By Mithun Kumar, Director - Information Technology, Solace Sabah
Every enterprise invests in a Contact/Call Center to enable Sales, After Sales and Customer Service for its products and services. In today’s world, this is serviced by multiple mediums - phone, chat, social streams and in device services using IoT based mechanisms. Dimension Data, a company that has been conducting benchmarking reports for Contact Centers since 1997, has shown us the journey of customer interaction, beginning from face to face interactions, to the telephone, to email and now to Twitter, Facebook and mobile applications. As of today, 68 percent of overall customer interactions still remain over the phone and the digital channels are poised to overtake phone based interactions in 2016. Currently, there are nine channels to engage your typical consumer or enterprise customer, bringing them closer to the product or service they buy.
The report consists of 1,320 companies participating in the survey in which 82.5 percent of companies recognize customer experience as the competitive differentiator. Personally, having had the opportunity of working in large enterprise scale contact centers handling over 100,000 interactions a day with over 3000 employees, from the inside I got a great glimpse of the issues that mire these monolithic organizations.
The general setup is a team comprising of 20 contact center resources to a manager with a single subject matter expert. The agent handles 60 percent of the workload independently and for the rest receives mentoring from the SME. The environment I was presented with was a complex and technical one so every agent needed 2 months of training in the beginning, followed by a refresher training every 3 months and additional trainings for every new innovative product the company manufactures. This puts great stress on the company to retain the employee and be heavily invested in the machinery of training while at the same time managing interaction volumes and training these individuals without disruptions in service. The general contact center attrition rate was considered to be 14 percent at the time, which is phenomenal considering the costs that involve these employees.
Of course, training is one thing, but how much of the knowledge is actually retained? In high tech environments where the training imparted is costly, time consuming and complex - measuring knowledge retention happens through a simple quiz or assessment post training. Labs will mean more time, practical or simulative exercises will take longer. During a productive employee’s hour, so that counts as well.
This also brings me to write also about Knowledge Management (KM) – which is a heavily invested division in all product companies - bringing solutions closer to the agent and the customer at hand. Manuals, Decision Trees, Scripts, Documents Responses, Knowledge Bases - Large teams are at play building these troves of knowledge to empower every individual needing help with a product or service.
An innovative solution to these problems is Cognitive Technology. It’s about a programmed medium that can understand and learn processes and logical interactions while delivering these services enmeshed in a Natural Language Processing Interface to the end customer. A tall feat, this has already been accomplished by a company that I have been following called IPSoft that has introduced a product called “Amelia” whom it defines as “an artificial intelligence platform” that can understand, learn and interact as a human would to solve problems.
Amelia is a pioneering product in the field of cognitive computing, a type of computing which learns by experience and/or instruction like a human. Similar to technologies provided as digital assistants to us as Siri from Apple and Cortana from Microsoft, Amelia takes it to a whole new level as she learns from interactions and listens and responds using NLP (Natural Language Processing) - which bridges the lack of empathy that we often feel while using automated assistance.
Amelia further integrates into autonomic products that go ahead and flick the switches of infrastructure using logical syntaxes to go ahead and orchestrate a change using automation and defined scripted changes, conducting these seamlessly and in real time.
With Cognitive Computing Products such as Amelia, everything changes.
Knowledge management can become nonexistent and replaced by Amelia. Front line agents are currently being augmented with Amelia. In a case study, Amelia was deployed to a Service desk environment where upon initiation she escalated many of the calls but after a mere 2 months managed to handle over 60 percent of the desks inbound volume. Remember, we are talking about a coded, self learning virtual agent replacing human agents.
In May 2016, Accenture and IPsoft announced the creation of an Accenture Amelia practice, designed to accelerate client adoption of artificial intelligence to improve business outcomes and create new growth opportunities for their businesses. Accenture will utilize IPsoft’s Amelia platform to develop go-to-market strategies, solutions and consulting service offerings around deployments of virtual agent technology for clients across several industries with initial focus on banking, insurance and travel.
If the world’s largest consulting firm (by revenues) has created a practice around Virtual Agent Cognitive Technology, it shows the opportunity present and inevitable disruption in the contact center industry. Andrew McAfee, Principal Scientist at MIT says that cognitive technologies will be the dawn of the second machine age. The market opportunity of artificial intelligence has been expanding rapidly, with analyst firm IDC predicting that the worldwide content analytics, discovery and cognitive systems software market will grow from US$4.5 billion in 2014 to US$9.2 billion in 2019.
The cost benefits for organizations are immense, savings across the board from training, process engineering, employee retention, management overhead and most importantly, dependable customer satisfaction by providing a uniform cognition for interactions. I would suggest all of you reading this article take heed in Cognitive Systems and see the potential it has in your industry.