on things, IoT, chat bots, leveraging and harnessing artificial intelligence for smarter routing, smarter service campaigns, smarter recommendations to provide the right treatment. That’s really cool stuff and we’re going to be talking about that shortly. It’s almost magical to some people, but what I love and what I’m really passionate about talking about is showing all of the hard work in the background.
Jeffrey Wartgow: Brian, is there any innovation left in this space?
Brian Schnack: There is a lot of innovation left, absolutely. There are universes full of innovation that go into our bread-and-butter of contact center engagement. I love talking about what we’re all doing right now, not just moving forward about being smarter — being smarter with recommendations, analytics, natural language processing for sentiment and matching bots to drive smarter engagement. Again, it’s way too easy for folks to take for granted all the innovation and all the elbow grease that’s required to guarantee availability for global contact center agents.
Whether you’re in the Cloud or not, there’s a lot of innovation that’s going on right now and that’s going to continue to go on to make sure the agent — and better yet the human being — is available alongside the customer to guide that customer through the customer journey, and to guide the customer towards the right service outcome. That’s what we’re continuously doing regardless of channel.
Jeffrey Wartgow: Brian, you’re right, we do take it for granted. If you work in a contact center, you sit down at your screen, the customers are calling in, you’re handling them one at a time. There’s so much stuff that has to happen behind the scenes. What are some of the things that have changed over the last few years that we might not have even noticed? What have you been doing in the background?
Brian Schnack: Wow, that’s a great question. In order to appreciate how far we’ve grown, to appreciate all of the hard and the smart work, and yeah the innovation that’s occurred by us, by Oracle over the last 15, 16 years, let’s jump back into a time machine, back into the 1990s. This is a personal story for me — it’s mid-1990s, it’s Christmas time, and I’m working with a certain automotive association’s contact center transformation across their insurance, across their auto emergency dispatch, across their travel services. We’re talking about five, six contact centers up and down the East Coast, buildings stacked full of agents, PCs, desk phones, on-premise equipment.
In the midst of peak holiday travel season, a snow storm hammers the East Coast. These call centers — they had their phone lines, they had power, they had dial tone, but what they also had were a bunch of empty desks. Nobody could get into work. Most of the agents that were supposed to be staffing the phones were stuck at home and the spike of phone calls that came in were met with long queue times, voicemails, disconnects, drops, and abandons. People worked 24-hour shifts just to keep their services up and this was reality for a lot of contact centers back then who had to rely on a mix of hope and heroics.
I don’t know about you, but hope and heroics are not reliable strategies for the modern contact center or the modern service experience.
Over the last 16 years of Five9’s life driving Cloud contact center, we’ve innovated and we’ve invested heavily so that our customers can activate new agents in minutes, not months. Our customers can spin up new campaigns in minutes. They can shift workload from one contact center to another virtually at a switch. They can dial up and dial back agents based upon their business needs. Our customers don’t need heroics if bad weather hits. They don’t need heroics if volumes spike, because their agents are distributed, their agents are working from home very often, their agents can be ready in minutes, and their contact center, their ACD, their dialer, their IVR, their softphone telephony, their admin and tools, all that stuff that makes the magic happen needs to be flexible and it needs to be available at the speed of business. With Five9, it is.
Jeffrey Wartgow: You painted that picture of that contact center with empty desks and people working 24 hour shifts. That sounds horrible. How did you change this?
Brian Schnack: By leveraging the power of the Cloud, by building smart software for the drag-and-drop IVR for multi-channel ACD so that you can configure, route, and assign interactions to agents through the Cloud. You have reliable fault-tolerant softphone telephony that doesn’t have to be installed on your desktop and that doesn’t have to be resident in a box in your data center. Your agent can wake up at 7:55 a.m., go ready for voice chat and email at 8 a.m. in their pajamas from their desk at home if that’s your business model.
Conversely, you have your fully staffed contact centers with thousands of agents in proper contact centers throughout the United States, North America, Europe, and the world with the key thing being the telephony, the IVR, the ACD. All those elements you need to drive your business and drive your contact center engagement is virtualized in the Cloud with far less reliance on hardware on-premise, and with far less reliance on having the right plugs plugged into the right things. We’re simply harnessing the Cloud revolution that’s been going on and driven by people like Oracle over the last 20 years.
Jeffrey Wartgow: It’s the leveraging the fluidity that Cloud technology brings you that’s allowed you to break the mold of the traditional contact center. I think a lot of people often times overlook all the different areas where the Cloud technology has advanced technology. You’ve led the move of telephony from this on-premise locked down world into the Cloud, and this is where we work together. How is Five9’s software interacting with the Oracle stack?
Brian Schnack: It is interacting very, very, very well, but I know everyone wants more details than that. It’s about as zero desktop as you can get with Five9 and Oracle Service Cloud. What does that mean? What that means is, if you’re a customer, your admin simply installs the add-in into Service Cloud and suddenly, right at a finger snap, multi-channel agents immediately have the cloud contact platform with hundreds of features at their fingertips in a single Oracle desktop. They’re not swivel-chairing to a different app, they’re not craning their necks to a different monitor with a different look and feel, they are working in Oracle.
What’s cool about Oracle and Five9 is all of the stuff that simply works for the agent in the background. They login through single sign-on to Oracle and Five9, they review their activities for the day, and then they go ready for voice, they go ready for Oracle email and chat, and they do their job. They work their magic with their customers, lead into good outcomes, and in the background, Five9 ACD is there routing calls, routing Oracle chats, routing emails all to the right agents with the right skills, but the agent doesn’t need to care about how it’s working. It’s just working for them, and it’s working for their customers.
Of course, we’re doing more and more with Oracle now last year and moving forward in the years to come. The CX Cloud team, Service Cloud, the upcoming Oracle Engagement Cloud, all of you are driving Cloud innovations as long, if not longer, than Five9 has and it shows. You are ruthlessly focused on delivering rich service experiences. Five9 is ruthlessly focused on delivering rich agent experiences and engagement and it’s an awesome partnership.
Jeffrey Wartgow: You have this great product. How far do you want to take it? What is your vision for this technology?
Brian Schnack: I’m a science fiction fan. Hard science fiction, though, not the space opera stuff. I want to take the technology all the way past Alpha Centauri. What I mean by that is, if customers demand engaging over video holographs, then guess what, our customers need to engage their customers over that channel, over video holograph in a way that’s turn key, that’s trusted, that’s 24 by 7, and that’s treated with the same rigor and the same respect that voice is treated today, and that chat and email and co-browse are finally starting to be treated today. The contact center today, not to mention the contact center of the future, needs to be ready for that.
Of course, there are other things that we’ve been talking about, making sure that first of all IoT and the proactive services that are nurturing it are going to be commonplace five, ten years from now. They better be, because organizations are going to have to master and decide whether to push a software update, whether to dispatch a technician, whether to send an email, or to trigger a phone call, and if these service organizations don’t master it, they’re going to lose their customers.
Other things that are going to be commonplace are we’re going to have a much better use of AI, not simply for lead scoring, not simply for figuring out what priority a case is, but for handling agent staffing levels, for dialing, and for contact strategies, for virtual intelligence agents replacing the IVR and getting you the customer the right service from the right person. Again, no matter what emerging channel happens, no matter what emerging technology come into play, it needs to be handled with contact center rigor.
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This transcript may be edited for readability.