Tag Archives: Technology Articles

How AI-Powered Technologies Can Help Reduce Contact Center Agent Burnout

By Seb Reeve

The global pandemic has put more pressure than ever on every one of us. Healthcare workers face untold challenges in treating patients, and not just those who become sick with COVID-19. Grocery store, delivery, and restaurant workers, now rightfully seen as the essential workers they are, must overcome their own fears and risks as they continue to work through a crisis. Contact center and office workers now work from home, trying to balance the demands of their careers with the demands of their families, many of whom are now schooling from home too. 

And as more consumers shift their typically in-person interactions into more virtual and online spaces, the changes have likewise put more pressure on contact center agents to respond to a rising number of calls in an uncertain environment. Working in these high-stress environments—in combination with longer working hours—means many agents are at risk for burnout.

Burnout Basics

Burnout, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a “special type of work-related stress,” marked by physical and emotional exhaustion, a sense of reduced accomplishment, reduced productivity and effectiveness on the job, and even dramatic consequences for overall health and wellbeing. 

From a business perspective, agent burnout often leads to turnover, which is extraordinarily expensive, often about 20 percent of the employee’s salary. In an industry with turnover ranging from 30-45 percent, preventing burnout is not simply good for people, it’s good for business.

Preventing burnout is incumbent on all of us. It can start with small, people-first strategies, such as encouraging teams to disconnect and recharge, as improving communication and feedback, and managing workloads to ensure they’re within appropriate boundaries. 

Investing in technology platforms can go a long way toward supporting agents and helping to prevent burnout. Providing the tools and technologies that help everyone do their job better will not only optimize employee workloads, but it can also alleviate the stressors that contribute to burnout. It’s also worth considering which technology platforms no longer serve agents or the organizational vision, and instead add unnecessarily to agent workflows on a day-to-day basis.

Technologies That Alleviate Burnout Stressors

Today’s contact centers can choose from a range of technologies that help agents do their jobs better and more efficiently. For example, artificial-intelligence-powered solutions such as virtual assistants can shorten call handling times by engaging a broader audience and answering repetitive questions. With a digital, automated interface, the virtual assistant can engage callers in natural conversation—either via voice or text—to respond to requests and answer questions with personalized responses in a self-service environment. When a live agent is needed, the virtual assistant uses skills-based routing to deliver the caller to the best agent to handle their issue.

Enabling the virtual assistant not only delivers prompt, live assistance to customers, it frees agents to handle the more complex, high-value calls that matter most and are most meaningful.

Similarly, automated customer service messaging platforms can help engage customers, providing immediate answers to their inquiries, again while alleviating the burden on live contact center agents. Proactive notifications built into these platforms can deflect the number of inbound calls to a call center, which has the added benefit of supporting customer service efforts. 

Preventing Burnout

AI-powered technologies also provide the analytics and reporting to improve live engagements and deliver frustration-free customer experiences. Analyzing 100 percent of call center customer interactions provides visibility into trends, outliers, and opportunities to build, train, and coach a high-performing contact center team—one that’s free from many of the stressors that can contribute to burnout. 

Beyond supporting agents with AI-powered technologies and tools that can reduce burnout, these solutions can contribute to a healthier bottom line—from improved customer service and digital experiences to reduced employee turnover. 

Seb Reeve is the Market Development VP at Nuance Communications.

Vision 2020



By Donna Fluss

We’ve entered the new decade with great momentum in technological innovation. Startups and large enterprises are investing billions in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation-based initiatives that will change the way we live our lives and conduct business over the next ten to twenty years.

Technologies we’ve talked about for generations, such as self-driving cars, will alter the way people get around, making the argument for or against new transportation business models from companies such as Uber and Lyft merely a stepping-stone to a vastly transformed future.

DMG’s crystal ball shows an amazing outlook for the world of service and contact centers. In 2020 we’re going to see new and continued investments that will finally allow companies to decrease the number of live agent resources needed in contact centers, which is the number-one goal for these people-intensive organizations. 

Self-service solutions—the preferred way for consumers in the more advanced economies to obtain assistance—will experience a resurgence as AI-related technologies emerge that provide omni-channel concierge-level service. (Displaced contact center employees can move into new functions, such as administering robotics and AI initiatives.)

The workforce, populated increasingly by millennials, will continue to take the reins from boomers and Gen-Xers. This will intensify the need to satisfy the lifestyle requirements of the most technically advanced generation of workers. The digital transformation will continue to take place slowly in many companies. 

