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AnswerNet Acquires Synergy Solutions

AnswerNet acquired Synergy Solutions in an asset transaction. Synergy Solutions specializes in high-touch consultative customer service and sales support programs for many of the nation’s leading brands.

Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Synergy Solutions was established in 1999 and focuses on innovative customer interaction solutions. This allows Synergy Solutions to provide superior results for its clients in fast-growth retail and e-commerce, as well as traditional verticals such as healthcare, insurance, and financial services.

Gary Pudles, president and CEO of AnswerNet stated, “Synergy Solutions furthers AnswerNet’s continued growth in high-touch customer engagement space for well-known companies and brands. AnswerNet’s customer care business has been growing exponentially over the last three years, and adding the incredible Synergy team further deepens our strength in providing solutions that help our clients continually stand out in providing support to their customers.”

Synergy’s president and co-founder Lori Fentem is staying with AnswerNet and will work closely with Pudles on building and executing AnswerNet’s growth strategy. Fentem is a well-regarded leader in the contact center industry. “We are thrilled by the opportunity to become part of the AnswerNet family,” says Fentem. “This acquisition allows Synergy the ability to continue to offer high-touch customer experience solutions. I believe that integrating with AnswerNet will present the ideal environment for Synergy employees and clients.”

The July/August 2018 Issue of Connections Magazine

The July/August 2018 Issue of Connections Magazine, covering call centers and the teleservice industry

Read these articles online:

[Connections Magazine is proudly published by Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc, Peter L. DeHaan, editor.]

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The Key Differentiator



By Tom Cunningham

Recently I sat in a room with a CEO whose products are part of the luxury goods market. During our time together, we addressed the key differentiator of the CEO’s brand and their direct competition. At the end of the conversation, it was apparent that the crucial element needed was to distinguish themselves with a best-in-class customer experience.

One of the most common and comforting lies brands tell themselves is that they provide great customer service. In fact, the opposite is true. According to research, roughly 82 percent of customers leave a brand because of bad customer service. While many brands admit this is a problem, others choose to ignore it, instead depending on KPI data and cost to justify the quality of service they provide their customers.

During my twenty-two-plus years in the call center industry, I’ve only seen a handful of brands really address this issue. I understand why, as it requires leaders to look at themselves and admit they aren’t providing best-in-class experiences to their customers.

If you are ready to distinguish your service from your competitors and have the courage to admit you need to make changes, you are already ahead of many brands. Congratulations!

So, what do you do now? There are some questions you must ask yourself before we look at any data.

First, what brands come to mind when you think of best in class? What are the commonalties across these companies? For me, they are brands that have a strong culture, put customers before cost, acknowledge that people are one of the dominant parts of the business, and focus more on quality than quantity.

Second, what are the generational impacts in today’s market? We have entered a time when we must concurrently support four sizable generations of consumers, with different preferences of how they interact with you:Whichever brand understands these customer expectations will distance themselves from their competition. Click To Tweet

  • Baby boomers prefer engaging in person or over the phone.
  • Generation X leans more toward interactive chat.
  • Generation Y and Z customers want to do everything on social media or a mobile app.

Whichever brand understands these customer expectations will distance themselves from their competition.

Third, spend some time online reviewing what your customers say about your brand, as well as about your competition. Too many times we establish quality programs and metrics based on what we feel the ideal customer experience should be. Why do we do this when we have a plethora of information on the web from the users we’re trying to wow?

It shocked the CEO and me to discover it was the customer experience that suffered across the market. It was an aha moment. The brand and product were already superior, so making changes in how the company’s service department interacts with the customer would be monumental in separating the brand from the rest of the pack.

Finally, you need to ask yourself what you are prepared to do with this information. I encourage you to use it to define what a great customer experience should look like for your brand. Use it to determine which channels to support based on what your customers want. Hire the right people to support this vision. And finally, identify what data you must measure to know if you are delivering that experience.

Brands are either dying or moving forward. If you choose not to listen to the customer and make needed changes, they’ll find someone who will.

Tom Cunningham is the North American director of SaaS operations at PerfectServe. Tom has twenty-two years of call center operations management experience. His background also includes management positions with ADT and Elavon, and he has consulted for GM, Erie Insurance, and Western Dental. Reach him at 865-719-6960 or tcunningham@perfectserve.net.

