Can we build machines that understand us?

Tobias Goebel,  Mar 2020

The question of whether we can build machines that truly think is a fascinating one. It has both practical and philosophical implications, and both perspectives answer a key question very differently: how close to the real thing (human thinking) do we need to get?” In fact – does rebuilding the exact human ways even matter? And are we too easily impressed with anyone claiming they have accomplished this Franksteinian feat?

From a purely practical perspective, any machine that improves a human task on some level (speed, quality, effort) is a good machine. When it comes to cognitive” tasks, such as reasoning, or predicting what comes next based on previous data points, we appreciate the help of computer systems that produce the right outcome either faster, better, or more easily than we can. We do not really care how they do it. It is perfectly acceptable if they simulate” how we think, as long as they produce a result. They do not actually have to think like we do.

The question of whether machines can truly think has become more relevant again in recent years, thanks to the rise of voice assistants on our phones and in our homes, as well as chatbots on company websites and elsewhere. Now, we want machines to understand — arguably a different, more comprehensive form of thinking. More specifically, we want machines to understand human language. Again we can consider this question from two different angles: the practical, and the philosophical one.

John Searle, an American professor of philosophy and language, introduced a widely discussed thought experiment in 1980, called The Chinese Room. It made the argument that no program can be written that, merely by virtue of being run on a computer, creates something that truly is thinking, or understanding. Computer programs are merely manipulating symbols, which means operating on a syntactical level. Understanding, however, is a semantical process.

Searle concedes that computers are powerful tools that can help us study certain aspects of human thought processes. He calls that weak AI”. In his 1980 paper, he contrasts that with “strong AI”: But according to strong AI, the computer is not merely a tool in the study of the mind; rather, the appropriately programmed computer really is a mind, in the sense that computers given the right programs can be literally said to understand and have other cognitive states.

Cognitive states are states of mind such as hoping, wanting, believing, hating. Think (sic!) about it: proponents of strong AI, and they do exist, claim that as soon as you run an appropriately written computer program (and only while it is running), these computers literally are hoping, are wanting, etc. That surely must be a stretch?

Searles thought experiment is summarized by him as follows:

Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese locked in a room full of boxes of Chinese symbols (a data base) together with a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (the program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (the input). And imagine that by following the instructions in the program the man in the room is able to pass out Chinese symbols which are correct answers to the questions (the output). The program enables the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese but he does not understand a word of Chinese.

Goebel Cartoon

This is a simple but powerful thought experiment. For decades now, other philosophers have attempted to shoot holes into the argument, e.g. claiming that while the operator him- or herself might not understand Chinese, the room as a whole actually does. Yet all of these replies are eventually refutable, at least according to Searle, so the argument is being discussed and studied to this day.

Strong AI is of course not necessary for practical systems. As an excellent example of that, consider the social chatbot Mitsuku. (A “social bot” has no purpose other than to chat with you, as opposed to what you could call functional or transactional chatbots, such as customer service bots.) Mitsuku is a five-time winner (and now a Guinness World Record holder) of the Loebner Prize, an annual competition for social bots. She is entirely built on fairly simple “IF-THEN” rules. No machine learning, no neural networks, no fancy mathematics or programming whatsoever. Just a myriad of pre-written answers and some basic contextual memory. Her creator is Steven Worswick, who has been adding answers to Mitsuku since 2005. The chatbot, who you can chat with yourself, easily beats Alexa, Siri, Google, Cortana, and any other computer system that claims it can have conversations with us. (Granted: none of the commercially available systems do claim that social banter is their main feature.)

Certainly, Mitsuku by no means aims to be an example of strong AI. It produces something that on the surface looks like a human-to-human conversation, but a computer running the IF-THEN rules is of course nowhere near a thinking machine. This example, however, shows that it neither requires a machine that “truly thinks”, nor a corporation with the purchasing power of an Amazon, Apple, or Google, to build something that serves a meaningful purpose: a single individual with a nighttime and weekend passion can accomplish just that. And Mitsuku, with its impressive ability to chitchat for long stretches of time, is meaningful to many, according to the creator.

