artificial intelligence

Rowan at Dreamforce 2018: “The contact center will change more in the next 5 years than the past 25 years combined”

Telling a room full of Dreamforce attendees that customer service has become worse could be considered a risky move.

Five9 CEO Rowan Trollope didn’t sugarcoat things in his talk at this year’s high-profile Salesforce event. “Customer service, from the perspective of customers, has become worse over the years,” he said to a standing room-only audience. However, it’s not all bad; he went on to explain how the contact center, with the introduction of artificial intelligence to assist human agents, is poised to redefine good customer service.

Below we recap Rowan’s talk at Dreamforce 2018.

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In the mid 1800s, the Pony Express was unseated after 18 months of operation by the inception of the transcontinental telegraph. No one saw the telegraph coming. Over a century later, smartphone adoption occurred at a much faster rate than anyone expected. “The point is that humans are very bad at predicting technology disruptions,” Rowan said, “and nothing’s really changed in the last 150 years.”

Technology disruptions all revolve on exponential curves: growth is slow for a while until it spikes suddenly. “I believe we’re at such a time in the contact center; change has felt gradual but now it’s going to feel sudden,” Rowan said.

The driving force behind this change is AI, potentially the most influential technology to disrupt the contact center. Just look at three recent milestones we’ve hit as indicators that we’re at the bend of this curve: 

  1. Amazon Echo/Alexa - Its pervasiveness and effectiveness mean there is now a whole generation of people whose first access to computing is through voice.
  2. Earlier this year, Microsoft announced it had created the first machine translation system that can translate sentences of news articles from Chinese to English with the same quality and accuracy as a person.
  3. Google Duplex - Google’s newest AI system has been a massive leap forward in conversational AI. (Check out the company’s presentation of Duplex)

All three of these advancements have one thing in common: they capture voice data and make it useful. With an estimated 80 to 85 percent of all contact center volume coming in the form of voice, this is huge. “I can’t find a single part of the contact center that can’t be transformed by AI,” said Rowan.

The most impactful change in the contact center will be machine learning-powered agent augmentation. With over 15 million agents worldwide, many are taking straightforward calls and doing menial tasks, the types of tasks computers can do just as well as humans at a much higher rate and at lower costs.

This will happen in two ways:

  1. Augmented agents: This involves a human with software listening to calls in real time, making suggestions and providing guidance to the human agent. Benefits: lower handle times, improved efficiency, higher CSAT
  2. Virtual agent: A humanlike voice or text bot which leads an intelligent conversation with a caller, responds to their questions and performs specific skills

This is Five9’s vision for the future of the contact center; and, as Rowan told the audience, “you can be skeptical, but every single part of what I’m talking about is already happening … It’s going to take some time, and we won’t replace all humans; we will be able to have them do other upstream tasks; things that require empathy.”

Although not every company has the volume of data needed to properly train machine learning algorithms to achieve this level of AI augmentation, Five9 does.

With countless hours of voice calls sitting on our platform as unused dark data, Five9 can take that data and use it to train AI for all of our customers. You don’t need to be a massive Fortune 500 company to leverage AI to improve customer experience, you only need to be operating in the cloud.

Reminding the audience of the Pony Express founders’ lack of foresight, Rowan concluded, “AI is coming into the enterprise at blinding speed, and the biggest impact is going to be software augmenting agents. Look for those telegraph poles and don’t ignore them.”

To view Rowan’s full Dreamforce session, click here.

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