Why Customer Experience Is a Long-Term Investment



By Tony Jurica

Maintaining lasting relationships with customers once meant focusing on product ratings and decreasing wait times when a customer called into the organization. While these measurements still matter, now the customer experience is more about understanding the journey the customer makes when contacting the organization and making each step personalized and efficient.

Most decision-makers agree that delivering an exceptional customer experience is important to ongoing success. However, there is often reluctance when it comes to investing the time, money, and effort necessary to optimize their customer contact systems, people, and processes to meet today’s customer expectations.

Struggling to Keep Up

Many businesses find it hard to keep up with customer expectations because they haven’t kept up with how customers want to communicate. A growing number of people (and not just millennials) want to engage on digital channels such as text message, web chat, and social media. Supporting these systems effectively is difficult when you’re reliant on a legacy voice-centric contact center system.

Hindered by an outdated contact center infrastructure, supporting digital channels often means setting up silos of technology. Companies implement separate solutions for chat, social media, and texting. Though the customer can contact the company via their digital channel of choice, the new challenge is achieving a 360-degree view of customer interactions.

Statistics vary, but about half of customers use two or more channels to complete a transaction with a company. Disconnected technology makes it difficult to view and access the journeys these customers take as they use multiple contact channels to complete a transaction.

It’s tempting to think the answer is to simply swap out a solution here or integrate a channel there. Yet patching a system that is growing obsolete produces frustration, added costs, and wasted time. Delivering an exceptional customer experience entails more than a series of minor, cobbled-together fixes. Rather, it’s an ongoing commitment that requires a long-term investment and the right technology to address both current and future needs.After deploying a new contact center platform, it’s much easier to add and integrate additional channels and solutions. Click To Tweet

An Organizational Commitment

Shifting beyond rudimentary customer service to continuously exceed customer expectations requires the buy-in and effort of more than those working in the contact center. Customer service touches most teams, including marketing, sales, IT, legal, human resources, and quality assurance. This means that every employee must be on board with an organization-wide commitment to customer experience excellence. Cross-functional collaboration is essential for placing the customer’s needs first and improving the customer journey along every touch point.

To get it right, drive customer experience goals by customer expectations. Then consider business needs. This begins by identifying the limits of existing technology. With a contact center system designed primarily for voice interactions, it’s clear that a fundamental improvement need is moving to a platform that seamlessly integrates all channels and solutions and breaks down technology silos.

What Are the Possibilities?

By investing in a scalable contact center platform, you gain the flexibility to move beyond offering a series of single interactions to providing cross-channel journeys. These new tools will retain history and context to deliver personalized service and eliminate the need for customers to repeat themselves.

However, this is just the start. After deploying a new contact center platform, it’s much easier to add and integrate additional channels and solutions. Workforce optimization tools, CRM solutions, and new digital channels can also be deployed. This enables you to stay one step ahead of competitors, increase business efficiency, and continuously exceed customer expectations.

Prepare for Rapid Innovations Around the Corner

Artificial intelligence (AI) can automate tasks and improve the customer experience. Businesses use chatbots, powered by AI and machine learning, to maximize self-service interactions. This enables live agents to solve problems more efficiently. And this technology is no longer a novelty—it’s gaining acceptance as it becomes more versatile and efficient.

Meanwhile, intelligently connected devices are also changing the realm of customer experiences. They enable next-generation automation and personalization. Imagine a device that can request a callback through a single button or automatically launch a service ticket that routes to a local service provider. We already see this level of engagement in automobiles, appliances, and medical devices. And it will certainly grow in many other industries.

As these innovations gain popularity and adoption, it will become more important than ever to have a contact center platform that supports the customer experience across all channels. The companies that continue to use outdated technology will slip further behind, missing key opportunities to grow and evolve along with their customers’ expectations.

By investing in the strategies and technologies that support an amazing customer experience, you will build the kind of brand loyalty that turns prospects into repeat customers. Then they’ll share their positive experiences with others, and this represents a significant return on investment.