Goebel Mitsuku Graphic

 

It is easy to get distracted by technological advancements and accomplishments, and the continuous hype cycles we find ourselves in will never cease to inspire us. But let’s make an attempt to not let them distract us from what fundamentally matters: that the tools we build actually work, and perform a given task. For chatbots, that means that they first and foremost need to be able to have a meaningful conversation in a given context. Whether they are built on simple rules or the latest generation of neural network algorithms shouldn’t matter. Despite that concession, it will probably remain forever human to marvel at advances towards solving what might be the biggest philosophical question of all: can we ever build a machine that can truly understand?

Finding an Easy Formula to Do the Math is a Challenge for Contact Centers

When you google “contact center metrics,” there’s no shortage of suggestions to peruse. Lists of varying numbers of suggested metrics to be monitored pop up on the screen: 7, 13, 20, 27.  But which are the right ones for a company’s specific environment? The across-the-board metric cited is First Contact Resolution (FCR), which is a standard that just about every contact center views as critical to maintain and improve.  Similarly, Customer Satisfaction ratings, while not always quite as simple to define, are also a universal target to be monitored.

But it gets murkier from there. Many other commonly cited metrics, such as service level or average handle time, are not always directly comparable across channels; and evaluating teams that share some — but not all — queues is not always a precise process.  An ICMI study revealed that 39% of contact center leaders struggle to identify and measure key performance indicators.

A deeper understanding of metrics and how to calculate them helps a business set the right targets and reach goals to support its mission and vision. Each measure used to help determine how teams are performing needs to be understandable and actionable to individual agents, supervisors and management alike.  When all parties agree on what is important, a company can consistently track performance and see where to improve processes and training to help its agents do better.

Having this level of clarity on goals and metrics and knowing how they’re tracking towards those goals, creates employees who are more engaged with their work and empowered in their roles. A Dale Carnegie infographic shows that companies with more engaged employees outperform companies without engaged employees by 202%, and have customer retention rates that are 18% higher, according to loyalty strategy research by Colloquy.

Setting goals to measure performance can be somewhat tricky. Targets should not be so difficult to attain as to make them daunting for agents. There must be flexibility and compromise in determining how to balance between goals that appear to compete with one another, such as average handle time – where saving and time and reducing cost is paramount – and customer satisfaction, especially in cases that involve more complex interactions. When creating scoreboards to measure agent performance, businesses need to ensure that goals are instantly comprehensible and ready to act upon. They also need to make sense mathematically in tracking drivers across all contact channels including traditional, social, and mobile.  It’s helpful to use the same classification system across all interactions and equip agents to use it consistently.

Of course, simply knowing which metrics to use and how to score them is not the be-all, end-all for optimizing agent happiness. Going back to Google, one would find an astounding 147,000+ results for “benefits of a happy contact center agent”. The major areas of focus in these listings range from the obvious: “why agent satisfaction is important,” to the ubiquitous “fun things to do to keep agents happy” and the more specific evaluations of software and services to promote agent satisfaction.

Companies must be proactive in their approach to building models that are consistently accurate in predicting probabilities and outcomes in their contact centers. Models that are less than precise lead to failure to maintain desired service levels and result in cost overages. Businesses need to find innovative but proven methods to calculate the proper variables and the right things to look for in developing analyses that result in accurate forecasts.

Data abundance and complex operations make it challenging to develop, implement, and present clean, clear reports and on-target analyses. Over the next several months, agent-first solution provider Sharpen Technologies, developers of an always-on contact center platform built for the enterprise, will present a comprehensive series of complimentary webcasts on CrmXchange.

The four sessions are designed to demystify the process of determining the right metrics, show businesses how to measure and accurately analyzing contact center performance, and to implement those analyses across the operation so the entire organization stays focused on excellence. It will culminate in a discussion of how to put together the most efficacious math models for contact center executives and managers to glean actionable insights.

The first webcast in the series, “Attributes of Solid Contact Center Performance Metrics – and Attributes of Poor Ones”  will take place on Thursday, March 5.

The second,” Learn How to be Great: Helping Agents, Supervisors, and Execs Perform,” will be presented on Tuesday April 21.

The third session, “Setting Performance Goals and Scorecards,” comes up on Thursday, August 13.

The final presentation “Building Great “What-If” Models and the Resulting Analyses for the CEO” will be delivered on Tuesday, October 20.

