Automated Solutions Have Become Work-from-Home Agents, Too

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Recently the contact center industry has seen a rapid acceleration in the development and adoption of artificial intelligence-infused capabilities across the spectrum. Included in this mix is an array of applications, including bots and intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs), predictive routing, process automation, voice biometrics, assisted and unassisted robotic process automation (RPA), and automated forecasting and quality assurance.

The brain trust of the speech technology world applauded. Perhaps we had entered the heyday of what we have been working toward. Improvements to the technology, many more deployments, and solid use cases are now being used to showcase the benefits that AI-infused solutions bring. Topmost are that RPA bots and IVAs can complete tasks or provide assistance to agents, improving performance, productivity, and customer satisfaction while reducing costs.

Everything Changed

This might sound strange, but suddenly adoption and interest in these solutions got even better because things got worse. I’m referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, which overnight sent the entire contact center industry scurrying to dust off business continuity and disaster recovery plans and move tens of millions of contact center employees to a work-from-home (WFH) model (see related story on page 24). Across the board, contact center providers fashioned programs and offers to assist in the move, creating packages with temporary complementary remote agent solutions, along with websites of information, best practices, and other assistance.

And guess who went home with those agents? Yes, the growing digital workforce became WFH agents as well. For example, NICE, in addition to its CXone@Home program, introduced its NICE Employee Virtual Attendant (NEVA) solution in a NEVA@Home package. And in these virtual suitcases were additional AI-infused tools to help the IVAs and their human counterparts, including desktop automation and knowledge management. Another example came from Verint, which, along with its intelligent agent, provided a WFH support program that included prebuilt COVID-19 categories for Verint Speech Analytics to help identify customer and employee business challenges and aid compliance, as well as a knowledge management (KM) starter package.

While such benefits have been touted frequently by vendors and the press, robotic process automation and a virtual workforce provide additional advantages in times of uncertainty and change. When supervisors suddenly can’t directly interact with agents, desktop process automation, interaction and speech analytics, and emotion detection provide a window into how agents are handling the change. Are they distracted? Are they maintaining compliance? What are the new topics and issues arising from customers stuck in the same situation? What new information needs to be placed into knowledge management systems and training materials? How do you keep agents engaged when they can no longer seek help by looking up from their workstations?

Employing a virtual workforce at home with agents solves for these situations by enabling agents to work “side by side” with another agent. IVAs work tirelessly to relieve agents of tedious tasks. They can dip into knowledge databases and prepopulate agent screens, provide next-best-action advice, help maintain compliance, and perform post-interaction follow-up.

IVAs can proactively help agents in times of stress. For instance, using data gleaned from speech analytics, the IVA might change the agent script for debt collection in real time to be more empathetic to a customer who has just lost a job or loved one. Similarly, when combined with fraud detection packages, the IVA can take the burden off of the agent by acting as the gatekeeper between an agent and someone trying to fraudulently gain access to an account. The IVA can authenticate, ask more questions, send the caller to a fraud squad, or simply coach the agent in real time on how to handle the situation.

The top priorities of improving performance and reducing costs in customer contact have been with us since the inception of the call center. In the past decade, these have been joined by the need to improve the customer and worker experience as well. Fortunately, the wealth of technologies under the umbrella of AI have finally shown us a way forward in addressing all four top concerns in running a customer care organization. Now with the switch to WFH, which shows all signs of remaining a core work strategy, it’s time for organizations to add new technologies to assist with the change. x

Nancy Jamison is an industry director in information and communications technologies at Frost & Sullivan. She can be reached at nancy.jamison@frost.com, or follow her on Twitter @NancyJami.

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