Tony Jurica, the senior director of Voxai Solutions’ Cloud Practice, brings over two decades of experience in the contact center technology industry, both as an industry consultant and as a technical leader in a Fortune 500 company. Tony lends his expertise in managing enterprise contact centers to customers to support their efforts to improve their customer experience.

Vendor Profile: OnviSource


Onvisource


OnviSource’s mission is to empower enterprises and contact centers in their digital transformation. To do this, they offer cost effective, automated solutions in customer experience management (CXM), process automation, and self-service. This mission is the basis for OnviSource’s introduction of ia.Enterprise™, a comprehensive set of intelligently automated solutions to directly assist enterprises in their digital transformation. OnviSource’s breakthrough is solutions in intelligent automation (IA) using digital transformation strategies.

Digital Transformation

Enterprises strive to develop long-lasting, positive customer experiences with customers. However, enterprises face major challenges with today’s connected, mobile, and demanding customers. They have other options if they aren’t satisfied. Customers use multiple assisted or self-service channels, including phone, email, chat, website, and social media. They expect seamless, prompt, and quality service.

Improving productivity and reducing costs are major initiatives. The top three are customer satisfaction, productivity improvement, and self-service. To pursue these initiatives, companies must adopt a new strategy: digital transformation. This embodies major changes based on four fundamental transformations: developing a digital DNA culture, designing new business models, moving to data-driven processes and decision-making, and implementing emerging, digital technologies.

OnviSource’s ia.Enterprise empowers companies in their digital transformation by delivering cost-effective, comprehensive, automated solutions. It manages all customer touch points and engagement before, during, and after service, which delivers solutions for the top three service goals.OnviSource’s ia.Enterprise empowers companies in their digital transformation by delivering cost-effective, comprehensive, automated solutions. Click To Tweet

OnviSource ia.Enterprise Solutions

ia.Enterprise offers a broad range of solutions in customer experience management (AAIRR™, Intellecta™, Inspecta™, OnviCom™, and OnviForce™), automation (Automata™), and self-service (Liaa™).

Customer Experience Management

AAIRR (automated, adaptive, intelligent real-time routing) optimizes service routing by first automatically capturing all critical data from all entities engaged in the service routing. This includes network routing elements, ACDs, IVRs, PBXs, and service centers capacity, skill sets, or capabilities. It analyzes these key performance indicators in real time using advanced analytics and decision-making engines. This provides actionable knowledge on how and where to route the customer service request. Finally, it automatically routes the customer service request to the most optimized supplier of the service.

Intellecta lets companies intelligently unify and analyze 100 percent of data and media from all customer engagement channels. This includes calls, email, chat, surveys, and social media mentions. It then generates valuable information and actionable knowledge, followed by automatically making decisions and launching actions. The results assist enterprises to proactively improve customer interactions, agent performance, compliance management, and back-office transactions.

Powered by iMachine, Intellecta is an advanced set of voice intelligence engines, multichannel analytics, decision-making engines, and automation capabilities. Intellecta can interface with call recording systems from OnviSource or other vendors.

Inspecta provides all-inclusive, intelligent enterprise feedback management, powered by analytics and insightful reports. Inspecta’s capabilities include multichannel inbound-outbound communications; surveys, inquiries, and notifications; and analytics.

OnviCom delivers an all-inclusive, next-generation, software-based, affordable teleservice solutions. Applications include telephony, teleservice, answering service, dispatch, multimedia messaging (email, fax, and SMS), and HIPAA-compliant secure messaging. It also offers call recording, screen capture, and agent quality assurance. OnviCom fully integrates with Intellecta and Inspecta. It can interface to PRI, T1, VoIP, and SIP trunking. OnviCom can provide least cost routing and intermachine trunking to reduce telecom expenses.

OnviForce WFO and WFM: OnviSource’s workforce optimization (WFO) suite of solutions offer multimedia capture, recording, and monitoring of calls and desktop screens. Users can process 100 percent of their calls, create custom reports, and automatically distribute recordings and information. They can also manage media files and recorded calls, remain PCI-compliant, and integrate with telecom products and telephony platforms. A final feature is conducting quality assurance evaluations.