All webcasts will be jointly presented by Ric Kosiba, Chief Data Scientist and Adam Settle. Chief Product Officer, Sharpen Technologies. Ric’s vast background of expertise goes back two decades to Bay Bridge Decisions Technologies which he co-founded in 2000. In that role, he developed the contact center industry’s first “what if” decision engine, a complex set of algorithms designed to forecast proper staffing levels. Adam is an experienced education professional skilled in Sales, Coaching, Team Building, and Training. He combines his extensive knowledge with hands-on experience as a trainer at Apple and Angie’s List.

Register now at no cost for the individual presentations or the complete series. Each webcast is at 1:00PM ET. If you cannot attend the live presentation, a link to the recorded session will be available within 24 hours.

How Analytics Enable You to Bring Your Company Closer to the Customer than Ever Before

There are divergent opinions in what technologies are most effective in creating a better customer experience, but one thing that just about every expert agrees upon is analytics can be  a real game-changer.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review Analytics Services study, published in Forbes magazine;

  • 70% of enterprises have increased their spending on customer analytics solutions over the past year.
  • 58% of enterprises are seeing a significant increase in customer retention and loyalty as a result of using customer analytics.
  • 60% use real-time customer analytics to improve customer experience across touch points and devices as extremely important today.
  • 44% of enterprises are gaining new customers and increasing revenue as a result of adopting and integrating customer analytics into their operations.

The move toward greater use of analytics has been swelled by a wave of converging technologies including artificial intelligence, the internet of things (IoT), and cloud computing. The exceptional speed and precision advanced customer data analytics continue to improve at an exponential rate, making them a must-have for businesses seeking to forge stronger connections with their audience.

As further noted in the Harvard Business Review Analytics Services study, the number of corporate executives who responded to the study indicated that the importance of having the capability to use customer analytics to improve customer experience across all touch points rose from 60% in 2018 to a projected 79% for 2020.

But it’s an oversimplification to just state that analytics can be beneficial to businesses. Analytics tools encompass a broad spectrum of categories and technologies that needs to be understood and evaluated before being implemented and integrated into a company’s CX strategy.

Can text and speech be analyzed in the same way? Why or why not and how should companies be thinking about text analysis vs. speech analysis? Both text and speech analytics enable organizations to optimize customer engagement by looking deeper into interactions its agents have with customers, regardless of channel –phone, email, chat, social media, or surveys as well.

Speech analytics uses speech recognition software to convert spoken words of recorded calls into text where analyses can be performed. When used effectively, it can help identify the reason behind a call, the products mentioned and the caller’s mood. Sophisticated speech analytics software can analyze phrases used by customers to quickly identify their needs, wants and expectations and indicate areas that need improvement for front-line personnel.

Text analytics is the process of transforming unstructured text documents into usable, structured data. It works by deconstructing sentences and phrases into their components, and then examining each part’s role and meaning using complex software rules and machine learning algorithms. One can analogize it to slicing and dicing piles of diverse documents into easy-to- interpret data pieces. By more closely examining communications written by–or about– customers, business can identify patterns and topics of interest, and follow up with practical action based on what has been learned

Desktop analytics offers contact center managers a method of capturing and analyzing user activity at the desktop level. The data gathered about individual application usage and across applications can not only impact the customer experience but ultimately affect the IT resource budget as well. It resides on each individual agent’s desktop, compiling a list of every application, URL, and more the agent accesses during the day. This empowers companies to determine if contact center personnel are adhering to standards and see how well they are relating to customers.

Leading analytics provider Calabrio will take a deeper dive into the constantly growing use of analytics—and examine its specific role in enabling companies to become more customer-centric—in two complementary…and complimentary…webcasts on CrmXchange.

The first of the two presentations –“The Beginner’s Guide to Analytics” –will take place on Thursday, February 20. Presented by Contact Center Analytics Consultant Mark Fagus of Calabrio, it will explore such key topics as:

  • The differences between speech, text and desktop analytics
  • Analytics technologies, such as LVCSR (Large-Vocabulary Conversational Speech Recognition), Phonetics and STT (speech-to-text)
  • The top 10 analytics business use cases

The second webcast –Unlock Customer-Centric Intelligence on Thursday, March 12 will expand on how companies can make the most out of using analytics by empowering themselves to reach higher levels of comprehension by developing new insights to deal with their customers. Brad Snedeker, Director Product Marketing, Calabrio, will delve into features that companies can use to their advantage, including:

  • Embedded analytics – learn how analytics have been surfaced throughout the application to provide easy access to key insights without having to go outside everyday workflows
  • Unified, self-service dashboards – compelling and personalized insights within dashboards that can double as homepages
  • Enterprise KPIs – out-of-the box performance management tools
  • Speech-to-text enhancements – find out how to achieve increased accuracy and speed of transcription

Register now for the first or second of these informative Calabrio webcasts….even better, sign up for both! Each will take place at 1:00 pm ET: if you cannot attend the live presentations, you can download each one 24 hours after it is completed.

