Jun 15 2022

Cisco Live 22: Conversational AI Can Be a Game Changer in the Call Center

The old interactive voice response tech that drives customers crazy is being replaced by something much better.

People have been getting angry at robot customer service agents for as long as businesses have been using them. Let’s face it: They’re notorious for just not quite understanding the nature of the customer’s issue, failing to resolve complaints and putting callers into an endless loop of maddening robotic replies.

But companies that provide AI-driven chatbot and virtual agent technology are working to change that. At Cisco Live in Las Vegas, CDW solution architects Nathan Cartwright and Mike Murphy described where the technology is today and discussed best practices for businesses considering deploying the solution.

The most basic form of the technology is called interactive voice response, or IVR, in which a robot asks callers a series of questions to which it can understand only a limited number of answers (often “yes” or “no”). If the caller gives a response the IVR doesn’t understand, it might reply, “Sorry I didn’t get that,” then repeat the original question, leaving the human on the call with few options for resolving his or her issue.

“And what do you do? You press zero, and then it won’t let you do that, and you have to start all over again,” said Murphy, describing a common IVR experience. “So you hang up, and maybe you take your business elsewhere.”

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How Businesses Can Deploy Conversational AI

Using conversational AI, modern solutions allow customers to have a more interactive experience with the call center technology because it understands a wider range of human language and can detect and respond to signs of human emotion, such as anger or frustration.

“What customers want is pretty simple,” Cartwright said. “They want to be asked, how can they be helped? And they want to be able to give their problem to somebody — it doesn’t have to be a human — who can help them resolve it. They want a personalized experience that doesn’t require them to pull down menus and smash a lot of buttons.”

That personalization is what conversational AI can deliver, Murphy said: “What we’re trying to do is infuse customer experience with things like artificial intelligence on whatever channel the customer wants to engage on to create an exceptional and personalized experience.”

Businesses struggle to staff contact centers effectively with a sufficient number of human agents. Given that the job involves speaking with upset or confused customers for much of the day, it tends to be characterized by high turnover and low morale.

“What this technology does is, it doesn’t replace people. It allows you to empower them by handling predictable conversations and even some complex ones,” Murphy said.

For example, the same AI that powers advanced chatbots that work with customers directly can also be deployed in virtual agents that listen in on human-customer interactions and assist employees behind the scenes with real-time information and prompts; for example, pulling up scripts an employee can use in response to specific questions.

“With robotic process automation, we can even do things like fill out forms for them,” Cartwright said.

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How Businesses Can Use Sentiment Analysis to Improve Service

Modern AI can also analyze customer sentiment in real time, a feature that’s “huge,” Murphy said.

“We can identify how the conversation is going, what the customer sentiment is in real time, and take action on that.” he said. “If your customer sentiment is low, then you know you have something to fix in that customer experience. Let’s pivot them to a live agent, and then go back and get reporting on that: Show me my low-sentiment interactions. What was going on with those conversations? Ah, I see, we need to reprogram that to avoid that problem in the future. So you’re accomplishing two things: You’re getting the customer out of a bad experience faster, and you’re improving on that in the future.”

Businesses can gain other insights from the technology’s analytics reporting capabilities, such as what topics customers are asking about that company leaders hadn’t considered.

Technology such as this is not plug-and-play. Companies that have used only human agents, or that have used the less sophisticated IVR technology, won’t successfully transition to the more advanced solutions without thinking carefully through its use cases so it can properly train the technology to interact with its own customers.

“It works like magic, but it takes proper design. It’s not a lift-and-shift to go from IVR to conversational AI,” Murphy said.

CDW helps businesses manage this transition through a careful workshop process that guides organizations along, he notes. “We draw out the use cases and stories that define what they want to accomplish.”

Whether you’re attending Cisco Live or not, follow us on Twitter at @BizTechMagazine and the official conference Twitter account, @CiscoLive, and join the conversation using hashtag #CLUS.

Getty Images/ VioletaStoimenova

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