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Entertainment as Engagement for Friendlier, Faster and Fun Conversations

By Juhi Fadia August 12, 2020

As we evolve from call center to contact center and from contact center to the Customer Experience (CX) hubs in new digital ways, innovation is blooming this summer.

Innovation comes in many forms. As software and data analytics advances, and as communications networks become faster and more pervasive, supporting powerful smartphones, anything we dream is possible in the digital world.

Gone are the days of just having to dial an “800” toll-free number to resolve your queries. No phone? No problem – just click to connect with an expert or bot to get your question answered in seconds.

Interactions with chatbot are so intelligent that it understands your language and can even surmise why you are calling in and present answers to questions you didn’t know you were going to ask.

Move from a voice call to messaging in seconds, while a live agent sends you everything you need to purchase an upgrade on a flight; he or she then helps another customer while you help yourself.

Innovation in the customer service space over the last twenty years has often been triggered by a need to reduce spending and increase quality score. And while the cost is still a major factor, today’s CIOs and CMOs are heavily focused on delivering a competitive CX to attract, retain and grow relationships with customers (at scale) while also turning what was a cost center into a profit center. An event touchpoint with a customer is an opportunity to engage, inform, and sell.  

We caught up with Natasha Tamaskar, Vice President, Global Marketing and Sales Strategy for Radisys, a company acquired by Reliance Industries in 2018. With a Ph.D. in Computational Physics, Dr. Tamaskar has been named as a Global Telecoms Business “50 Women to Watch.” She has always been on the side of disruption, including driving cloud strategy for communication and digital engagement platform and enabling open telecom innovation.

After joining Radisys several years ago, she has lead initiatives in innovation, including the most recent launch of the company’s “Engage” offering.

“We’re very fortunate to work with many of the top service providers in the world, guiding them into a new world where they must be Digital Service Providers (DSPs) rather than the more limited Communication Service Providers (CSPs),” Tamaskar said in an interview.

“Companies who don’t adapt and innovate will fail,” she said. “We’ve all witnessed the collapse of massive brands and businesses unable to adapt, in the healthcare, transportation, hospitality, retail industries, and others. Now that service providers have made massive, ongoing investments in cloud, virtualization, microservices, 5G, LTE, IoT, and more, they are ready to roll out cool alternative solutions to their enterprise customers. They’ve been working hard to replace legacy revenues in the contact center, for example, by offering not just basic, commoditized infrastructure, phone systems, SIP trunking and such, but by bringing contact center operators cloud-based software applications making great customer experiences possible, while reducing costs.”

Earlier this year, Radisys introduced its “Engage” platform, include Radisys' Engage@Work, a communication and digital engagement application that transforms how businesses engage with their customers and how they collaborate and communicate with their employees. It offers real-time interactive public and private channels, voice, video, content, and many more features and capabilities in a single unified platform.

“Think about how we move through each day,” Tamaskar said. “Our digital devices are always with us, and we use them to simply be productive – whether we are working, driving, grocery shopping, commuting, increasingly reporting in from home offices, and more. The consumerization of enterprise communications has only begun to impact how business gets done and how people collaborate within a business and, most importantly – with customers.”

She pointed to the COVID-19 crisis as a real test of the rapid evolution of digital working, saying “over a weekend and in some cases overnight, physical contact centers had to make it possible for agents to work remotely, and we saw a huge amount of activity up and down the stack, from ensuring ample bandwidth to setting up desktops and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Reaching an agent became urgent for many people, wondering if they were covered by insurance, where to get tested, how to file for unemployment insurance, and more. The success stories have been stunning – and have proved that cloud communications and advanced software-based real-time communications applications were agile enough to keep business going in the worst of times.”

Tamaskar believes the world is now ready for much more human, empathic, friendly, and entertaining engagements. “CX is all about the experience of any brand, government agency, or organizations’ personality. Research has shown over and over that consumers now expect engagements to be fast, friendly, and fun, and so much is being designed and created that reduces the time it takes to answer a question with personalized and privatized data while leaving the customer with a clear answer and positive impression.”

“The true objective of CX is to create an environment where what the customers want, and companies want, are aligned. Doing this at scale and with a level of quality that is intuitive and frictionless wasn’t possible before we were able to design big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning,” Tamaskar explained. “Personalized, predictive, and productive interactions don’t have to be boring or complicated. We have designed experiences, made possible with AI-based software, and the results are extraordinary.”

The latest innovations within the Engage family are the two conversational AI solutions – one named Engage Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) and another Engage Video Assistant (EVA).

“IVA offers a major uplift to traditional IVR systems by providing end-to-end self-service automation,” Tamaskar said. “We’ve all been through it – frustration with menus, choices, and restarts as consumers. Contact center professionals have learned the hard way that IVR systems are complex to customize and costly to scale. IVA supports omnichannel interactions, self-service AI-based transactions, and includes a simple interface that can be used to build automated video-voice-text conversational experiences. The big news is that this can all be done affordably and with the natural scalability and elasticity cloud-based platforms offer.”

The boldest innovation, however, may be “EVA,” an AI-based 3-in-1 video bot, which can be used standalone or as part of the broader IVA solution. It takes chat-botting and speech-enabled interactions to a new level, by providing a conversational one-on-one video interaction experience with subject matter experts, customer service agents, brand ambassadors, and more – just like live video calls. The video responses by friendly human faces create a warm, happy experience that doesn’t require a live human agent.

EVA has been used in the entertainment industry, where celebrities have joined in on the fun to help promote their movies, shows, and music while guiding fans through to purchase, then like and share on social media. One of the largest carriers in the world is using EVA technology to offer video-bot-as-a-service to businesses and empower them to create self-service personalized video interactions to answer their most frequently asked question and engage with their brand.  

“This is not sci-fi,” Tamaskar said. “A lot of science has gone into this – behavioral science – to ensure that the robotic agents are able to understand and respond to any variety of questions, concerns, and requests. This is an emerging field, and we believe, especially given the current situation, that this innovation will not only improve customer service and the business intelligence capturing behavioral data generates, but can also be used in education to tutor students, in training programs for new employees, in health insurance programs to be able to deal with surges of inbound inquiries as we are seeing today with COVID-19, and more.”

Tamaskar summarized by saying, “The only thing we cannot replicate easily is creativity. This is why innovation is so important; it is the rocket fuel for creative customer experiences that differentiate one brand or organization from another. The most exciting thing about this new offering for us at Radisys is how much we are learning from our customers as they look at what we can do to help them create and roll out something fresh and meaningful, without having to worry about how to do it. They are taking our brushes and paint but creating their own CX masterpieces.”

Juhi Fadia is an engineer, analyst, researcher and writer covering advanced and emerging technologies.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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