2020 Customer Support Predictions

2020 Customer Support Predictions from UJET’s Anand Janefalkar, Founder and CEO, UJET

  1. Messaging Will Surpass Voice – “While voice will always remain an important channel for support, especially for urgent issues, in 2020, we will see messaging (SMS and chat) overtake voice as the most critical support channel. Woe to customer service organizations that cannot provide an omnichannel support experience that includes messaging, as this will most surely equal the success or demise of the overall customer experience (CX).”
  2. Multichannel Will Expand to Multimedia – “In 2020, expect to see customer service organizations turn their attention to optimizing each support pathway to meet the tech-savvy needs of many of their customers. Chief among enhanced capabilities will be multimedia. The ability to share screenshots, photos and even video between the customer and support professional will become commonplace during support interactions.”
  3. Data Will Break Down Silos Between Customer Support and Other Teams – “In 2020, the ‘digital transformation’ conversation that has become commonplace across IT, will extend into the customer service center. We will begin to see the impact and value of support data being shared across the enterprise. Customer feedback, sentiment, profile data and more will be securely shared across organizations helping teams such as marketing, sales and product development to make more strategic decisions. And as a result, the importance and value of customer support will be elevated as a whole.”
  4. Agent Specialization Will Be A Key Focus  – “In 2020, as the presence of technologies such as AI and Machine Learning within the contact center continue to grow, and more customers are directed towards bots and self-service options, support agents will become hyper-specialized. Agent specialization will not only be geared towards channels, but also centered around specific issues, situations and the urgency of incoming support interactions.”
  5. AI Will Improve the Customer Support Employee Experience (EX), as well as the Customer Experience (CX) – “In 2020, AI will dramatically improve the employee experience (EX). The ability to automatically and instantly collect data from across multiple channels, analyze it and provide actionable insight will enable support agents to more quickly, easily and accurately address customer inquiries and come to highly satisfactory issue resolution.”

Biometric Authentication and AI Technology: How Companies are Keeping Customers Satisfied and Safe from Fraud

With the constantly increasing need for customer service and sales support, contact center operations continue to expand, generating over $300 billion in revenue each year according to JLL Research. Given the vast amount of sensitive data that flows through contact center environments, security -including insidious insider threats – has become a serious concern. According to a recent report by UK-based Contact-Centres, the rate of contact center fraud has gone up dramatically over the past four years, increasing by 350 percent. This has created what Gartner calls “an epicenter of vulnerability.”

In the US, as many as 1,300 breaches were tracked last year by the Identity Theft Resource Centre1. Fraud perpetrators are becoming more sophisticated, leveraging today’s omnichannel shopping techniques. For example, a fraudster can employ social engineering to reset a password on a victim’s account, using information now easily found via social networks and Google searches to obtain usernames, passwords, and other personal data. Criminals then employ that newly reset password to hoodwink a live agent into giving away additional information and sometimes even performing fraudulent financial transactions.

For contact centers, finding effective methods of tackling this daunting challenge calls for a multi-faceted approach, including ways to prevent attacks emanating from both outside and inside the company. That means identifying dishonest individuals who call in masquerading as legitimate customers, or try to hack into contact center data, as well as keeping dishonest agents from stealing customer information. The caveat is that contact centers need to implement such security measures without creating barriers to a positive customer experience for honest consumers.

One method now coming into widespread use is biometric authentication to verify customer identity. Some solution providers offer tools that support self-service interactive voice response (IVR) via voice and face recognition and when the customer is using a smartphone, can even support fingerprint authentication. Others offer voice biometric identity verification which relies on more than simply the physical characteristics of a voiceprint when authenticating end users. An advanced voice biometrics engine can also account for how a user speaks and what is said. taking note of variations in the pitch and tone of a customer’s voice.