Investments to replace forty- to fifty-plus-year-old solutions that remain at the core of some of the largest corporations in the world, including major banks, will finally occur, as the resources and cost required to support systems built in the dark ages of technology will be too high. This doesn’t mean that it will be easy; it just means that it will happen, as the alternative is no longer viable. 

The changing workforce will drive much of the innovation in companies. More business (and personal) activities will occur through mobility. The need for enterprise-wide workforce management (WFM) solutions to help companies find, hire, train, and schedule the resources needed to operate their business cost-effectively (not just in their contact centers) will supersede negative preconceptions. A new generation of flexible, AI-based WFM solutions will emerge to support this. Designed for real-time, omni-channel, and multifunction forecasting and scheduling, they will share only a name with the solutions of the past. 

After decades of claiming to need highly knowledgeable workers, enterprises will implement new systems, training programs, and policies, driven by the vast amount of data required to support a hybrid human and automated workforce. It’s still debatable whether every employee will have their own automated bot to assist them, as it’s likely unnecessary, but there is no doubt that many types of automation (and workflow technology) will emerge to handle tasks that do not require or even benefit from the cognitive capabilities of live employees. 

This will be a major boon for contact centers and back-office operating departments, where employees are still engaged in many repetitive, noncognitive tasks that require them to cut and paste data into multiple nonintegrated systems, manually create and enter summaries of customer conversations, place orders received via faxes (yes, this still happens), manually perform fulfillment activities, and more.

New automation and AI-enabled technology will deliver innovations that make it easier for companies to support the work/life balance requirements of millennials and, looking to the future, Generation Z. As these capabilities enhance the customer and agent experience and improve productivity, adoption will be swift.

Smart technology will position companies to improve the customer experience, provided the initiatives coincide with changes to outdated policies and procedures. One of the biggest impediments to delivering an outstanding customer experience, regardless of technology, is the conflicting goals of sales, service, and marketing. For digital transformation initiatives to succeed, enterprises must invest in reinventing their relationship with customers and employees, as much as updating their technology.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.

Three Ways AI and Machine Learning Is Improving Live Chat



By Dan Somers

Many companies are implementing live chat because it offers a better experience for some queries and with some customers. It also offers cost savings for companies compared to voice. Indeed, the channel has been growing 87 percent per year, according to CustomerThink.

BoldChat found that the top reasons given for why people prefer live chat are immediacy of responses, 71 percent; ability to multitask, 51 percent; and don’t like talking on the phone, 22 percent.

However, canned responses, complex queries, or poor staffing can lead to the opposite experience. This results in channel switching, repeat calls, abandonment, or even churn. Misunderstandings can happen more frequently than during a telephone conversation, and with both customers and agents multitasking, there is plenty of room for error. Offshore chat operations often compound these concerns with cultural issues and additional misunderstandings.

However, new techniques in AI and machine learning make the analysis of live chat both easy and immediately actionable. Here are three ways these tools can transform chat optimization:

1. Human in the Loop AI

The technology runs automatically in the background until it needs a nontechnical person to assist with tuning the models in a rapid and efficient way. It prompts for a human only when needed. This frees up agent resources and maintains a current, fine-tuned, and accurate model.

2. Automatic Identification of Sentiment and Intent 

Models can automatically tag the chats with customer intent, sentiment, and emotion, such as if they’re considering leaving or expressing some other actionable emotion. This frees agents from several seconds of manual work (that is, after call work), where they can only typically do one tag at a time even if there are multiple issues to address.

3. Automated Next Best Action 

Use these models to drive insight specific to the customer in the moment through the automation of next best actions, enhancing the overall customer experience. They can plug natively into chat software APIs to automatically classify tags tuned to the specific requirements of the business.

Chat provides many benefits to both businesses and customers. Take these three steps to optimize your chat services for even greater results.

Dan Somers is the CEO of Warwick Analytics, developers of PrediCX, a machine learning platform that generates automated and customizable models specific to a particular chat stream.

Robotic Process Automation: It Is Here to Make the Change



By Ray Naeini

The impact of emerging technologies on our lives and our businesses cannot be ignored, dismissed, or avoided.

The replacement of plain old telephones (POTs) by smartphones, fax machines by emails, pagers by text messaging, and in-store shopping by online buying are all examples of the inevitable impact of technology on our lives and the way we do business. We should embrace these new technologies, not resist them. 

The latest wave of emerging technologies delivers intelligent automation solutions that play an important role in the implementation of a digital transformation strategy—a strategy embraced by businesses around the world in response to demands from today’s digitally oriented customers—as well as the need for productivity and optimization in managing businesses in a highly competitive and global environment.

