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Zoom chucks generative AI everywhere in product blitz

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan October 5, 2023
AI, AI everywhere as Zoomtopia kicks off.

video conference

Can generative AI get Zoom back to its pandemic heights of good fortune? If not, it won’t be for want of trying. The firm kicked off its Zoomtopia conference with a flurry of AI-related announcements of enhancements to its portfolio of offerings. 

These included: 

Zoom Docs, a modular workspace for documentation, project and data management that can also be used to create tables, wikis, tasks and other content. 

Users will also be able to populate documents with content from live meetings and chat sessions as well as create new content using Zoom AI Companion, the firm’s generative AI assistant. Launched last month, Zoom AI Companion allows users to quickly watch meeting recordings via highlights and smart chapters, review summaries and next steps, and provide automated meeting summaries that can be shared once a call has ended.

Also getting generative AI capabilities is the Zoom Contact Center offering released last year. There have been 600 features added to this in the past 18 months, according to Mahesh Ram, Zoom’s Head of AI Applications with more to come: 

In addition to AI Companion, which is included in the Contact Center paid license, we're also introducing later this year Expert Assist, AI Expert Assist for the Contact Center with the agent side, which is going to provide agents with real-time guidance, ability to look up information and knowledge automatically with AI, be able to make suggestions and so on.

He added: 

What you see is the solution forming around the needs of the customer, which I think is obviously always Zoom's forte. But if you think about it from a customer perspective, which is how we think about it, they're not looking for a virtual agent to replace human agents all the time. They're not looking for human agents to do things that AI could do well. And so what we're starting, what we're really understanding is how do we create a seamless customer experience journey?

When we start with that mentality, then when you have virtual agents, you can make sure that you cover a wide swath of issues that customers don't need. We ourselves use our own virtual agent for our own support. I think we self-serve over 85% of our own issues, and we get millions. So we're living proof of drinking our own champagne, so to speak.

But there are moments when consumers want to talk to a live agent, he noted: 

I think the power that we're seeing is it's not always about self-service. It's about capturing the right information, getting the intent right, determining whether I can self-serve you and getting out of the way and getting to the agent in the most appropriate way, when possible…So I think we've come a long way from having a solution that did one thing, which is agent-facing contact center to now having the full spectrum of the customer experience, the supervisor experience and the agent experience and AI across all of it. 

As for AI Companion, which is included with all paid licences, there are more and more use cases it can drive, said Ram: 

We're creating AI Companion capabilities across the entire platform. So you see it in Whiteboard, you see it in Meetings, you see it in Team Chat.

To date, almost 30,000 Zoom customers have enabled AI Companion, he went on: 

Obviously, Meetings, Chat and Whiteboard have led the way in the first phase. But we think two things I want to just mention about that. One is when we made the very clear pronouncement about data use, it unlocked a bunch of opportunities. Companies that are like ‘What are you going to do with our data?’, all the questions all went away. They just said, ‘OK, you made it clear. You made a definitive statement’ and that was one. And then I think the other thing is that it's just like Zoom - it just works. You just press a button, it works. You don't have to think about some fancy back-end thing enable. It's just click a button and it works.

As for why Zoom isn’t charging additional cost for AI companion unlike some rivals who charge a premium pricing, Ram said this is a “Zoom tradition”: 

When you listen to the customers intently, you hear what they're saying and I think what we were hearing from customers was, if you make AI a premium offering, then I have to choose between the haves and the have-nots. We see generative AI as being something that's just part and parcel of everyday work and collaboration. If you have a 20,000, 50,000 employee workforce company and you're having to think about $30 a month, you're making decisions that are probably not in the best interest of your business. 

From our perspective, we said we want to make Zoom the platform of choice. We want to make it as valuable to every employee as possible in every business…As you start talking to customers, there's a collective sigh of relief. 

There’s a vendor consolidation angle here, he added: 

We have an opportunity to drive some of this. A lot of these companies are getting pitched with vendors, 20, 25 vendors who do point solutions, and there's a lot of overhead and a lot of cost. I think we have an opportunity to go in and say, ‘Hey, we can cover more of your needs across the business’. So I think that's the rationale and I think that it really is helping with customer adoption as well.

Obviously in the current climate, it’s compulsory for all vendors to have a generative AI message, which raises the question of how those ‘over-pitched’ customers should make buying decisions. Ram argues: 

I think, ultimately, customers make the decision about what's best. I think our focus is - and honestly, this is not just lip service - we really, really listen to what customers are telling us and we're iterating so fast on it…Almost 30,000 [customers] have implemented, so we have a lot of group feedback. They really like the fact that it's easy to use, that it's included with the paid license. The data concerns go away. They don't have to get their legal team involved for extensive conversations because they know they've taken that out. That's the reason for us to be there.

But the real reason they keep it is quality. We had people to tell us this week that ‘I missed a meeting and the meeting summary was so good that I felt like I was in the meeting. Or I joined the meeting late and I asked the question, what did Kelly say about that and it gave me the right answer, so I could catch up’. I think we focus on how do we make that the highest quality, number one. 

He concluded: 

That’s what Zoom does well. It just works. It's easy. It's easy to implement, it's easy to use. And I think as long as we stay focused on that, the quality is high, the ease of use is very good and we're listening constantly and improving, I think to me, that's the best way we can compete and win is focusing on those three things. But we do benchmark. We benchmark everything and we're always testing every feature, everything, every day.

My take

A strong fleshing out of the core Zoom offerings, riding the generative AI wave with a series of enhancements that expand the platform’s capabilities. The decision not to charge premium pricing for AI Companion is a bold move, but one with a lot of potential to pay off in terms of adoption. 

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