So, how can forward-thinking organizations take the right measures to adapt to this new reality and protect their customers from fraud without negatively impacting satisfaction ratings? On Tuesday, December 10 at 2:00 pm ET, CrmXchange is offering an complimentary, in-depth webcast entitled “The Biometrics Win-Win – How Leading Brands Are Beating Fraud While Improving CX.”

The session is sponsored by Nuance, named a leader in Conversational AI for Customer Service, including voice and speech engines, human/AI blending, omni‑channel delivery and security and authentication in the in Q2 2019 Forrester New Wave. The presenters are established authorities on improving contact center security: Simon Marchand, Nuance’s Chief Fraud Prevention Officer, and Dima Cichi, Senior Principal Product Manager, Security and Biometrics for Nuance. Among the topics addressed will be:

  • How the fraud battle lines are shifting and why AI tech can help win the fight in the contact center and beyond
  • Enabling stronger authentication to co-exist happily with exceptional customer experience
  • A first-hand look at how combining voice, behavioral and other biometric modalities deliver a powerful cross-channel defense
  • An examination of the latest Nuance innovations for authentication and fraud detection
  • The benefits both large and small organizations are realizing from faster, stronger authentication and real-time fraud detection

Register now for this eye-opening session: if you can’t attend the live presentation on December 10, it will be available for download 24 hours after it is completed.

 

What New Paths Will Companies Take to Shape the Customer Journey in the Years to Come?

As the time-honored adage puts it, ‘a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.’ These days, the journey a customer takes when engaging with a company may be far more geographically limited but usually starts with a lot more steps. The ever-evolving customer journey incorporates varying interactions and experiences that take place on different touchpoints: a website visit for research, a call with a sales rep or chat with an agent, a conversation on social media or online review site, an inbound call, and even an in-store retail encounter.

It has become more important than ever for a business to take advantage of every possible resource to understand its customers: their wants, needs, and expectations, their thoughts and opinions and feedback and expectations. Building this knowledge will enable companies to deliver the highly personalized customer experiences that are becoming more crucial all the time in an increasingly competitive marketplace where consumers are offered a constantly growing array of options.

Given access to vast resources of data and technology, the customer journey today has morphed dramatically from where it was even five or ten years ago. And every company’s success depends upon combining the right technologies with the agility needed to effectively manage all the interactions that take place on every channel along the way.

Gazing into the future, which often-predicted developments will come to pass? Will the migration to the cloud finally encompass all businesses and make service more responsive? Will messaging ultimately surpass voice as the communication channel that is most compelling for businesses and consumers alike? Will digital transformation extend its reach deeper into the contact center environment to better leverage profile data, more closely examine customer feedback, and measure sentiment? Will customers expect greater availability of agent support that involves the use of screenshots, photos and video? And how will the growing use of AI-powered solutions progress, both in terms of those that provide more effective self-service options and those that support the development of more highly specialized agents?

Of course, no one can foresee every possible path the customer journey will take in the coming years, but CX and contact center executives and managers have an opportunity to get a cogent vision of many of the most important changes in an upcoming complimentary roundtable webcast on CrmXchange. On Thursday, December 5, at 1:00PM ET, NICE Nexidia and RingCentral will team up to explore “Smooth Customer Journey- Predictions for 2020 and Beyond.

Ken Brisco, Senior Product Marketing Manager, NICE Nexidia, who is responsible for establishing the scope and message as well as the competitive advantages of NICE’s Customer Journey Optimization Solutions within the CX space will be joined by RingCentral’s John Finch, AVP PMM, Customer Engagement, an executive with an extensive background in developing strategy for global customer engagement. Among the topics they will cover are:

  • How AI-driven analytics can boost customer loyalty and retention
  • The importance of measuring quality across all channels
  • In what ways bots are best able to collaborate with humans
  • How macro to micro-level journey analysis drives deeper insights into customer engagement

Register now for this insightful look into which near-future developments may change the way your organization helps to orchestrate the customer experience. If you are unable to attend on December 5, you can access the recorded version approximately 24 hours after the live presentation.