The two most essential technologies that power intelligent automation solutions are artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA). AI and RPA are rapidly changing everything in our personal and business lives.

Many enterprises have employees manually performing repetitive tasks—such as order processing, customer profile updates, and claims processing—every day. As the volume of workloads increases, they must add more manual labor, which may not be cost-justifiable. 

Robotic process automation (RPA) can automate such repetitive tasks and empower companies to cost-effectively manage large or fluctuating workloads. RPA does not necessarily replace employees, but it can augment the work of each employee to be more productive in processing larger workloads.

Additionally, AI can empower RPAs to become intelligent process automation, analyzing and automating more complex tasks that require AI-based analysis of data to reach certain decisions. RPA solutions provide a variety of options in automating processes. 

Attended, Unattended, and Hybrid RPA 

RPA can automate repetitive tasks autonomously and without any human intervention, with human interaction, or using a combination of both.

Unattended RPA automates processes without human intervention. The workflow is created by a process manager and activated based on a schedule or triggered by an event. It usually runs on a server and in the background, independent of human involvement.

There are certain processes, however, that cannot be entirely automated. Hence the need for attended RPA, which automates certain segments of the process. Attended RPA interacts with humans at certain points of a process that require intervention by an employee. Attended RPA increases the productivity of employees and eliminates errors by automating certain portions of a workflow previously executed manually by employees. 

Last, both attended and unattended RPA can work together as a hybrid to maximize automation and productivity. 

Rule-Based or AI-Powered Analytics-Based

RPA’s process automation can be rule-based for evaluation of structured data used in the workflow, making decisions by applying rules to such structured data. For example, if the city of residence is in a structured field, rules can evaluate the city in that field and make decisions. 

Analytics-based RPA, powered by AI-driven analytics, is intelligent process automation. It can analyze unstructured data and discover actionable knowledge, intent, categories, named entities, or sentiment to make decisions.

PrePackaged or Customizable Process Automation 

Prepackaged RPA offers a plug-and-play solution for predefined process automation. An example is using automated and adaptive intelligent real-time routing to direct customer service calls to the most-optimized point of service. 

Another example is a desktop transaction automation, which is an attended RPA. It runs on an employee’s desktop and interacts with the employee to optimize his or her performance. Prepackaged RPAs do not allow changes to the workflow by users.

Customizable RPA, on the other hand, provides users with a no-code platform to map, create, and customize the workflow of their processes using drag-and-drop desktop tools without any need for software engineers. They can test or place into production custom workflows, activated based on user-defined schedules or triggered by an event. No-code platforms are popular due to their capability in customizing a variety of processes rapidly and without generating software codes.

Ray Naeini is the CEO of OnviSource.

Is the Future Our Friend or Foe?



Be Ready for Artificial Intelligence to Revolutionize Your Call Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

One of the spaces I inhabit is the call center industry. Another of my worlds is writing. These two areas intersect in this column. Another commonality is how technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), will affect both sectors.

Futurists in the writing community talk about how AI will arise as a disruptive force. Indeed, the disruption has already begun, with computer programs writing poetry, song lyrics, a screenplay, and even a novel. Much of the writing community isn’t aware of this emerging reality.

Other writers deny that AI even exists and consider it a pipedream. Some see it as the end of writing as we know it and a threat to their livelihood. Last are those, like me, who see AI as a tool that will help us write more, write better, and write faster. Yes, writing as we know it today will change dramatically, but that change is something to embrace.

AI is also making inroads into the call center industry, and the reactions to AI in the call center space are much the same as in the writing world.

Blissfully Unaware

Many people in the call center industry aren’t aware of the burgeoning developments with AI and how it will dramatically change call centers and their provision of customer care. They view AI as the topic for sci-fi movies, scientific labs, and a far-off future reality—one that will occur long after they no longer care.

Instead, they focus on the day-to-day urgencies of hiring, training, and scheduling agents. They look at metrics such as first call resolution, speed of answer, and average call length. They consider the number of calls in queue, time in queue, and abandonment rate. And their world focuses on resolving customer complaints. There’s nothing wrong with these worthy pursuits, but it keeps them from considering tomorrow and embracing the future.

Deny It’s a Threat

Others acknowledge the existence of AI, but they don’t see how it could help call centers serve customers better. If anything, they assume AI will make customer service harder and therefore perpetuate the need for live agents. To them, AI is another call-center fad that will receive a lot of hype for a few years and then fade away. Their response is to maintain the status quo and pursue business as usual. 