OnviSource’s next-generation workforce management (WFM), Persona™, uses information from multiple sources. These include calls, chat, email, and back-office workload. This prepares dynamic skill sets for optimized workforce scheduling. Persona offers a comprehensive set of features in forecasting and scheduling.

Automation

Automata provides intelligent process automation for a variety of enterprise tasks and functions. The result is a significant improvement in productivity and cost reduction. It also eliminates human error, latency in task completion, and process deficiency. Automata capabilities are robotic process automation, intelligent process automation, and workflow automation.

Self Service

Liaa is an AI-driven, automated chatbot (intelligent virtual agent). It allows a significant reduction in payroll expenses, faster response and resolution times, and a reduction in employee stress and burnout. It is a self-learning system with unlimited and rapid access to knowledge, predictive and proactive support, and interaction via text or voice. Liaa increases the productivity of customer service teams.

When combined with Inspecta and Intellecta, Liaa provides a major differentiator due to its intrinsic AI model. An important aspect of an AI engine is its ability to learn through examples. Like the human brain, the more relevant examples provided to an AI engine and its learning machine, the better. This delivers a more intelligent performance.

In most AI-driven products, relevant examples are manually prepared and fed to the AI engine. However, OnviSource offers an integrated environment. In this environment, the AI engines automatically and continuously receive relevant examples. These come from other parts of the OnviSource solutions that analyze customer engagement and customer interactions. Hence, they produce valuable and updated examples for the AI’s learning machine. This makes ia.Enterprise AI engines more intelligent in performing tasks.

ia.Enterprise Architecture

ia.Enterprise solutions require a powerful architecture. This supports advanced analytics, emerging technologies for visualization and reports, multimedia environments, and support for flexible delivery models of on-premise, SaaS/cloud, or hybrid solutions. There are four layers.

Layer 1—OnviCenter 8 Platform: OnviCenter 8 is an advanced software platform that can support the deployment of OnviSource’s new IA solutions for a broad range of enterprise and contact center functions related to CXM, automation, and self-service. It also supports and complies with the industry’s latest security measures, operating systems, user management, media players, browsers, LDAP, and database products. This enables users to tap advance technologies and security capabilities. It is highly scalable and can support the deployment of solutions as on-premise, cloud-based, or both.

Layer 2—Big Data: Layer 2 provides a broad range of functions to capture and manage big data. It interfaces and interacts with enterprise entities such as telecom systems, CRM, databases, and ERP applications. Next it captures and records in a multichannel format, such as call recording, screen capture, or interaction with Salesforce.com. Third, it unifies and organizes the data and media. Then it categorizes the data based on topics and other criteria. Lastly, it prepares and presents data to the next layer.

Layer 3—iMachine: OnviSource created the nucleus of intelligent automation, iMachine™, with an intrinsic AI capability. It consists of voice intelligence engines, advanced analytics, and AI-driven bots. It also has NLU and dialog management, plus an adaptive learning machine with decision-making engines. This powerful, all-inclusive intelligent automation nucleus is the core for all ia.Enterprise solutions.

Layer 4—Application: This layer offers a broad range of ia.Enterprise applications in CXM, automation, and self-service. This includes AAIRR, Intellecta, Inspecta, OnviCom, OnviForce, Automata, and Liaa.

Advantage Plus Program

OnviSource understands the complexity and challenge customers face when applying analytics and automation to their operation and generating true ROIs while meeting all aspects of their operational and business needs. To this point, OnviSource offers Advantage Plus, a customer-centric program for pre- and post-sale needs.

Pre-sale initiatives include free consultation, free proof-of-concept analyses to prove solution applicability and ROI, and a no-obligation expectation. Post-sale initiatives include a flexible delivery model and free thirty-day operation assistance.

OnviSource Equipment Owners Association

OnviSourceOnviSource is a proud sponsor of the OnviSource Equipment Owners (OEO) association user group. OEO members are users of OnviSource products. They seek to strengthen their investment in OnviSource’s solutions in a true member-vendor partnership. This relationship continues to strengthen the company’s ability to serve its customers with their technology needs. OEO also sponsors training webinars and an annual association event.

How to Make Good Training Great in a High-Turnover Industry



By Stephanie Jones

If you’ve made a management career for yourself in a high-turnover industry, you’ve probably found yourself frustrated about training. After all, training new employees is expensive and time-consuming. And if they’re just planning to quit soon, why even bother?

