John Chambers, the outgoing chairman of Cisco’s board, is taking a director’s seat at Sprinklr, a software unicorn that aims to help companies boost customer service by making better use of social media.
In an exclusive interview with Fortune, the iconic tech exec, who led Cisco for more than 20 years and helped drive nearly 200 acquisitions there, says Sprinklr exemplifies the type of technology that companies—even Fortune 500 companies—need to survive in a tough environment. Some estimate that businesses, in aggregate, lose $62 billion a year in sales due to poor customer service, although lost opportunities are tough to measure.
New York-based Sprinklr offers more than a dozen apps that companies can use to place digital ads, schedule social media campaigns, and manage online reviews. To date, most of those tasks have been handled by different teams that don’t necessarily know what the others are doing in social media and what results they are getting.
Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas who founded the company in 2009, subsequently bought nearly a dozen other companies and rewrote their software to build a unified platform for social media tracking, publishing, and analysis. Sprinklr claims its software, which customers can buy in modules, lets companies track activity on more than 21 social media networks including Twitter (twtr), LinkedIn, and Facebook as well as WeChat in China and Mixi in Japan.
Chambers says he was impressed by Sprinklr services—Cisco (csco) is a customer—and by what he heard from Sprinklr president Carlos Dominguez. But before taking this new gig, he called other big customers—Nike (nke) and Microsoft (msft)—for due diligence and liked what he heard.
“Ragy had me at hello,” Chambers says, laughing. “He bought 11 companies, then took the domain expertise of those companies and rewrote it into his own technology. Very few CEOs have the courage to do that.”
Sprinklr faces an array of competitors including other startups as well as established giants like Adobe (adbe), Salesforce (crm), and Oracle (orcl). Chambers says those companies have to wrangle separate, or siloed, products to deal with each customer outreach channel.
In his view, those big companies field products that were not built to work together well. “Ragy identified this transition early and as with Google, Facebook, and Amazon, those who get the market transition early are hard to unseat,” Chambers says.
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Sprinklr has raised approximately $239 million from backers including Battery Ventures, ICONIQ Capital, and Intel Capital, and Temasak, the Singapore-based investment firm. It is now valued at about $1.8 billion giving it “unicorn” status.
Chambers is also on the board of Airware which makes drone software, and OpenGov a company that hopes to digitize government data. He is also an investor in Dedrone, a defensive drone company and in Aspire, an Austin, Texas company that is working on an efficient way to raise crickets to address the global food shortage. Insect protein, Chambers says, can be produced more efficiently and incur less environmental damage than soy- or meat-based protein.
For the next phase of his career, Chambers says he wants to focus on startups that can boost job growth around the world: “I want to try to catch market transitions and be an advisor, coach, investor in companies that can do that.”