Fearful Over the Future

Next, are the Luddites, those who oppose technology. Though some call centers embrace technology much more than others, every call center has some degree of tech in its infrastructure and operations. These people have formed a comfortable truce with the tools they use, and they don’t want any more of them.

They have enough, and everything works fine, thank you very much. More tools, especially AI-powered solutions, makes them shudder. They fear that self-learning programs will take over the call center space and eliminate their jobs. 

Embrace It with Optimism

The final group looks at AI as an intriguing call-center solution. Yes, it will fundamentally change how call centers operate. And this transformation could happen much sooner than most people suspect. Yet instead of fearing uncertainty over the unknown, these forward-thinking futurists welcome AI as a smart solution to many of the challenges call centers to face.

Yes, in some cases, AI will replace jobs, just as answering machines, voicemail, automated attendants, and IVR have done in the past. In other cases, AI will assist call center agents, helping them work more effectively and efficiently. This will occur just as our existing tools have improved the results produced from our prior toolset. Then, now, and in the future, the customer benefits by realizing enhanced outcomes.

Thanks to AI, in the future you won’t need to hire as many people to staff your call center. And those you do hire will benefit by having AI to guide their work. These employees will find their call center job less dreary and more invigorating. The days of routinely shuffling through repetitive calls will end, replaced with variety in handling challenging calls that AI can’t address. This will provide the opportunity to excel in call-center work as never before.

AI isn’t coming. AI is here. What role will it play in your call center?

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.

Challenges and Opportunities: Contact Center and Artificial Intelligence



By Ross Sedgewick and Lisa Campbell

Within most contact centers, artificial intelligence (AI) adoption remains in an embryonic stage. As companies like Google compete to become AI-first, there is plenty to suggest this next leap in consumer engagement models will soon become inevitable. Yet contact center employees and the industry at large are apprehensive about the impact of AI on service levels and jobs through the deployment of new digital automation capabilities.

Current research shows that as many as one-third of all jobs could be lost to AI in the next decade, with frontline contact center work being among the most vulnerable. However, because of strong commercial gains and changes to customer engagement models, AI is poised to become far more mainstream in customer contact centers.

More companies are rolling out AI-driven software bots to reduce live agent costs while collapsing wait times. (In theory, there is no queueing time to reach a software bot agent). As with prior generations of automation, such as interactive voice response (IVR), automated software bots have proven to provide good results in structured, repeatable, and simple customer interactions.

The Challenges with AI in Contact Centers

AI has the power to transform consumer engagement. While there will always be a place for voice in the modern contact center, consumers are looking for a faster, more frictionless experience. AI, when deployed effectively, can deliver this.

Traditionally, a live agent’s voice is ideal in complex, escalated, or empathy-intensive scenarios, or when the customer is not embracing technology or internet tools. For example, if you are an insurer and define your brand by understanding customers and offering personalized service, any shift to AI—from a contact center perspective—needs careful management.

Similar risks apply with first-generation implementations of AI-driven customer service bots, which mollify the situation through statements of empathy and generalized responses without grasping and resolving the specific customer issues. Ultimately the customer must escape and talk to a real person. Doing a superficial job with AI dialog construction and machine learning is worse for customer relations than having a caller wait a few extra minutes to access a live agent.

The challenge here is that businesses need to ask themselves what they stand to lose if they don’t deploy new AI technologies well, or if they effectively give up the human touch in favor of AI. Contact center managers and technology providers should also consider how to spur the seamless exchange between virtual agents and live agents to manage the fallout of unsuccessful digital conversations. With this inevitability, the need to deliver an omnichannel solution that can shift between the virtual and living agent becomes apparent, and the customer experience flows smoothly as a result.

Innovation Opportunities with AI in Contact Centers 

AI and software bots have the potential to bring many interesting and innovative opportunities to the contact center. Here are some sample scenarios to envision:

  • Rather than relying on agent skills, knowledge, and experience alone, an AI-driven bot can virtually listen to the customer interaction and silently guide the agent toward a resolution—including questioning and dialog prompts. This allows less experienced agents to do a better job while consuming less off-line dedicated training time.
  • How many times have you struggled to clearly hear what a contact center agent is saying due to ambient noise? Annoying and disruptive background noises on both the customer and agent sides can be isolated and filtered out in real time by AI, allowing for a better customer and agent experience overall, as well as faster resolutions.
  • Call recording is now commonplace. AI can enable real-time transcriptions of calls that are later searchable and more easily processed by analytics and reporting engines for business insights, as well as audited for legal compliance. These transcriptions can also be used to gather intelligence for future use to feed into AI dialog coaching and machine learning in terms of issue identification, effective questioning, and prompts.
  • AI enables customer service software bots to be self-aware, such that a graceful handoff to a human agent can occur as needed for resolution—sometimes without the knowledge of the customer, as in the case of email, web, or text chat. This allows a more natural dialog leading to categorization and routing, as opposed to “press one for service” or selecting topics from preset drop-down menus.
  • The value of agent retention and reduced employee turnover correlates with effective contact center operations and customer satisfaction. By introducing AI, highly valued live human agents can be more engaged and more challenged by novel, complex, and interesting customer situations, as opposed to repeatedly processing routine and predictable customer inquiries or requests that AI and software bots can now handle. 

