The days when supervisors would walk the contact center floors and randomly stop to listen to an agent's call might have been helpful two decades ago. But now, COVID-19 has completely transformed contact center management. Everything has gone remote and will most likely stay that way long after the pandemic.
The shift to WFH has been well documented
, and contact centers have been no exception. In my discussion with business leaders about their contact centers, I estimate that 75% of companies will keep some or all of the agents in a WFH environment, even after the pandemic. One of the benefits is that it’s allowed companies to hire skilled agents outside the driving distance of their physical building. That means companies get better talent putting skilled agents in a better bargaining position, a win-win for everyone.
Here’s the problem contact centers continue to face: 1% of calls analyzed are done by listening to them. Calls are chosen through the old “by guess and by golly” methodology. At best, the manager might overhear a call going bad and could intervene, but most calls go unmonitored, making training difficult. A company that has inconsistent methods of gauging service quality may get negative feedback from customers on social media or other public forums, which is detrimental to the brand image. We are in the customer experience era now, so even a few negative comments about an organization could spell doom. Another company using similar manual processes may run into compliance issues if a remote agent, who hasn’t been properly trained, misuses customer information.
AI-powered voice analytics tools can help call centers automate these customer service workflows. Over the past year, startup Observe.AI has developed a platform that uses AI to extract valuable information from audio conversations. Companies like Tripadvisor, Pearson, and Alcon Laboratories have adopted the platform to analyze all of their customer service calls.
With Observe.AI, every call is analyzed using automatic speech recognition and natural language processing. The platform can even recognize tone and sudden pauses in a conversation. On top of that, AI workflows allow businesses to act on the data captured by the platform and improve how contact center agents interact with customers.
Observe.AI is a cloud-native platform, which means businesses with multi-cloud deployments can go live fairly quickly — whether they’re using AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud. The startup has two types of customers. One is a customer that is using a legacy provider, like CallMiner, and wants to move away from it to have faster abilities to customize and service themselves. The other is companies that want to get insights but currently have no tools in place and want to scale fast, overnight.
Earlier this week, Observe.AI secured $54 million
in financing from Menlo Ventures, with participation from Next47 Ventures and NGP Capital, bringing its total amount raised to $80M. The startup will use the funding to develop capabilities, including real-time agent assist, omnichannel support, and interaction analytics. The real-time agent assist capability, for example, will allow agents to focus deeply on customers as they chat live on calls.
Furthermore, Observe.AI will introduce one-click integrations with partners—such as Talkdesk and Genesys—to get businesses up and running with voice analytics in under four weeks compared to months, as is typically the case.
Continuous support from investors shows growing momentum behind AI in the contact center, making this the next big industry battleground. Especially now that contact center agents are working from home, businesses need more advanced tools for coaching, training, and monitoring of calls. So, agents can spend time helping customers instead of putting them on hold or scrolling through computer screens. Observe.AI calls this agent augmentation with AI or bringing together the best of humans and the best of automation. Companies like Observe.AI are extremely important for AI innovation, as most vendors and large customers can’t afford to hire their own data scientists and create their own algorithms. The Google’s and Amazon’s will surely have their tool kits, but I expect the startup community to have a huge impact here.
Ultimately, the idea isn’t to replace people but to make their jobs easier and faster. The livelihood of today’s businesses depends on impeccable customer service, and contact centers must evolve with the times. Businesses can use AI to completely change how they’ve done things in the past. It’s nice to see the venture capital community understand this. Observe.AI made news this week with the funding, but this won’t be the last we hear from them.