Cisco Investments recently led a webinar to discuss how unified data and the omnichannel, customer-centric platform can help contact centers deliver better customer experience outcomes.

Hosted by Donald Tucker, Head of Collaboration M&A and Investments, Cisco Investments, the panel consisted of Brad Birnbaum, CEO and Founder, Kustomer; Tasso Argyros, CEO and Co-Founder, ActionIQ; and Omar Tawakol, General Manager, Contact Center, Cisco.

Keenly aware of the headaches that customers have historically experienced with call centers — long wait times, the need to repeat information, passing of the call agent-to-agent — the script is being rewritten for contact centers to evolve in a more customer-centric direction.

In this webinar, the panel breaks down the challenges confronting today’s rapidly changing contact centers and highlights the trends that are reshaping the industry.

“What was once the backdoor is now the showcase of the brand.”

The COVID pandemic has catapulted the customer-centric movement virtually overnight. With the physical component of customer contact largely removed, brands have been left to rely almost exclusively on their digital commerce and contact centers to drive the customer service experience.

“Contact centers aren’t just thinking about problem-solving,” says Tawakol. “They’re thinking about the total journey experience of customers. When COVID hit, that just massively accelerated efforts. Now, people are trying to get the tools in place to make sure that they can see the interaction in the contact center as part of a greater journey.”

With digital transformation moving at “lightning speed,” Kustomer’s Birnbaum describes how businesses are reevaluating everything along this new customer journey. “With the push to digital transformation, people expect the same level of service. They expect that same level of commitment. They expect that same relationship with the business. That’s just something that I think a lot of companies are quickly trying to figure out,” says Birnbaum.

“The challenge I see is that digital becomes just another silo right now,” says Argyros. “Especially because people are trying to build it so fast, contact centers are not really integrated into everything else that’s going on. How do you keep new digital capabilities connected to the call center? And then as things start to get back to normal and people start to engage physically, how do you unify everything, from the physical visit to the online contact?”

“I have never seen a stronger ROI case for AI than here in the contact center.”

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming contact center communication in two ways: automation that helps offset high call volume by deflecting the call to alternate digital channels and as assistance to reduce the agent’s cognitive burden.

As Tawakol notes, “The pandemic has always been about flattening the curve so that your hospital capacity can keep up with your patients. You have the exact same problem in contact centers.” He explains how AI helps mitigate the call volume by deflecting easy and often repeatable type problems that can be managed in an automated way, such as customers paying their bills, reloading a SIM card, booking travel and resetting passwords. “I have never seen a ROI case for AI as strong as the case I see here in the contact center,” says Tawakol.

For the more complex problems where customers need to talk to a human, AI can help by supplementing agents with resources to make their jobs easier. “These are the kinds of problems that you don’t want to force on a bot and you want to free up human time to get to those customers,” says Tawakol, who before joining Cisco founded Voicea, which created the in-meeting AI assistant EVA (Enterprise Voice Assistant). “You want AI listening to the conversation and match a case that was solved somewhere else by another agent and, realizing how it was solved, very quickly nudge the agent and say, ‘Hey, this customer’s traveling to Spain. What they want is a data plan that works in Spain. Here it is.’ That way, you solve several problems.

With self-service options more critical than ever before and customers demanding immediate resolutions to their problem, Birnbaum sees amazing opportunities for AI and machine learning to offset call volume and get customers the answers they need fast. He cites the example of a machine-learning chatbot that helps an agent quickly search inventory in multiple places for a shirt a customer has ordered. The technology helps reduce the stress and effort on the part of the agent, while expediting the customer resolution. “The technology is quickly advancing,” says Birnbaum. “We’re investing heavily in it, and we’re deploying it throughout our platform.”

“Identify, profile and integrate events holistically.”

The investments brands make in customer data can produce immediate and intelligent answers customers expect today. “The first is to have the integrated customer journey data,” says  Argyros. “One is in the identities — you know when someone calls that is the same person you have in your store or on your website — this is their identity. On top of that, you can start building integrated profiles, meaning this is a high-value customer, low-value customer or price-conscious customer. But there’s another level, the integrated events, which means, not only do I know this is the same person, but I also know that they went to my website and what they looked at or we had a chat conversation, and we have all the data in one place,” Argyros says.

As the ActionIQ CEO reminds, the call center is only one touchpoint along the entire customer journey, so in addition to integrated data, customers and agents need to be able to toggle from data to action on the same platform. “You need the person who’s responsible for taking the action to have all the access to the insight.”

“That’s where the magic happens — integrated data, integrated automated experiences, and then accessible and actionable intelligence — these are the three components of the customer data and customer experience,” he says. “Move quickly and be customer-centric.”

The panel sees a number of exciting developments that could change the way contact centers deliver better customer experiences in the future. From video terminals that help deflect long lines at the car rental counter to uber-like staffing that could help relieve busy call centers, tomorrow’s models of how customers receive help are vast and wide-reaching.

For Tawakol, contact center managers need to be aware of customers’ communications preferences and how they can meet those needs with omnichannel functionality. “What was the phone call will go two ways: One it will be messaging, and the other way will be video. That transformation is already happening. That tsunami is going to flow through your business. You have to be prepared.”

For Argyros, the one key takeaway for brands is to think about how their contact center and the data it generates can help and integrate with every function of the business.

For Birnbaum, the most important lesson to take away from 2020 is to continue innovating with a focus on the customer. Those who are adjusting and developing new processes and exceptional experiences through the customer perspective will naturally flourish.

For more details and insights, watch the on-demand recording of Creating Intelligent Customer Experiences: A Conversation with Kustomer and ActionIQ.


Pradeep Paniyadi

Relationship Manager

Cisco Investments