AI’s Future in Contact Centers

In the near-to-medium horizon, increased adoption of AI in customer interactions is inevitable. Current trends may see contact centers achieve at least one-third AI-based interactions by 2022, yet with a transformation component that will see the live agent role shift from prescriptive and transactional activities to managing deeper customer journey activities in tandem with AI.

Knowing when to use AI will remain an iterative process that must be managed by the right individuals within an organization. Given studies where AI is currently outperforming doctors and lawyers, contact centers need to determine how AI and agents can work in harmony to manage all customers’ situations across all communication media in effective and efficient ways.

Ross Sedgewick fulfills several expert marketing roles in technologies for the digital workplace, team collaboration/customer contact solutions, and virtual team engagement. He currently handles content creation, messaging, and insight development relating to the digital workplace at Atos’ unified communications and collaboration division (formerly Unify).

LisaCampbell fulfills several positioning, messaging, and value propositions functions for Atos’ customer engagement solutions and orchestrated communication services as well as global vision, strategy, and statements of direction for the full portfolio. Lisa is passionate about communication technology and its ability to amplify individual and organization outcomes.

Ignoring Lessons from the Past


By Sherry Gouel

Looking back at previous generations, we’re certain to find things that make us wonder, “What were they thinking?” Of course, the world has changed in the past hundred years, and people have learned ways to improve their lives, their well-being, and their health. Many of these lessons were learned the hard way.

The Past

We learned was that nicotine was harmful to our health and sugar had many negative consequences. We learned these lessons because people suffered from their use.

If you look through any magazines or newspapers circa 1950, you’ll find ads for cigarettes. TV commercials used to show doctors trying to sell viewers on their favorite tobacco brands. Movies of that era included characters prominently puffing on cigarettes in every second scene.

Another less advertised but just as detrimental product was sugar. The advertising may have been more discreet, but the negative effects of sugar weren’t exposed and the sugar industry made sizable profits.

It would be years before society would be enlightened to the dangers of both these items. It would be years before cigarette ads would change from promoting them to informing the public of the dangers of their use. It would also be years before the link between high sugar intake and diabetes would be made public. Although it took many years to get these messages across, we eventually realized our errors and tried to correct them.

We may have come a long way, but that doesn’t mean we’re done learning. What about cell phones and social media—have we stopped to consider the potential consequences of using them? What will the next generation say about our love of this media? 

The Present

Cell phone popularity soared around the late 1990s, and it would be hard to find anyone over the age of fourteen that doesn’t have a personal cell phone. Some of the harmful effects are not so obvious, but they are definitely present. We’ve now become a society that spends more time looking at our cell phones than at each other, but instead of trying to salvage our human connections, we find ways to accommodate our world to ease our connections with our cell phones.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are injured and some even die due to inattention while texting and walking. The World Health Organization calls this “distracted walking.” In Shaanxi, China, there’s a special lane reserved on the sidewalk for people who walk and text. It allows the people who are distracted as they walk and text to not impede the rest of society. They can simply stare down at their phones and not worry about walking into anyone. It’s a sad reality when we make accommodations to make texting instead of human connections easier.

One of the more troubling consequences of increasing attachment to our cell phones is that for many it has increased the feeling of detachment and isolation. For those who already feel lonely, seeing the world around them staring down at their phones creates more distance than connectivity.

The increase in our ties with technology has increased our isolation. This is particularly difficult for seniors, many who already feel isolated and alone. This demographic isn’t as accustomed to using their cell phones as often as the younger generation, and they prefer human connections, eye to eye.

In the UK, Costa Coffee shops has introduced a concept to help with loneliness. “Chatty Café,” which began in 2017, consists of allocating a table in their cafés for people who just wish to talk to someone. People are encouraged to stop and chat to anyone sitting at that table. This has been very popular, especially with seniors who welcome the warmth of a face-to-face conversation. But once again, we’re attending to the consequences of the problem rather than facing the actual root of it.

