Video Calls and Facial Recognition Technology in the Contact Center of Tomorrow

The Kardashian family excluded, tell most people that you're about to put them on camera and they aren't very comfortable with the idea. Given the option, a lot of individuals would accept makeup, Photoshopping, or a few months' notice to hit the gym before having their image viewed by strangers. For today's call center personnel, though, the idea of presenting their faces to the public isn't an abstract scenario but rather a swiftly approaching reality, as call centers find themselves under industry pressure to move toward offering video-enabled support, with customer representatives appearing on screen.

The global call center market, projected to reach a hefty $338 billion by 2018, currently sees 14 percent of contact centers supporting video capabilities. This is expected to grow by 15 percent annually, with particularly significant growth—21 percent—predicted in financial services customer support. The factors named by Deloitte 2013 Global Contact Center Survey participants as most important to the industry were ease of interaction (73 percent), customer experience as a competitive differentiator (62 percent), empathy during call interactions (38 percent), and personalization of interactions (26 percent). These points of focus are big indications that video-enabled support is a key component to the future of the industry.

That said, there are clear issues to overcome for companies that want to provide video capabilities before they become ubiquitous in call centers. Support personnel are not always ready and eager to participate in visual communication. Customer service reps might have undesired gestures: touching their nose, leaning on their hand (not everyone is a practiced newscaster or politician, always keeping their hands in check). Video input makes things worse by distorting faces and making them appear larger and puffier—this effect occurs because lenses don't know where a person's face is. There are also technical issues: Video streaming requires greater bandwidth, which not all users have the connections to support. In short, video for call centers is coming—and is good—but it's not without some big challenges.

Enter technology solutions designed for dealing with some of the hiccups in adding video to the customer service interaction. Facial tracking technology makes it possible for call centers to use 3D avatar call agents, with the facial movements of live agents mapped to the movements of avatars for a life-like presentation. Hand movements would not be transferred, though, solving the issue of unwanted gestures. New software could also track the emotions displayed by representatives through the avatars and inform supervisors for better representative training and outcomes. The same technology can enhance and beautify a representative's real image, with real-time video filters removing blemishes, adding makeup, thinning the face, etc. These features not only make agents more comfortable being on screen, but they also make the call center more functional and profitable. Case in point: Citrix finds that enabling nonverbal communication can reduce call length by 5 percent, and that video calls can increase sales close rates by 34 percent.

Technology that tracks facial movements can also make support calls much more efficient by eliminating the considerable time required for authenticating the person on the line. On most customer service calls today, you can expect to spend the first 30 seconds of the call telling the representative your Social Security number, customer ID number, or similar such personal information and waiting for it to be verified. Face recognition makes automatic user authentication possible, so that when the software sees the user's face, it instantly displays all pertinent information for the representative.

Call center personnel could even call the user by name at the beginning of the service call, granting the brand being represented an added feeling of personalization. Facial recognition of customers will also allow for intelligent call routing, directing callers to familiar agents or the correct departments without the redirects and hold times customers experience today. On a user's first call, a prerecorded 3D agent would set up the initial data collection to associate the customer's face with her name. Contact Babel estimates that face recognition authentication, self-served initial setup, pulling of user information, and user routing could reduce call duration by 10 percent, potentially increasing call center revenue by that amount through cost savings and additional revenue.

By locating faces in video calls, facial recognition technology can deliver traffic optimization by way of blurring unimportant background imagery, providing crisp images of the person on the call with low bandwidth requirements (reducing traffic by more than 50 percent). This also has the effect of hiding unwanted or distracting backgrounds.

The future of call centers lies in these new methods of video communication. As innovations in facial tracking and recognition transform the face of customer support across industries, look for call centers—as well as agents and customers—to embrace the technologies and their benefits.

Victor Shaburov is CEO of Looksery, which uses face-tracking technology to make photo-realistic alterations of users' appearances in videos and real-time chats.

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