It’s important to note that high-quality employee training is essential, no matter what your turnover rate looks like. The problem is wasting great training materials on employees who are often gone before their one-year anniversary.

Our call center is based in a town with several colleges, so we know a few things about high turnover. Here are some of the ways we make our employee courses great and disseminate as much information as possible with efficiency.

Think Beyond Your Main Objectives

How does the topic apply to your employees in the real world? What about your customers? Take time to consider all angles of the story you’re trying to tell.

Consider what happens when someone doesn’t get it right. If you only see training from your perspective—which is the perspective of someone who already knows the answers—then you might miss what happens when someone doesn’t get it. Look at the language you’re using to present the material and the questions you ask.

When you consider the whole picture while creating a course, you become ultra-efficient. You cover more material faster. You spend less time adding content or editing quizzes.Taking dense or dull information and turning it into something anyone can easily read (without dread) should always be the goal. Click To Tweet

Share Relevant Information Where Employees Will Actually Read It

Things can change quickly. Expecting trainees to always check into a learning management system (LMS) to see what’s going on isn’t practical. You must meet them where they communicate.

We make use of the collaboration hub, such as Slack, to share important updates, communicate with employees about their courses, and impart information about current training initiatives. It’s a quick and easy touchstone for our training team.

Whether it’s sharing a video about how much tone can change a conversation to a scripting change to fielding feedback on our courses, our training team can deliver information instantly. No more sending emails and hoping trainees will see and read them.

Write Your Training for Human Beings

It once was common practice for learning and development and HR departments to create ultra-polished and highly technical courses and manuals. Many large organizations still do despite the changes in modern communication.

Your employees don’t have the attention span or energy to take on a thick book of dense material. And if they do, how much are they learning from it?

Certain industries will always have a need for technical training materials, but not all of us work for engineering companies. It’s time to write from a place of empathy and understanding. It’s time to write with voice and character.

As an instructional designer, one of my biggest goals was to rework our training materials so they were easy and enjoyable to read. I wanted our courses to have a blog-post feeling to them. This meant shorter paragraphs, visual aids, and interactive elements. I use bulleted lists, subheadings to draw out main points, and gifs and emojis to illustrate and break up the content.

Condensed your most important material into relatable language. Then you can disseminate the information, and have it applied fast. This is a priceless advantage in the call center industry.

Training doesn’t have to be dense or dull. Taking dense or dull information and turning it into something anyone can easily read (without dread) should always be the goal.

Use Tools That Make Course Design and Organization Easy

The ability to create effective training courses with expediency is key in an industry with a high turnover rate. We have a finite amount of time to teach our agents. That’s why it’s so important that we create courses in as little time as possible.

We use Rise by Articulate360 to author courses that are beautiful and easy to use; it doesn’t seem possible that we made them with a drag-and-drop tool. We organize and assign our courses with Litmos, a cloud-based learning management system.

Sometimes we need animated videos to drive a point home, and Powtoon makes video creation simple—no editing or design skills are necessary. What about visual aids? Instead of outsourcing design work, Canva helps us make graphics in a matter of minutes.

There are many cloud-based resources to help streamline the training process. Using a combination of the top tools will help you get your training materials to your trainees much faster.

Creating Great Employee Training Is Possible

Have you ever thought, I feel like I’m running on a hamster wheel? How do we expect anyone to learn anything when the turnover rate is so high?

If so, you’re not alone.

Building quality training in a high-turnover industry can feel like a struggle. Without modern tools and a willingness to expand your thinking on training, you’ll only move as fast as you do now. Instead, use these ideas and tools to produce great employee training materials for the high-turnover call center industry.

Stephanie Jones is the instructional designer for PATLive, a US-based call center, where she imbues her passion for great customer service into building better employee training. She has a background in journalism and has written many posts for the PATLive blog.