The Future

History has taught us some lessons that we have rectified, but our attachment to our cell phones will be a difficult crisis to overcome. We’re spending more time in front of our screens, and this inevitably will continue to have consequences. Human connections are falling behind our electronic connections, and the consequences won’t be as repairable as other mistakes humanity has made. Why? Because repairing our increasing human disconnection will mean putting our cell phones down. And that’s unlikely to happen.

Sherry Gouel handles sales and marketing support for Szeto Technologies.

PCI Scope Reduction Can Save Tens of Thousands of Dollars Per Year



By Art Coombs

High-profile stories of compromised credit cards and data breaches and their sobering aftereffects have dominated the headlines in recent years. As such, increasing security and reducing fraud is on the minds of many business leaders. This is particularly true of call centers, where credit card transactions are at the heart of their operations. These companies are challenged to provide a secure environment to accept credit cards while keeping the associated costs down.

The leading credit card companies set up the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to help businesses that take card payments reduce fraud. Built on solid security principles that apply to all sorts of data, it covers areas such as retention policies, encryption, physical security, authentication, and access control. According to the Verizon 2017 Payment Security Report, almost half of companies that accept credit cards fail to protect their payment card data on an ongoing basis.

The explanations vary widely as to why this is the case, but one of the primary reasons is the expense associated with maintaining full PCI compliance. In many cases, it’s prohibitively expensive. Fines levied by banks and credit card institutions for not being PCI compliant in the event of a breach can range from five thousand dollars to five hundred thousand dollars, highlighting the need for compliance despite the cost.

Companies Face Mounting Costs

PCI-compliance costs add up quickly. Companies can expect to pay handsomely for items such as vulnerability scans, penetration testing, training, and policy development. Overall, there are twelve standards and more than four hundred controls outlined in the PCI DSS.

Often the largest direct expense (aside from remediation requirements resulting from a breach) is usually the PCI assessor and assessment fees, which, depending on the complexity of an organization, cost tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. These annual and biannual assessments are conducted by Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) companies, independent security organizations that have been qualified by the PCI Security Standards Council to validate a company’s adherence to PCI DSS.

The PCI Security Standards Council maintains an in-depth program for security companies seeking certification as Qualified Security Assessors and recertification each year. The requirements are stringent and comprehensive. Because of the time and energy individuals and companies invest in certification, they are justified in charging a premium for the assessments they conduct.

Reduce PCI Scope and Save Money

The litany of requirements is as costly as it is formidable, but call centers, as well as any company accepting credit cards, need to be aware that there are distinct ways to reduce the burden of applicable PCI controls. This means they can easily reduce the number of areas in the scope of PCI compliance that the company is responsible for. Reducing or eliminating areas of PCI scope can greatly reduce costs now and in the future and still provide a secure system.

Two approaches call centers can employ to reduce or even eliminate PCI scope is to use DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency) suppression and SMS text messaging. These bypass the agents and contact center infrastructure, going instead directly to a tokenization service provided by the company’s payment processor and acquiring bank.

DTMF represents the tones the numbers on a phone make when pressed. DTMF suppression is a method that enables customers to enter their credit card information using the keypad on their phone. The agent stays on the line and never sees the numbers or hears the tones.

The second approach is to leverage SMS, or texting, so customers don’t have to give their credit card information verbally over the phone to the agent. SMS and an accompanying payment portal are a secure and smart solution for accepting payment for several reasons. Most consumers are already familiar with their mobile devices and SMS. This saves agents from having to explain a complicated web portal and payment screen. The consumer doesn’t need to download an app or go through a credit card terminal to make payments via SMS. SMS payments can be accepted around the world without any agents seeing or hearing the information.

The systems the company uses (CRMs, CMS, and payment systems) receive a confirmation or token validating that the transaction went through, but the credit card data never touches the company’s infrastructure. This greatly reduces risk: the company doesn’t have the credit card data, and it isn’t present, stored (recorded for quality assurance), or transmitted within the company’s systems. This reduces or eliminates PCI scope.

It’s important to note that regarding fraud prevention, even the most robust, 100 percent PCI-compliant environment could still be at risk when human agents, including employees, decide to commit fraud or theft. If they verbally receive numbers over the phone, they can memorize the critical information and then write it down once they leave the office or record the numbers and use them for their own nefarious purposes. In any card-not-present environment, there is risk. These approaches take that risk out of the picture.

