Helping AI Help Agents: A Better Way to Use AI Applications in the Contact Center
By: Rob McDougall, CEO, Upstream Works Software
I’ve been reading This I Know: Marketing Lessons from UNDER THE INFLUENCE by Terry O’Reilly, and something he said really stuck with me. When talking about a company’s mission – its reason for being – he said that you need to go back in time to when you first started the company. There was a reason you did it in the first place – he said there was a point where you slammed your fist on the table and said, “There must be a better way!”
And that’s where you’ll find the soul of your company. Shed the fluff and hype that’s built up over the years and look back at why you began your company.
That statement really stuck with me because I remember when that moment happened at Upstream Works. It didn’t actually happen when we first started the company – that was sort of a reluctant buyout at the time. After five years of providing what amounted to call center plumbing, we had really zeroed in on what call centers did and realized that the heart of a call center was and always will be the people that operate the phones. And in many, many cases, those people did not have a good life. The contact center was even more complicated. It did too much, it provided too many complex tools, and it had too many processes to follow. There were too many different customer needs and too many inconsistencies.
The contact center agent’s life was not easy, and we saw it just getting more and more complicated.
That’s when we looked at all the desktop applications that people were using (the multiple desktop applications) and all the channels they were dealing with. It was then that we slammed our collective fists on the table and said, “There must be a better way!”
Then, an application called UpStart was born. It was 2006 and it was way ahead of its time – providing omnichannel agent desktop capabilities long before the concept of “omnichannel” was formed.
UpStart was designed with one thing in mind – to simplify the life of the contact center agent. To normalize different channels for them so they had some consistency in dealing with customers. To integrate and automate their various applications so that they didn’t need to remember where to go and which application to use in every case. To put information at their fingertips. To provide reporting to management so that agents could be better trained and given the information and tools they needed to do their jobs more easily.
If we could make an agent’s life just a little bit better, then we could make customer service a little bit better – that was our mission then, and it remains our mission now. To use technology to help simplify, streamline and improve the agent experience and, by extension, the customer experience.
Today, we are embarking on something new and exciting. Nothing about our core mission has changed – we are still here to help agents.
Now, we are enabling AI applications to help agents, too.
Artificial intelligence applications based on machine learning are the next frontier in contact center technology. We’ve built our company to avoid the hype of every new thing that comes along, and the hype says that AI Applications will replace agents. But the reality is, AI Applications are best suited to help agents. They can simplify the agent’s life even more and allow them to provide real value add to the customer experience that only a human can provide.
AI applications come in many flavors – conversational AI for chatbots, robotic process automation (RPA), intelligent virtual agent assistants, and email auto responders. All of these applications have the capacity to further complicate the agent’s life and frustrate customers if used indiscriminately. But those same AI applications can be very supportive if properly implemented and designed to provide real value to the agent.
Our focus on helping AI and agents work together will allow a business to really provide value to not only their customers, but also to their staff. Staffing is quickly becoming one of the cornerstone problems of post-pandemic business. At Upstream Works, there is still a fist on a table that says “There is a better way” – and that’s why we continue to make a contact center a better place to work for those millions of people who are the brand ambassadors of your company.