Automation Success Requires Human Involvement



By Dan Somers

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can help save contact center costs, but primarily it increases customer satisfaction by speeding up responses and reducing customer efforts. Contact center automation falls broadly into three categories:

  1. Speeding up or automating the helpdesk agent (staff who capture and triage queries)
  2. Speeding up or automating the case handler (staff who resolve queries)
  3. Increasing self-service automation (chatbots, searchable FAQs, and self-help tools)

AI Challenges

Certain limitations of AI cannot guarantee the accuracy expected by customers, however. Some of these limitations are temporary, such as the comprehension capabilities of speech recognition, which will continue to improve. But other limitations relate to how machine-learning robots work.

All machine learning relies on studying real-life training data to predict or classify current data. The training data needs to be “labeled”—that is, it must have an outcome or class (tag) assigned to it, as judged by a person. For example, if a query comes in that says, “My server has crashed and is showing a blank screen,” then the chatbot will assign the best label it has in its training set, which might be “server crashed.”

However, in this example, a label of “faulty screen” might be assigned instead. The customer would be annoyed if the bot attempted to address a faulty screen issue instead of a server crash. This is an example of potential ambiguity. Furthermore, new issues will appear from new product launches, changes in quality, and evolution in the market. Lastly, the way people describe or view the same problem is more variable for certain issues than others.

Human-in-the-Loop

The only safe way of deploying bots within a contact center is to have a human-in-the-loop. This person will validate what the bots are doing, preferably with minimal impact to the customer.

So, who and where is the human-in-the-loop? It turns out that there are four general ways for humans to validate some or all of the process:

  1. A helpdesk agent can validate suggested responses before sending.
  2. The customer can validate that the response—or the question they asked—was comprehended.
  3. A third-party solution provider can check the performance of the bots and curate the process; this might be an internal or external data science team.
  4. The knowledge base manager can check the bots for satisfactory performance.Automation of contact centers yields promise, although not without humans-in-the-loop to maintain its performance. Click To Tweet

Considerations of Humans-in-the-Loop

There are pros and cons of different human-in-the-loop approaches. Some of these points are technical in nature but have substantial implications.

Agent: Some solutions on the market have AI recommend the next “best response” for the agent. The agents validate the response, not the categorization. For example, if two queries—“The strawberries I bought were tasteless” and “The strawberries I bought made me sick”—both lead to the same recommended response, “We’re sorry; please accept our voucher,” then the categorization models will degrade as they are not being updated with the accurate root cause.

Also, the insight generated by the models won’t allow executives to monitor product quality, design, and usability to then generate the self-service tools that can reduce contact center traffic. With this solution, other humans-in-the-loop will still be required elsewhere.

Customer Validation: If customers provide the required validation, it is scalable, but customers may not like having to correct their original query or the responses. If the query produces a new category, then there must be a process to deal with it. Fundamentally, the system cannot be relied upon with just these humans-in-the-loop.

Solution Provider: This is the status quo for most machine-learning deployments in real-world environments: a data science team, either internally or a third-party, sets up, curates, and retrains the models on a regular basis to maintain their performance. The pros are that these are the only humans-in-the-loop required. The cons are that these professionals are in short supply.

Knowledge Base Manager: This role has the most hidden potential benefit for having a human-in-the-loop. In a nontechnical environment, they will provide business rules on how to handle queries, as well as the training, trouble-shooting guides, and fault tree analysis to resolve issues.

In terms of their day-to-day role, they will be aware of product launches and modifications, but they also can use the rich insight of the labels coming from the contact center (both triage and resolution) to make improvements to both the knowledge base and the process. This includes updating the FAQs so customers can better use self-service. Also, this insight can inform other functions, such as product quality, product design, and customer experience, to help guide improvements.

Optimized Learning

A new approach that only requires a few humans-in-the-loop can exist because of a new technology called optimized learning. This is a form of machine learning that builds models but invites training from a human in such a way to minimize human input and still provide maximum performance. It is ideal for spotting new signals and improving existing ones.

Optimized learning doesn’t need to be in-line and suffers from none of the downsides of other approaches. Instead, it requires a fraction of the labeling otherwise required, even in a changing environment. The implications of this are profound. It means that a call center would only need to retain a few agents after the automation implementation, and they would handle the training that the optimized learning invited them to do in an offline capacity. This would maintain the models for labeling queries to generate both automation and insight, thus speeding up and reducing issues.