Reduce Scope to Qualify for Self-Assessment

By using technologies that employ DTMF suppression and SMS, companies can reduce the scope of what’s required under an assessment so much that they’re no longer required to hire a consultant to conduct an assessment. Instead they can conduct a self-assessment, write a report, and submit it to the PCI council themselves, instantly saving tens of thousands of dollars or more while dramatically improving security.

Art Coombs is a published author on leadership and methodologies for BPOs, contact centers, and technical support. Art has more than twenty-five years of experience with several global firms and their call and BPO centers worldwide. He is president and CEO of KomBea, a fifteen-year-old software company that develops solutions for contact-center environments to help deal with the myriad of regulations and standards they face, including PCI compliance and HIPAA. For more information visit www.kombea.com.

Science and Technology Revolutionize the Customer Experience



Applications that Improve the Customer Journey

By Deborah Navara and Jana Benetti

Recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) technology, coupled with consumer preference for digital channels, are driving interest in and adoption of intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) and a related technology, robotic process automation (RPA). Voice biometrics is another high-tech solution that is going mainstream. A leading bank’s recent ad campaign publicizes that they know customers “by the sound of their voice.”

Organizations are starting to leverage these sophisticated technologies to re-engineer service experiences that combine the best of self-service with live agent support, a winning experience for enterprises, who have a fiduciary responsibility to reduce operating costs while also providing a highly effective personalized customer experience.

DMG defines IVAs as “specialized technology that utilizes artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced speech technologies, and free dialogue understanding to simulate live cognitive assistance for voice, text, or digital interactions via a digital persona. IVAs are self-learning. Their intelligence is continually evolving based on data inputs from each new interaction. The acquired knowledge is assimilated and leveraged in future interactions.”

In essence, IVAs use science to elevate the art of self-service. IVAs are catching on in a variety of verticals, where they serve as personal shoppers, ensure compliance with healthcare protocols, book reservations, schedule appointments, assist with financial or investment decisions, and determine how to manage utility expenses more efficiently.

For agent-assisted interactions, IVAs pull information from knowledge bases, customer profiles, and other online sources that agents need to optimize each interaction. In the enterprise, they are being leveraged to assist with benefits, compensation administration, and other HR issues.

Contact centers are inherently complex environments, and agents routinely must enter the same information into two or more systems, such as a transaction processing system and a CRM solution. This is where robotic process automation comes in. Attended RPA is being used to automate cut-and-paste tasks and for populating the same data in more than one solution.

This greatly speeds up the processing time for customers and prospects, while reducing errors. Attended RPA can also be used to create a composite servicing screen to reduce the number of systems and screens agents need to access to resolve inquiries. And unattended RPA can fully automate some end-to-end contact center processes, with little or no human involvement.

Voice biometrics is another solution whose time may finally have come, as adoption of these solutions by contact centers is on the rise. (Adoption of biometrics in general is increasing.) The primary use for voice biometrics in the contact center is to automate speaker authentication. Once a voiceprint is obtained, it eliminates the need to answer security questions, which may, ironically, contain the same information they are trying to protect.

Security concerns, regulatory requirements, and the pressure to reduce operating costs and improve the customer experience, along with improvements in technology and much faster servers, are paving the way for companies to adopt voice biometrics for customer identification, verification, and e-signatures. The following chart provides a synopsis of how these solutions work and are being used to deliver customer and enterprise benefits.

Technology How it Works Contact Center Application Customer Benefit Enterprise Benefit
Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) Utilizes AI, machine learning, advanced speech technologies, including natural language understanding, natural language processing, and natural language generation (NLU/NLP/NLG) to simulate live and unstructured cognitive conversations for voice, text, and digital interactions via a digital persona Omni-channel self-service Enhanced self-service; reduced customer effort Improved productivity;

lower cost of service; increased use of self-service solutions; enhanced CX

Robotic process automation (RPA) Leverages AI, machine learning, workflow, and other technologies to emulate the processes performed by human workers; can be trained to adapt to changing conditions, anomalies, and new situations Automating processing of repetitive tasks;

automating cut-and-paste; data propagation across multiple applications; initiating actions and communicating with other systems or employees; agent/employee assistance (attended automation)

Reduced errors; reduced processing time Improved productivity; lower cost of service; improved accuracy
Voice biometrics Compares the unique voice characteristics of a live audio stream to an enrolled voiceprint to authenticate the speaker Fraud and risk mitigation; automating verification; primary component of multifactor authentication; authorizing transactions; legally binding digital e-signature Accurate and nonintrusive authentication method; enhanced data protection; expedited digital transactions Reduced risk and exposure; decreased fraud; enhanced CX

IVAs, RPA, and voice biometrics enhance the customer experience, improve productivity, and reduce the cost of service. They simplify how customers interact with companies in many channels, including phone, interactive voice response (IVR), websites, and smartphone apps to facilitate a consistent and personalized omni-channel customer journey. When planning for the near-term, all companies should carefully evaluate these solutions, as they achieve the primary goal of helping companies deliver an outstanding customer experience cost effectively.

