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New Orleans recently hosted the annual Customer Contact Week (CCW) conference – a professional gathering of customer care leaders attracting over 400 attendees and 200 vendors. The week-long gathering featured packed interactive sessions, compelling keynote presentations, and multiple opportunities for robust networking.

Sessions emphasized the intersection between operational efficiency and customer experience. Traditionally, these topics usually reference an introduction of new technologies, but in 2018, the focus was on Artificial Intelligence with speakers at CCW emphasizing the opportunities for AI to “humanize technology.”

Both keynote speakers, as well as vendors onsite, highlighted the immediate implications for Artificial Intelligence to improve the customer experience. For instance, applications of AI can be used to not only increase operational efficiency, but to engage, motivate and inspire contact center advocates, their supervisors, the QA infrastructure, and most critically, the customers.

In reference to the theme of “humanizing technology,” speakers cited the benefits of Artificial Intelligence to “humanize chatbots.”Robert Herjavec, the well known businessman, investor and star of ABC’s Shark Tank, designated contact center agents as a product that when engaging customers, must sell their value by ”building an emotional connection.” Despite the value found in chatbots, Herjavec’s closing statement was prescient, “As long as people exist, they’ll want to talk to other people.”

Bots

Another speaker, David Parmenter, Director of Engineering and Data at Adobe Document Cloud, discussed the benefits and potential operational implications of using chatbots. He noted that chatbots or virtual assistants encompass the intersection of operational efficiency and customer experience optimization. Site leaders recognize the value in Bots, but are unsure of how to integrate them into highly regulated and highly sensitive business venues. A digital site manager from Target (™) for example, mentioned that chatbots should be deployed where functional and informational requests are most common. Although chatbots can retain the context of a conversation, an agent is often still leveraged when the conversation needs to be escalated.

For example, USAA also discussed the role that their Agents now played as a result of chatbots. With bots handling more transactional functions and simple queries, Agents are now expected to address more complex questions among customers who have higher expectations. When chatbots are unable to answer a customer question, they escalate to a live agent. The agent has full access to the context of the conversation, but they may not be privy to the customer’s emotional state at the time of escalation. Agents must quickly assess the emotional cues that a customer is communicating, and not only resolve a problem, but also de-escalate a potential unhappy customer state.

Augmenting Agents

Throughout the conference, a strong emphasis was placed on the implementation of business improvement software and AI on the contact center floor. The introduction of humanized chatbots clearly called out the need for an elevated front-line agent – someone who is trained to deliver empathy to customers who have higher expectations than before. That said, training platforms seemed to lack any references to new technologies at the conference.

Although applications of AI were discussed at length, few speakers emphasized the opportunities for AI to augment the workforce via direct, real-time support to agents at the contact center. That is until Geeta Wilson, Director of Innovation Labs at Humana presented a case study that specifically addressed this gap. Wilson recounted how Humana’s contact centers have integrated with Cogito, which provides real-time conversational guidance to contact centre agents on 100% of calls,  Wilson explained that Humana wanted a solution that would benefit not only its customers, but the agents and supervisors who serve these customers. Cogito’s AI solution presented the company with an opportunity to deliver on the “humanizing” potential of technology, by training agents to recognize emotional cues in their customers and deliver empathetic feedback throughout all conversations.

Terry Jones, founder of Kayak.com and more recently, investor in new AI and travel related companies, called out the benefits of disruptive technology, specifically citing Alexa and other voice-enabled technologies as one of the biggest disruptors to change marketing and consumer related business in the last several years. Indeed, voice-related technologies were unique at CCW – with Cogito again, earning the top spot in providing real-time analytics based on nonverbal communication cues. Jones in particular called out the benefits of technology to “humanize” service by listening in a new way – recognizing where the customer is in the journey, knowing who they are and what they want.

CCW NOLA and forums like it represent a unique opportunity for customer service professionals from a variety of business industries to network with colleagues while also accessing prominent leaders in this space. We look forward to continuing the Dialog with colleagues, vendors, and thought leaders.

Steve Kraus
Steve Kraus

Steve brings over twenty years of experience in marketing, selling, and delivering customer engagement solutions to the world’s most customer-centric organizations. Prior to joining Cogito, Steve led product marketing for Pegasystems CRM suite of applications, growing the suite from a niche player into a recognized leader for marketing, sales, and service applications. Steve led go-to-market activities for Verint (formerly KANA Software), serving as the General Manager for Verint’s customer experience management applications, and led product marketing and strategy for Chordiant Software’s CRM applications. Earlier in his career, Steve managed consulting teams within Ernst &Young. He has a B.A. in Economics and Accounting from The College of The Holy Cross.