Use tech to create super-agents, not replace them

Clevva CEO Ryan Falkenberg.
Clevva CEO Ryan Falkenberg.

Contact centres must start reshaping the role of the agent from a traditional knowledge management service, to a more empathetic, human-facilitated service provider, if they are to successfully navigate the changes brought on by chatbots, virtual assistants and robotic process automation.

This is according to Ryan Falkenberg, CEO of Clevva, a local technology business that specialises in the business application of intelligence augmentation. Falkenberg was speaking at the 1Stream Collab Next-Generation Contact Centre seminar held in Johannesburg yesterday.

Falkenberg said in the wake of digital intelligence, companies need to be pragmatic about empowering staff to reach competency levels.

"Companies tend to think digital intelligence is way better than human intelligence but that is not the case. We need to think differently when approaching staff empowerment. There is an alternative.

"As an industry, we continuously want to create robots with flesh in our teams and agents. In my opinion, if we continue to ask agents to do the jobs that constantly make them feel weak, we will essentially be accelerating our redundancy, and contact centres will become irrelevant.

"If we can reshape the human story and ask our staff to offer a different and unique value instead of replication value, we can actually start creating a new relevance in the contact centre. Contact centre agents will become super-agents, with sophisticated social interaction and people management skills."

Falkenberg added that the marriage between prescriptive logic (from the agent) and predictive logic (powered by artificial intelligence) is ideal.

"So instead of offering our agents ongoing training and maps, why don't we offer them a GPS like a call navigator? AI can navigate agents through conversations they have never had before. Shifting the content focus away from the human brain and into a digital brain ensures every customer engagement is handled in a consistent, compliant way.

"Ultimately, this shift allows agents to become more human and less robotic, differentiating themselves from digital alternatives that might otherwise replace them. They will be able to leverage human capabilities like empathy and conversational ability, and digitally augment the aspects that usually limit people."

Legacy woes

Falkenberg noted that although the technology that allows firms to create this kind of experience is here and operational at enterprise level, it is not always easy to implement.

"The industry operates with legacy realities; we are not able to suddenly embrace AI and start building intelligence technologies off a zero base. We deal with operational systems that are not integrated, we have agents that flip through multiple screens, we have data that is not talking to each other, and so when we hear about a digital future based solely on technology, it's just not practical right now," he stated.

Saki Missaikos, CEO of Internet Solutions, noted that companies are stuck with massive investments in legacy systems.

"Many companies are sitting with old infrastructure and networks they heavily invested in over the last decade or so."

Contact centres and consumer experience (CX) executives are therefore mostly faced with two options: to start again or work with that they have.

"There is very little appetite or budget for starting over. The expenditure associated with opening up the old infrastructure is just not a reality right now. The second option is incrementally improving and replacing it bit by bit. This has a huge benefit as organisations can experiment with their CX delivery to find out what works and what doesn't, before committing to a large investment in their end result."

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