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The growing role of AI in the modern contact center

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AI supports a multitude of contact center functions

AI is at the heart of the modern contact center, as it is the underlying technology for numerous functions. Genesys is a cloud customer experience and contact center platform that uses AI to support chatbots, voicebots, live chat, and other capabilities such as intent detection. “During critical engagements, Genesys can detect the intended outcome and calculate the probability of achieving it,” said Elcenora Martinez, vice president of AI at Genesys. “If the probability drops below a certain threshold, the software can take action without human intervention and proactively personalize without intervention from a human agent.”

If a customer needs self-service, Genesys can trigger a native conversational application. It can also automatically escalate the call to an agent, using AI-powered predictive routing. The Genesys Intent Miner is used for bot optimization to guide bot authors in understanding the intent of users, so they can modify the bot as needed. Genesys has a large data science team working to improve the process for bot authors. “We make data AI-ready,” commented Martinez, “which minimizes the amount of data transformation that is required.”

One issue in the use of AI is that the models can be difficult to modify. AI Trainer is a product from Talkdesk that allows non-technical customer service representatives to improve AI models. “These agents can, for example, modify a virtual agent if there was a word it did not understand,” commented Wendy Close, vice president of product marketing at Talkdesk. “The company doesn’t need to use expensive data scientists because the agents can approve their AI models autonomously.”

Workforce management and optimization

During a year of uncertainty, managing a workforce became a greater than usual challenge. Patagonia is a well-known producer of outdoor clothing and travel gear and is recognized for its commitment to high-quality products and ethical practices. When the extent of the pandemic became evident in March 2020, the company transitioned to a 100% work-from-home (WFH) environment in a matter of days, although prior to that time, only a small percent of its 2,300-member workforce had worked remotely. One of the biggest challenges was managing the schedules of its customer experience team. The unpredictability of customer service requirements, from an initial drop in demand to a subsequent increase when retail stores were closed, led Patagonia to look for a workforce management and forecasting solution.

The company selected Calabrio Workforce Management to use for testing the impact of various scheduling scenarios on its ability to manage customer needs. In addition, Workforce Management enabled Patagonia to provide the flexibility needed by workers who had children at home and were managing their learning environments. Both the hours worked and the nature of the tasks were adjusted; for example, families with small children took on chat or email inquiries in order to allow them to suspend their work activities when necessary. Workers were also able to request blocks of time during which they would not need to work.

“The biggest expense in contact centers by far is agent turnover due to burnout,” commented Brad Snedecker, product line manager at Calabrio. “Allowing employees to schedule themselves helps employee engagement and reduces stress.” Providing a sense of control is a big benefit in a job environment that entails a lot of pressure. Built-in workflows and rules steer employees to schedules where they are most needed, and incentives are offered to employees if they work in time slots that are less desirable, such as weekends.

The human element still matters

“There is a notion that AI is here, and everything will be handled by bots,” said Daniel Ziv, vice president for speech and text analytics at Verint. “Many interactions will be, which will leave agents more time to handle the more complex issues.” Those complex issues are increasing to the point where Verint does not see a decline in human interactions, Ziv noted. In addition, these interactions grew significantly during the pandemic as people were struggling with bills and other challenges. “When an issue is emotionally charged, people want to talk to a human,” he explained.

Flexibility in the channel with which a user engages and smooth transitions from one channel to another—including social media—are important factors in customer satisfaction. The great majority of customers want self-service to be available, but if they get stuck, they don’t want to have to start all over explaining the situation to an agent. This is another way in which AI is important, not just in powering some of the channels, but also in knowing when an interaction should change channels, so it can automatically prompt a change. An integrated omnichannel environment is essential for these transitions to take place and for providing a holistic view of the customer.

“Organizations need to rethink and refocus, as well as reinvest, in order to be ready for the future of work,” Ziv said. “The ability to forecast and schedule agents, ensure quality and compliance, and obtain insights from interactions on all channels will be essential for digital transformation.” Verint’s platform provides these elements as well as self-service, case management workflow, and a knowledgebase that brings relevant and consistent information to agents and customers. Its workforce optimization capability can manage the workload, including agents, bots, and self-service interactions.

Conversational analytics provides insights into key themes and the nature of the calls, including signs of stress, even in real time. “Linguistic and acoustic analysis provides insight and guidance on positive and negative sentiment, whether the agent is interrupting the customer, and whether there are long pauses. This real-time guidance can help lead to a more positive call outcome and overall customer experience,” continued Ziv. Although customers’ need for empathy might have been higher during the peak of the pandemic, at no time do they want to feel that the agent is indifferent to their plight. Conversational analytics can help ensure that agents are providing accurate and empathetic answers and that they are in compliance with both company policy and legal requirements.

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