 

Predictive Behavioral Routing: Advancing the Capabilities of the ACD to Meet the Needs of 21st Century Customers

We’ve all had the frustrating experience of trying to extract information we need from a random agent who is not attuned to the specific issue with which we need assistance. We explain and try to provide context, but the conversation goes around and around in circles as we grow increasingly exasperated and the agent reaches new levels of confusion. In worst-case scenarios where there is a clash of personalities, the agent becomes defensive and the caller outright angry, often resulting in customer churn.

Call routing is a technology that has been around for as long as there have been call centers: the automatic call distributor (ACD) has been in place for more than 45 years since the Rockwell Galaxy appeared on the scene in 1973. But throughout that time, it has mostly been an application that supported faster pickup as opposed to more empathetic and effective customer service. It wasn’t until the early 90s that algorithms were developed that enabled skills-based routing. This called for the organization of groups of agents with specific skills that related to the needs of incoming callers based on their responses to a series of questions asked by a menu-driven IVR type of application.  Calls could theoretically be routed to people speaking the caller’s language with the right product knowledge.

While better than simply routing a call to the next available agent, skills-based routing still left a lot to be desired. It lacked the capability to take advantage of quantum advances in big data, analytics, and personalization strategies. But over the past five years, an emerging technology has been changing the equation. Predictive Behavioral Routing (PBR), first introduced by Mattersight in 2014, takes the customer interaction process from a chance encounter to a personalized connection. The company’s foundation in analytics along with its proprietary behavioral model allowed for the application of data to enhance calls right from the moment they were connected. Mattersight was acquired by NICE Nexidia in August of 2018 and the combination of NICE Nexidia’s advanced Interaction Analytics provide organizations a more comprehensive understanding of the customer journey along with a clearer view of the customer persona.

AI-powered smart routing communicates with the ACD to intelligently pair customers with agents best equipped to handle their personality style, resulting in more productive and positive call outcomes. Now being used by Fortune 500 customers in areas such as financial services, retail, healthcare, communications, and Telecom, Predictive Behavioral Routing is proven to provide improved business outcomes.

According to Paul Stockford, Research Director, NACC and Chief Analyst, Saddletree Research “Predictive Behavioral Routing is paving the way for a new era in customer care – combining the best of data analytics, artificial intelligence, and the customer experience.”

Although many contact centers executives and managers may have heard of PBR, they might not be aware of all the powerful benefits it can bring to their operation.  See first-hand how elevating the ACD from a simple call delivery tool into a strategic method for taking the customer experience to unprecedented new levels in a  complimentary “Predictive Behavioral Routing Demonstration – How Does it Work? What Can it Do?” on CrmXchange on November 19 at 1:00 PM ET.

Michele Carlson, Senior Product Marketing Manager, NICE Nexidia, will share the expertise she developed in over a decade at Mattersight in analytics technologies that provide businesses the opportunity to understand data and customer interactions. Among the topics covered will be:

  • Insight into how PBR captures a customer’s personality style and behavioral data, and the ways the data is used to identify the best agent to address their concern
  • How a call is routed to the optimal agent for the customer
  • In what ways KPIs improve with personalized connections
  • Results and best practices from enterprises that have elevated connections with Predictive Behavioral Routing

Register now for this exciting demonstration of a truly game-changing technology. If you cannot attend the live presentation, you can download it 24 hours after it is completed.

An Online In-Depth Education Program Without the Cost and Inconvenience of Traditional Live Conferences

While there are numerous quality live conferences in the CX/contact center space that delve into workforce optimization, attending these events often entails a series of complex decisions. First, you must determine if it includes enough seminars that are relevant to your specific needs and exhibitors with the right solutions to advance your program. Then, you need to obtain approval and funding, plan the details of the trip and make sure all your responsibilities are covered while you are away. While some consider traveling to an event a welcome break from routine, others find it a time-consuming, expensive disruption that they simply can’t justify.

The need for ongoing education in this critical operational area continues to grow. Over the past 12 years, an increasing number of workforce planning professionals have found a flexible, no-cost, no-travel alternative in CrmXchange’s annual online Best Practices in Workforce Optimization virtual conference, produced in conjunction with the Quality Assurance and Training Connection (QATC) and the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP).

Over the past two years, the event has been expanded to provide even more in-depth education. For 2019, it will take place the first two weeks of November, with the first week (November 4-8) focusing on QA and Analytics and the second (November 11-15) examining strategies for Workforce Management and Performance Optimization.

