AI Drives Contact Center Efficiency, NICE Stresses at Its Interactions Conference

LAS VEGAS--While contact centers handle billions of transactions annually and increasingly use automation and artificial intelligence to aid efficiency, they can still go further in their use of machine learning and related technologies to further improve the customer experience, speakers said at the NICE Interactions 2019 Conference Tuesday.

The conference drew an estimated 3,000 attendees, making it NICE's largest convention to date.

Contact centers are the epicenter of many businesses today, said Yaron Hertz, president of NICE Americas, during his keynote address. Companies, he said, handled 3.3 million contact center interactions in the first five minutes of his presentation, and without contact centers, 60 percent of consumers would not be able to reach their banks, 70 percent would be unable to reach support for insurance services, and 50 percent wouldn’t have the tech support they need to stream "Game of Thrones."

NICE works with contact centers with as many as 60,000 agents and with as few as 200, Hertz added.

Those agents, buoyed by the latest tools, including artificial intelligence, are in a position to help drive a seismic shift in customer experience, said Barak Eilam, NICE's CEO. "The time to join the customer experience revolution is now."

The revolution is occurring thanks to the automation of more than 300 million tasks that used to be handled entirely by agents. Yet currently there is a great experience divide in the customer experience, according to Eilam. "It's time to crush it or to be crushed," he said.

Eilam recommended that contact centers ensure that their customer interactions are hyper-personal and robust, filling all of the customer needs in a way that ensures customer retention and loyalty.

Automating processes where possible is the key to not only handling all of these interactions, but also in maintaining and improving the customer experience while doing so, he and other NICE executives emphasized.

Artificial intelligence is the basis of the automation and is now being used to develop chatbots for customer service, to handle increasingly complex questions, and to offer suggestions to agents, they said.

As a show of just how important AI is to the company, NICE used the conference to introduce the Spring 2019 release of its NICE inContact CXone contact center suite, which provides end-to-end artificial intelligence capabilities.

CXone's new AI capabilities include new AI self-service bot options, new AI-infused forecasting and scheduling options, and AI-powered interaction analytics that detect root cause issues of customer frustration.

"Our latest AI innovations help companies stay one step ahead of customer expectations in the increasingly competitive experience economy. Organizations of all sizes can now leverage new and innovative AI capabilities across the unified NICE inContact CXone cloud customer experience platform to deliver better, more engaging customer and agent experiences," said Paul Jarman, CEO of NICE inContact. "The NICE inContact CXone Spring 2019 release demonstrates our dedication to continuous delivery of the latest innovations, like comprehensive AI capabilities and CRM integrations, that help our customers achieve their business goals."

The AI infusions in CXone include the following:

  • NICE inContact Advanced Chat, with an integrated chatbot that helps companies configure and deploy bots to perform common tasks and elevate to agent-assisted chat as needed. Companies can add other AI services, such as natural language understanding classification and sentiment analysis, natural language processing entity identification, language recognition, sentence similarity, and more.
  • NICE Nexidia Predictive Behavior Routing, which uses AI to connect customers with the best available agents.
  • AI-powered Workforce Management Forecasting;
  • AI-driven Interaction Analytics and Insights that identify sources of customer frustration and unresolved issues. Patent-pending Frustration Detection goes beyond detecting negative sentiment and identifies which issues and agents contribute to customer frustration. Unresolved Issue Detection identifies contact types and agents that contribute to multiple interactions.

The CXone upgrqades didn't stop with AI, though. NICE inContact also embedded a number of new integrations into the platform, including CXone Routing for Salesforce Digital Channels and CXone Packages for Salesforce, which extend the Salesforce Lightning Service Console with integrated workforce management, quality management, interaction analytics, and customer feedback applications.

Other pre-built CRM Integrations that provide a unified desktop option between CXone real-time interaction handling and customer profile and case management from the CRM, as well as bi-directional data synchronization. New and enhanced integrations include Oracle Service Cloud, Microsoft Dynamics, ServiceNow, Zendesk, SugarCRM, NetSuite, SAP, and BullHorn.

"Companies have implemented AI primarily to increase efficiency and quickly serve customers, aiming to address some of their top challenges with contact center tools," said Art Schoeller, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Yet the reality falls short of the promise with 60 percent of chatbot deployments providing poor escalation paths to agents.

To improve the contacts that chatbots handle entirely and to provide a better escalation path, organizations must establish a solid foundation of knowledge management, Schoeller said.

To build an AI-infused contact center. Schoeller recommended the following:

  • Ensure you have great journey analytics;
  • Govern full customer journeys – not silos;
  • It’s not just about efficiency and deflecting calls;
  • Iterative introductions are best – avoid the Big Bang;
  • Bots can learn – but they need to be fed well; and
  • Leverage vendor and consultative resources.

NICE inContact CXone customers can leverage AI resources through the more than 120 members it has in its DEVone partners program, according to Praful Singhal, principal of NICE'd ecosystem program. There are now more than 20 pre-integrated AI partners in the program.

Even after the dramatic gains of the initial implementation of conversational AI, systems can still be fine-tuned to deliver even better performance, said Dimitis Vassos, CEO of Omilia, a DEVOne partner, during a panel discussion on NICE inContact's 's CXone and AI in action.

With one customer, Omilia was able to deliver the following improvements from its conversational AI offering shortly after the system went live:

  • Accuracy increased from 93 percent to 96.7 percent;
  • Task completion increased  86 percent to 96.7 percent;
  • Word error rate reduced from 5 percent to 4.26 percent; and
  • Authentication success increased from 44 percent to 71.5 percent.

Critical in delivering exceptional AI performance is developing an extensive knowledge base that enables chatbots to more efficiently and accurately handle a wide array of customer contacts without human interaction, said Ravi Raj, CEO of PassageAI, during the panel discussion.

However, NICE executives stressed throughout several sessions that the optimal scenario is to have agents working in concert with chatbots rather than trying to automate all interactions.

NICE also used the conference to introduce IntelliAgent. Powered by the NICE Engage recording platform, it provides agents with real-time visibility and greater control over their interaction recordings. The solution also updates front-line employees on audio quality issues, allows pause-and-resume activities, includes integrated mechanisms for immediate tagging, and reduces fraud risks through real time notifications of suspected fraudsters and dedicated agent guidance.

"NICE IntelliAgent is a first-of-its-kind offering, empowering agents with the ability to invest more on what really matters: delivering engaging service experiences while also fulfilling compliance needs," Barry Cooper, president of the NICE Enterprise Product Group, said in a statement. "Organizations today are aware that flawless customer service is a must have and are in need of solutions that allow front-line employees to effectively multitask. IntelliAgent enables organizations to facilitate such capabilities and set their agents up for success."

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