The rest of the automation would come from the rules originating from the knowledge base manager, as informed by the bots. This paves the way for improving chatbots and self-serve, searchable FAQs to free up contact center staff.

Conclusion

Automation of contact centers yields promise, although not without humans-in-the-loop to maintain its performance. There are many different flavors for human-in-the-loop AI automation. With new technology appearing, an optimized system is possible with a minimum number of humans who don’t need any data science skills. There is now no reason why the contact center of the future needs to look like those of the present. The same applies for the customer experience too.

Dan Somers is the CEO of Warwick Analytics, which provides call center automation solutions to address voice of customer (VoC) data, chatbots, service desks, and complaint handling.

Artificial Intelligence and the Call Center



Predict Who Is Calling and Why

By Nancy Lee

Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans. In computer science, AI research is defined as the study of intelligent agents: any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving goals. The term artificial intelligence is applied when a machine mimics cognitive functions generally associated with the human mind, such as learning and problem solving. Artificial intelligence algorithms improve their performance automatically through experience by finding patterns in a stream of input, such as telephone automatic number identification (ANI) information.

AI in the Call Center

Artificial intelligence is nothing new to Amtelco, which started developing a unique dataset for predictive call handling in 2005—the Intelligent Series (IS) Clairvoyant Agent feature. The latest iteration of this development is the innovative IS predictive intelligence feature. Predictive intelligence uses the ANI for a call to recognize the caller, eliminating the need for operators to reenter information. Predictive intelligence determines who is calling and the most likely reason why.

Predictive intelligence enables the call center system to learn with each call it receives and progressively improves the performance of subsequent tasks.

Time-Saving Features

Predictive intelligence saves a tremendous amount of time for both operators and callers. Operators simply select the reason for the call from the list, helping ensure error-free information.

For multiple callers from the same phone number, predictive intelligence sorts the list of callers by the number of times each person has called and displays the list in a pop-up box. The most frequent caller from a number appears at the top of the list. The operator can quickly choose the current caller from the list, and predictive intelligence retrieves that caller’s information from previous calls. For each caller, the list of reasons for previous calls displays with the most frequent reason for calling.

The textbook for teaching the call center system about predictive intelligence is comprised of a script template, an SQL server database separate from the IS system database, and an administration script for managing the database. The script template is the starting point for creating new predictive intelligence functions within existing scripts and using it to direct the disposition of the call. The separate database makes it possible to track callers and their reasons for calling and provides information about past calls to the script. The administration script is a user interface that enables supervisors to easily create a customized list of reasons for calling without having to access the database.Artificial intelligence gives the adage 'live and learn' new meaning for call center systems and their human operators. Click To Tweet

Looking to the Future

Although advanced AI could replace or reduce the need for human interaction, reducing the workload on call centers by answering simple or commonly asked questions, it could also enhance human interaction to improve and streamline the customer experience. This would retain the personalized aspect of calls that human interaction provides while augmenting it with AI technology to provide higher-quality service.

Voice recognition technology can be coupled with artificial intelligence capabilities to offer adaptive response suggestions to operators based on key words and phrases. This would reduce wait times and enable agents to instantly respond to a wide variety of caller needs with appropriate solutions.

Tone and voice analytics can gauge customer satisfaction and agent friendliness and enthusiasm to help provide individualized performance assessments. This form of AI also could monitor agent and customer call temperaments in real time, alerting managers when a situation escalates and allowing them to listen or step in if necessary.

Artificial intelligence gives the adage “live and learn” new meaning for call center systems and their human operators. And there seems to be no limit to what call center systems can learn to make life easier for call center agents.

AmtelcoNancy Lee is in marketing and advertising at Amtelco, a developer and supplier of call center and communications solutions located in McFarland, Wisconsin. Contact her at nlee@amtelco.com

Chatbots Should Learn from the Errors of IVR



Chatbots could follow the path of IVR, a once-promising technology that earned customer ire through poor implementation

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI don’t often use web chat because I find a phone call is faster and more thorough. Recently I made an exception and learned a valuable lesson.

The email said that my new statement was available online. I might be one of the few people who still download and review online statements, but that’s what I do. So I logged in and navigated to the right page. I clicked on the link for my most recent statement, but it brought up last month’s. With more navigation, I found a list of all my statements. Alas, my current statement wasn’t there.