The enhanced conference content reflects the evolution of how contact centers now approach workforce planning responsibilities. It used to be handled in independent groups, with one team handling quality assurance, another conducting training, and yet another developing agent schedules. Supervisors often tried to do coaching with no input from other functional areas, while managers simply ran and reacted to reports. But this disconnected approach no longer works in today’s complex, omnichannel contact center environments. Workforce Optimization is a wide-ranging field that now encompasses all these elements as a unified discipline. And the CrmXchange virtual conference provides WFO professionals with the year’s most convenient and comprehensive opportunity to gain greater insights on the latest technologies, tactics and best practices.

Attendees have the opportunity to meet in real time with industry experts and colleagues who can answer their questions and offer business solutions tailored to their contact centers, without the cost and time away from the office of an on-site conference. Anyone can attend learning sessions the same way they would in an on-site conference.

The format allows entire WFO teams to share newly acquired knowledge throughout an organization. Team members can attend live sessions together or attend different session tracks. All sessions will be recorded and available on demand for one week after the conference – giving those who could not attend the initial presentation the opportunity to view the sessions later.

In addition, attendees can visit the virtual exhibit hall to download product videos, and obtain product information, press releases, white papers, and much more. Sponsors, including Calabrio, CallMiner, NICE, NICE inContact and Verint, are ready to share the latest innovations that may benefit your contact center.

And while you can’t sit down over a drink after hours, you can still chat with presenters and peers in the virtual lounge, a specially designed virtual networking forum for registered members of this online event. Learn what others are doing, meet colleagues, pose questions, and offer your own insight.

The Best Practices in Workforce Optimization virtual conference kicks off on Monday, November 4 at 12 noon ET with a high-interest keynote address Building a Customer Experience Movement which examines the true elements required to create a culture-changing CX program that is built to last. It will be presented by Nate Brown, Co-Founder of CX Accelerator, a virtual community of customer experience professionals.

Join the thousands of industry executives who have already benefited from this powerful complimentary two week online conference Register now and check out the broad ranging agenda.

When Creating a Better IVR Experience Has Become a Simple Process, Why Do Some Businesses Continue to Frustrate their Customers?

IVRs (Interactive Voice Response) is a ubiquitous and often misunderstood contact center technology that provides many undeniable benefits. First and foremost, it eliminates the need for a switchboard operator to answer incoming calls, presenting callers with a menu of options to choose from, attempting to answer frequently asked questions, routing calls and in many cases, helping to deflect call volume from overburdened agents. Beyond the obvious advantages of time saving and 24/7 availability for customers, it enables functions such as providing bank and stock account balances and transfers, selective information lookup, simple order entry transactions, and more.

IVR systems are mainly comprised of telephony equipment, software applications, and a database along with supporting infrastructure. A business can either run its IVRs in house by purchasing the necessary software and hardware or choose to contract with an IVR hosting service that charges an ongoing fee.

Over the years, the IVR has become one of the most widely used products in contact centers, with a recent Call Centre Helper survey finding that usage is growing year-on-year, with 86.1% of contact centers installing such a system.

Of course, it’s far from all champagne and roses. For many consumers, IVRs are the technology they love to hate. Just about everyone has at one time or another been caught up in the maelstrom of a poorly programmed system that just takes them in a never-ending circle with no hope of resolving the issue they called in about. Comedians have had a field day lampooning the “Please listen carefully because our menus have changed” drone that callers encounter before often being overwhelmed with a laundry list of confusing options. IVR systems have been criticized for being an impersonal, impenetrable barrier between customers and live agents, whose jobs they have been accused of putting at risk.

Contributing to this disconnect is the fact a significant percentage of contact centers that implemented the technology a while back simply hasn’t made enough… or even any… changes to improve it. In fact, another Call Centre Helper poll found that 10% of organizations had never reviewed or updated their IVR systems, with another 10% saying they didn’t know the last time they had done so and another 14% revealing it had been more than a year.

Call routing through IVRs has evolved dramatically since the early days of basic menus and limited capabilities. Most companies have long since implemented advanced IVR systems that incorporate speech recognition software which enables customers to communicate more effectively by verbally expressing their requests instead of punching in numbers. When first introduced, such systems were a double-edged sword: callers became frustrated and angry at voice recognition systems that didn’t recognize their questions. Constant improvements in conversational AI and better voice recognition driven by natural language processing have made updated IVRs a far more valuable tool. In addition, language generation applications now provide the capability for the IVR to deliver more conversational responses.

