Rise of the Machines in the Contact Center


Rise of the Machines in the Contact Center

By Chris Vitek, President, WebRTC Strategies  |  July 24, 2014

It is hard to overstate the importance of machine learning when it comes to customer support.  The benefits are reduced customer effort, higher customer loyalty, reduced labor requirements, and elimination of the most unfriendly of customer care interfaces – the IVR. 

The Discovery Channel surveyed its viewers on the most annoying technology ever invented, and they picked interactive voice response. The key driver for the invention of IVR was labor savings. The method was to push labor and effort onto the customer by collecting information from the customer while contact center agents were busy handling live support interactions.  This, along with computer telephony integration, had a profound effect on labor requirements in the vast majority of contact centers in the early ‘90s.

Nearly 20 years later, the Corporate Executive Board conducted a survey of 17,000 customers and determined that while the labor savings were real, they came at the cost of customer loyalty.  Maintaining customer loyalty is exponentially more expensive than saving 18 seconds on your average handle time. 

Seventeen years ago, Aspect (News - Alert) published an article about the use of the Internet to enable personal software agents that would evaluate your behavior and use this information to improve your experience with products and services that you purchase. I remember reading this twice because it seemed way too complex for the technology of that day. But Moore’s Law marches on. 

Recently, Barry O’Sullivan and AltoCloud have become the first-movers in this area with a cloud-based solution. They are using an array of simple to build software agents to gather information to paint a digital picture of your behavior. This is not an invasion of privacy; it is about gathering information about how specific customers interact with a specific product or service.  A sort of cookie on steroids, but it includes real-time interactions as well as web interactions. 

AltoCloud uses a variety of PC and mobile technologies at the end points. This includes legacy telecom, web services, and WebRTC. This last technology component contemplates real-time audio, video, text, and file transfer.  It is the last component, real-time file transfer, that makes this different from anything else in the business. Specifically, WebRTC uses a standardized construct called data channel to move files in real time. This is the part that makes WebRTC different from Skype (News - Alert) or any other SIP-based communications tools. This is what makes the 17- year-old Aspect vision of personal software agents economically possible in the real-time world. 

AltoCloud has taken this to the next level. It has created an infrastructure in the cloud that supports the customization and calculation that are necessary to reduce customer effort. These are table-stakes for our new cloud-based world. The next level that it has implemented is an intuitive interface that the contact center agent can use to quickly visualize the needs of the customer. 

In in this world of customer relationship management, most contact centers require their agents to use many, many interfaces to solve customer problems. Some of my customers require their agents have access to 20 or more discreet databases. The cost to integrate these databases into a new CRM platform is often prohibitive, especially when the agents already know how to use the 20-plus interfaces that are already on their desktop computers. What AltoCloud has done is created an intuitive set of displays that are easy to understand and can be quickly assimilated into the customer support technology infrastructure and business process. 

The Customer Journey, Current Page and Customer Info displays are all easy to read and relevant to the moment. Routing and authentication are accomplished without an IVR, and the displays collectively allow the contact center agent to quickly understand the customer’s needs.  This is the paradigm for the modern contact center that reduced both customer effort and agent effort with the added benefit of increasing customer loyalty.

The use of these types of tools will grow exponentially in the next few years. Many enterprises have already embarked on the big data path, but few have figured out how to use it in the contact center. AltoCloud has made it easy and affordable. First-mover comes to mind. It is among a new breed of cloud-based solution providers that offer big data solutions that are targeted at a specific industry. The key benefit here is that it eliminates the cost and time to build a big data solution. Contact centers can now deliver these solutions in months instead of years with an operating expense model that will run in lockstep with their revenues and profits. 

As stated earlier, the benefits are reduced customer effort, higher customer loyalty, reduced labor requirements, and elimination of the most unfriendly of customer care interfaces – the IVR.  For the last 20 years, the contact center industry has not offered any new capabilities that have really moved the needle. Rapid and inexpensive access to big data and machine learning tools in the cloud will change this. 

Chris Vitek is president of WebRTC Strategies Inc. (www.WebRTCStrategies.com).

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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