Deborah Navara and Jana Benetti are with DMG Consulting LLC, which helps emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences.

Best Practices for Surviving a Ransomware Attack


Startel delivers best-in-call contact center solutions

By Jim Graham

In 1989 the first known ransomware attack occurred when twenty thousand floppy disks containing malware were distributed to researchers across more than ninety countries. In 2017 Symantec recorded an average of 1,242 ransomware complaints per day, not including the infamous WannaCry and NotPetya attacks. According to a survey conducted by Malwarebytes, one in six organizations impacted by a ransomware attack were down for twenty-five hours or more.

A recent attack on one of our clients was a painful reminder that ransomware continues to be a genuine threat to individuals and businesses worldwide. Our client received the virus upon clicking on a bad link in a “spear phishing” email. Their business was down for twenty-four hours before they were able to process calls.

The longer a business is down, the harder—and costlier—it is to recover. The financial impact can be just as staggering, with one hour of inactivity costing small businesses as much as $8,500. That doesn’t include lost business opportunities or the personnel cost associated with downtime.

Common Best Practices

There are many best practices, tips, and recommendations to mitigate a ransomware attack. The options can be overwhelming. However, you can lessen the likelihood you’ll become another statistic and decrease the impact of an attack by implementing these best practices.

1. Be Educated: Staff training is the first and best line of defense against ransomware. In most cases, systems are infected by user-initiated behavior such as clicking a malicious link in an email, opening an executable email attachment, or unknowingly giving a password to a potential hacker.

Educate staff about recognizing suspicious links and attachments. Phishing expeditions have become more sophisticated and targeted. These “spear phishing” attempts typically include client-specific information you’d assume no one else knows, making them much more believable. Never click on email links unless you’re absolutely certain of the identity of the sender.

2. Be Prepared: No matter how well-trained your staff is, be prepared for the possibility of a ransomware infection. This is where robust system and data backup strategies become essential. It’s critical to backup your data, software, and configuration settings frequently. Without a backup, you could permanently lose data. Create three copies, on two different media, and keep one copy stored securely off-site. Then test all backups to ensure you can successfully recover data.

A detailed incident response plan can make these instances a little less daunting. Take the time to put together an incident response plan, and test it each year. Also, consider investing in a business continuity and disaster recovery solution. These solutions minimize downtime and help ensure customer data remains secure and accessible 24/7.

Finally, in the unfortunate event you’re impacted by ransomware, consider enlisting the assistance of qualified IT professionals skilled at recovering from an attack. They’ll be able to get your company up and running and help minimize the impact on operations.

3. Stay Proactive: Once staff is well-trained and you have a strategy in place, continually monitor other areas of your business that may be vulnerable to ransomware. Implement these approaches to stay proactive:

  • Update operating system patches and antivirus software. On average, Microsoft releases several “critical or security”-related updates each month.
  • Limit administrative rights to only those that need to have them.
  • Deploy strong spam filters that block executable files.
  • Consider using a secure email gateway (SEG) in addition to your email client filter.
  • Set firewalls to block known malicious IP addresses.
  • Lock down your firewall from inside out to prevent data from being extracted.

HIPAA and Other Compliance Implications

A breach caused by a ransomware infection can have significant HIPAA and other compliance-related implications. Whether or not data has been taken, a successful attack is still considered a breach by HIPAA standards. Be sure you’re maintaining backups and log files for all systems that touch electronic protected health information (ePHI), because your company security policies will be subject to review by auditors. Proper HIPAA training is also essential in protecting ePHI.

Disclaimer

No matter how well prepared your business is, you can still be a victim of ransomware. However, following these recommendations will lessen the likelihood and impact of an attack.

Startel

Jim Graham co-founded Professional Teledata (PTD) in 1993 and served as vice president until the merger with Startel in September 2015. As the CTO of PTD, Jim draws upon his thirty years of computer and software development experience and twenty-three years of call center experience. Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom provide unified communications, business process automation, and performance management solutions and services. They leverage their solutions and industry knowledge to empower organizations to improve agent productivity, reduce operating costs, and increase revenues. For more information, call 949-863-8776 or visit www.startel.com.