All the elements are in place to offer an enhanced IVR experience that drives improved customer journeys. Yet, many companies are still in the dark about how to use IVRs to increase efficiency and deliver better business results. On October 24, CrmXchange is offering a complimentary webcast entitled “When Customers Call, Will Your IVR Be Ready?” presented by cloud communications specialist Plum Voice. Nogol Tardugno, VP of Customer Success for Plum Voice, will demonstrate specific steps to be taken to reduce customer frustration by deploying an optimized IVR. Among the topics to be discussed are:

  • How to easily create IVR voice applications with no need for complex coding
  • How to use permission structures that facilitate collaboration across technical and non-technical staff so that every member of the team can contribute to delivering an improved customer experience
  • How to put data to work to gain a better understanding of how end-users interact with the company’s voice application enabling it to continuously identify areas for improvement
  • How to effectively collect customer feedback and link it to specific customer-agent interactions

Register now for this demo session: those unable to attend live can download the webcast approximately 24 hours after it is completed.

Robotic Process Automation: Bridging the Widening Gap Between Customer Demand for Service and Real-Time Agent Availability

Driven by the instant gratification offered by ubiquitous handheld devices, consumers want all their issues resolved a minute ago and any other questions answered instantly. In the current contact center environment, these constantly rising expectations have reached a level where it’s simply no longer always humanly possible to meet them.

While call routing and scheduling software are constantly improving, even these solutions have difficulty keeping up with the demand for agent availability in real-time. Add in the ongoing corporate mindset of lowering costs and keeping headcount to a minimum and you often have the proverbial irresistible force meeting the unmovable object.

Fortunately, there is a rapidly emerging technological transformation that is changing this seemingly insoluble equation. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) gives companies the capacity to meet the growing challenges of maintaining service levels while improving efficiency and providing greater bandwidth. RPA automates the routine, repetitive and time-consuming tasks that can slow contact centers down to a crawl, enabling front-line personnel to pay greater attention to more complex interactions that require empathy and a human touch in decision-making.

The improvement starts from the point of contact. In traditional contact centers, when a customer reaches the agent, he or she needs to identify them within the system to get the necessary information such as status, order number, pending support tickets and more This puts the agent in the awkward position of having to interact with the customer while simultaneously toggling from one system to another. Multiple logins can also further slow down the agents, as can silos pertaining to different systems.

By implementing RPA, contact centers can significantly diminish the time required to identify a customer in the system, viewing all necessary details associated with them in one screen. When customers don’t have to wait for the agent to load all the details, it reduces the average call duration, contributing to an improved customer experience.

In addition, the technology can make it far easier to make necessary data updates to a customer’s account during an interaction. Instead of having agents entering data manually across multiple fields in different systems — a tedious and error-prone process– RPA enables integration of data across various fields of associated systems using a single agent entry. RPA can create auto-fill templates that enable simple copy-pasting of information, with limited human intervention. Integrations with CRM and other third-party tools almost totally eliminate the need to spend time on cross-application desktop activities. RPA can also help consolidate customer information over a variety of channels, giving agents information they need to help the customer no matter what touch point the conversation is taking place on.

What is the economic impact of RPA for businesses? According to a KPMG study, use of RPA in financial institutions can help reduce operational costs by as much as 75%. “In terms of its potential to reshape the economy, it will be as significant as the Industrial Revolution,” said noted industry analyst Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting “It’s going to create a whole new class of employees, a technically savvy generation of workers coming from the Millennial and Generation Z cohorts. The AI/RPA revolution will be a game changer for companies that welcome the opportunity to improve the timeliness and accuracy of their work processes.”

Fluss will present a detailed analysis of the economic advantages, operational efficiency gains and customer experience enhancements made possible by RPA in a complimentary CRMXchange webcast on Wednesday, October 16 called “Attended Robots Improve Productivity and Agent Efficiency.” Among the topics covered will be

  • An explanation of what RPA entails and present top use cases in the contact center
  • A discussion of the effect of RPA on employees
  • An outline of best practices for implementing RPA

The webcast, sponsored by NICE, is complimentary and those unable to attend it live can download it approximately 24 hours after it is completed. Register now.