About this time a chat invitation popped up. “I see you’ve been notified that your new statement is available. Can I help you?”

Without giving it enough thought, I typed in, “I can’t download my statement.”

Immediately I received a reply. “Here are two resources that might help you out.”

By the titles of these links, I knew they were pointing me in the wrong direction, telling me what I already knew. I tried again. “No, my current statement isn’t available.”

Again, the chatbot responded immediately. “Here are three links that might help you resolve the problem.”

Once again, the links wouldn’t help. What started as an amusing experience with technology was becoming exasperating. Then I typed, “Can I talk with a person?”

The bot responded immediately, “I can help you.”

Obviously the bot wasn’t interested in connecting me with a real person. I typed in what I thought: “You’re worthless.” (Though I’ve never said that to a person, I often say that to technology.)

But before I could close the chat window, I got another message. “Let me connect you with a representative.”

With a potential for help only seconds away, I stuck around. A half minute later, Lisa popped up in the chat window.

Unfortunately my failed chatbot experience agitated me, similar to what happens after a futile interaction with IVR. At this point, emotion, rather than logic, dictated my first question: “Are you a person or a bot?”

Lisa assured me she was a real person. We then worked to download my statement. She had me try a different method to get to my statement, but that didn’t work either. I pasted the error message into the chat window for her to see. Then she had me try a different browser. I got the same results.

As we continued, I noticed a subtle change on the statement page. First, the proper link appeared, but it still didn’t work. A little while later the link worked. Then I recalled a problem I had with my bank a few years ago. They would send out the email that my statement was available, even though the department responsible for putting it online hadn’t finished their work. The two groups weren’t communicating.

I realized that the same thing had happened with this company. Expecting the statement to be online by a certain time, the email group sent out a notice, not knowing the statement wasn’t available. Chatbots are part of an exciting technology that can help call centers better serve customers, as well as help agents do their job better. Click To Tweet

This, of course, brings up another all-too-common scenario: a company causes customer service activity by their own actions. But that’s a topic we’ve already covered.

The point today is that chatbots are part of an exciting technology that can help call centers better serve customers, as well as help agents do their job better. Yet the improper application of chatbot technology threatens its utility by alienating the customers it’s supposed to help.

This is exactly what happened with the introduction of IVR, and that technology never recovered. May chatbots have a different outcome. Both the call center and its customers need this one to be a win.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Why Telemarketing Programs Fail, Part 4



By Kathy Sisk

In the last issue we discussed properly assessing and preparing agents for training before the start of your campaign. Now we’ll look at what happens during the calling period.

A Challenging Task

When it comes to outbound campaigns, it isn’t realistic to think the prospect is waiting by their phone in anticipation of your call. On the contrary, the prospect may have already been inundated with calls like yours, in the middle of doing something more important, or they aren’t available.

Additionally, they may not have an interest in what you’re calling about. If you get any negative response early in your presentation, the method of handling it is critical. One of the most challenging parts of an outbound call is handling a premature “I’m not interested.”

The Easy Close

Using the “easy close” technique will help you through this challenge and allow you to continue with your presentation or keep the door open for future contact.

Here’s a typical easy close to the I’m-not-interested brush-off: “I respect that. If I could provide you with information that could save you on your insurance policy, how open are you to receive more information about this?”

The idea is to get the prospect to say “yes”; this turns a negative into a positive. This approach allows you to move on to the next portion of the easy close, which is to qualify their interest by saying, “To make sure that you can benefit, I need to verify some information, if you don’t mind.” This final portion of the easy close gets another positive response that helps you go to the next step of your presentation, the probing step.Preparation is a vital key to overcoming potential obstacles. Click To Tweet

When the campaign is carefully planned, and you incorporate what you learned in your training, you will gain greater confidence in handling calls and experience more positive outcomes. Preparation is a vital key to overcoming potential obstacles.

In the next issue we’ll tie everything together for a cohesive, well-thought-out outsourcing campaign.

Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc. has forty years of experience providing call center setup, reengineering, assessments, training, script development, and project management services to centers globally.