After all, real conversations usually take place between customers and contact center agents, rather than chatbots.

Throughout the evolution of business, the ability to engage customers through meaningful conversations has always remained critical. It can run the gamut of addressing customer concerns, responding to questions, or facilitating requests – all of which need to be handled with care and sensitivity if organizations are to effectively nail down customer satisfaction and retention.

Whether onshore or off, staffed with full-time employees or gig workers, and with personnel working together in-person or remotely — contact centers remain the central point from which enterprises manage their customer interactions across various channels at scale.

While most of these interactions are now held virtually with improved back-end operations (such as recoding of calls, chat, email embedding, and social media tapping), many customers still prefer calling and speaking to an agent.

Uniphore clearly identified this need to bridge humans and machines through voice.

DigiconAsia spoke to Ravi Saraogi, Co-Founder and President, APAC, Uniphore, to find out how conversational AI and automation can help businesses to better understand every conversation, whether it happens on the phone, in video or in person, to elevate the customer experience.

How should traditional contact centers evolve to meet the needs of the changing business landscape today?

Ravi Saraogi (RS): Prior to the advent of contact centers, people were making phone calls to contact centers, marked by physical office spaces with agents answering customer queries while reading off a standard script. However, it has since evolved into contact centers that utilize a variety of channels to interact with customers.

The contact center industry has functioned for decades with very few technology upgrades, but the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry irreversibly today. Digitalization was long underway, but the pandemic brought about rapid digital transformation of the traditional large contact centers run by global BPOs. These contact centers now have multiple ways to connect enterprises via text, chat, emails, social media as well as automated calling processes.

The overall BPO industry, or our customer service industry as many are familiar with, was valued at US$232.32 billion in 2020. With Covid-19 accelerating digital imperatives for companies and putting the focus directly on AI and automation to drive that transformation, experts now project the industry to be more than a USD$500 billion market opportunity. Market data has also shown that organizations relied increasingly on contact center agents to remotely address customers’ needs, especially when physical contact was limited.

With more customers increasingly relying on contact centers, there is a need for enterprises to look into how they can further improve and streamline processes to avoid compromising on the quality of service being delivered.

In recent years, we have witnessed the rise and greater adoption of AI, automation, analytics, and digital transformation which enables systems to improve. These technologies empower user experience and help address user demand for enhanced speed, engagement, and personalization to be included in their call experience with large contact centers.

Moreover, largescale contact centers are now incorporating Conversational Automation as an AI-powered platform to take care of all their front-office needs. This is particularly helpful during times where we witness an influx of calls across several industries. This poses huge challenges to companies due to manpower constraints and limited work processes caused by the shift to a fully virtual setup that might not allow them to handle high traffic volumes.

Today more organizations are understanding the value contact centers bring to the table, and how it can help transform their work process through the use of AI and reduction of costs while still maintaining high-quality customer experiences despite rising call volumes. AI can be used to automate and augment the conversational experience from self-service to agent-assisted service and by having contact centers digitally optimizing their operations that will improve customer experience and retention rate, organizations can now efficiently achieve their business needs and outcomes.

Ravi Saraogi, Co-Founder and President, APAC, Uniphore

How can AI and automation improve consumer access to services across all sectors by connecting online and offline interactions?

RS: With the help of AI, we see strategic and transformational outcomes across sectors. Each day, massive amounts of conversations are happening between customers and organizations. Covid-19 and periods of lockdowns resulted in consumer’s inability to access in-person services and as such, conversations pivoted in modes – digital, person to person, or a mix of both.

It is now imperative for businesses to combine digital channels, person-to-person communication, or a phone call, and utilize an AI system that can understand and make sense of all communication, embroidered with automation layers that aim to improve users’ experience.

Across enterprises, be it banking, insurance, hospitality, healthcare, travel, or even governmental organizations, implementing AI and automation will help them deliver the best experiences for customers as these technologies can automate interactions and customer journeys to achieve the ideal balance of human and machine responsiveness, convenience, and empathy. It can even simplify tasks such as locating the nearest ATM within financial services companies, paying bills, or transferring services in telecommunications businesses, and enquiring about health plan benefits in healthcare organizations.

Can fully automated conversations through conversational AI create even better customer experiences with call centers?

RS: With Conversational AI, conversations behind automated messaging and speech-enabled applications can offer human-like interactions by recognizing speech and text, understanding intent, deciphering different languages, and responding in a way that mimics human conversation.

While there are different tasks to automate conversations, the consideration to fully automate conversations is dependent on the issue that customers are trying to solve, who the customer is, and their preferred mode of communication. Mundane tasks such as checking account balances, knowing premium due dates, or checking flights, can be done by a fully automated AI system.

However, if there are complex and difficult conversations such as customers losing credit cards or reporting a fraudulent transaction, customers will need and want to talk to people for assistance. Such conversations require a personalized interaction for customers to feel they are being heard, thus resulting in trusting the agent to solve the issue.

Conversational AI is how we at Uniphore have kept the human aspect – the contact center agent – at the centerpiece, and all the technologies around it were built to support the agent. When agents are supported through real-time insights or are hassle free from jotting notes for post call summarization, they are better equipped to empathize and resolve customer problems.

In the past, organizations faced challenges such as not being able to analyze and understand conversations, missing out on crucial information such as whether and why customers are frustrated, to what extent remote working affects the customer experience and an agent’s productivity, how to improve the conversational experience, and which opportunities exist to control costs. All these can be addressed through Conversational AI.

Please share some examples of how Uniphore’s conversational automation platform has improved experiences not only for customers but also for call operator agents.

RS: As customer expectations evolve, so do the tools customer service providers use to deliver engaging customer experiences. Uniphore’s conversational automation platform – Uniphore X Platform – is the only platform that addresses the entire conversational experience for both customers and agents, thereby driving demonstrable and sustainable business value across many areas.

The advanced conversational AI technologies that incorporate solutions such as Natural Language Processing and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tap on the power of Machine Learning, intelligent applications, and advanced modelling. These technologies work in tandem to enable new ways of engagement for businesses to create conversations with their customers that are not only more efficient and effective but also with more empathy.

The mundane tasks that were once handled by human agents can now be handled by AI and digital agents simultaneously. This frees up agent’s time to handle complex and higher value conversations and, more importantly, to empathize with customers. With Uniphore’s technology, call centers can operate from anywhere, this makes it possible for agents to work remotely. 

Further, AI can augment call operator agents’ valuable knowledge and work, which can translate to improved productivity and quality. One of the ways is through real-time agent coaching. This is especially helpful for new contact centre agents who need to be trained to answer calls and queries but may not have the expertise to do so. Uniphore’s AI-based virtual coach can train agents on what to ask and answer while the conversation is occurring in real-time. This allows agents to understand customer communication and inputs and to be guided with appropriate output that makes their jobs easier, thereby improving agent experience. As a happy agent makes a happy customer, happier agents are foolproof solutions to enhance an overall better customer experience.

Additionally, the platform allows a seamless, highly personalised customer journey across multiple channels. In this scenario, even if a customer initially engages a company via text or chatbot, their relevant information – including intent, sentiment, and emotional analysis – is shared with a live agent in real-time. It is particularly valuable now that customers prefer multichannel communication.

Conversational AI is driving the next generation of customer service, but the journey is just beginning. As consumers become increasingly confident and comfortable with AI-based interactions, the trend toward greater conversational automation will become the norm.