Zoom adds virtual receptionists for when people start going back to the office

Key Points
  • The Kiosk Mode feature for Zoom Rooms offers a safe means for office visitors to talk with receptionists.
  • Alexa support is coming to Zoom Rooms, and Zoom could add support for other assistants.
Eric Yuan, founder and chief executive officer of Zoom Video Communications Inc., center, reacts while ringing the opening bell during the company's initial public offering (IPO) at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 18, 2019. Zoom reported net income of $7.6 million on revenue of $331 million for the year ended January, and is now worth nine times the $1 billion valuation it secured after a funding round two years ago.
Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Zoom on Tuesday said it has come up with a way to let people visiting offices check in with a receptionist without physical contact. It involves starting a Zoom call, naturally.

The development shows Zoom recognizes it must make sure its products remain valuable after people return to the office, after months of working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new feature, Kiosk Mode, is part of Zoom Rooms, one of the company's enterprise offerings. Unlike the standard Zoom video calling service, which people use on their own PCs and mobile devices, Zoom Rooms is meant for meeting places such as conference rooms, and it starts at $499 per year per room.

Here's how the system works: Once an office visitor enters a lobby, she goes to the touchscreen monitor with a camera and speaker and taps a button to start a call with a receptionist. The visitor talks with receptionist over Zoom, and the receptionist can enable the visitor to enter the office space, such as by remotely unlocking a door.

"The receptionist doesn't need to be in office," Harry Moseley, Zoom's chief information officer, told CNBC in an interview on Monday. "They can be at their own home. They can be anywhere. They can actually be in a different country, and they can support multiple buildings."

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Kiosk Mode can also help companies reduce the number of receptionists they have on each floor of their buildings, Moseley said.

The pandemic has shown that employees can be effective while working remotely, and Mosely expects companies to embrace a mixture of remote and in-person work even after the pandemic ends. That scenario would benefit Zoom, which provides a popular means for colleagues to meet virtually, as well as rivals such as Cisco, Google and Microsoft.

But analysts expect Zoom's growth to subside from the hypergrowth it saw during the early days of the pandemic. For the quarter ending Jan. 31, analysts polled by Refinitiv are predicting 331% annualized revenue growth. For the April quarter, they're calling for 153% growth, and for the year that ends in January 2022, they're expecting just 38% growth.

So Zoom is continuing to build. In addition to Kiosk Mode, it's coming out with a way for employees to connect their Android and iOS devices to Zoom Rooms, so employees don't need to touch a common device in a conference room. Zoom is also adding Amazon's Alexa for Business service to Zoom Rooms, so joining a call is as easy as saying, "Alexa, join my meeting."

It's possible that Zoom could add support for other voice assistants, Moseley said.

"This is the first iteration, if you will, of many of these things," he said.

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