Can humans keep up?

This blog looks at the thorny topic of whether the humble human can keep up with the demands of customers or the citizens we serve.

This is part two of a five-part blog post looking at how AI, speech analytics and conversational computing are changing the processes, efficiency and CX / C-Sat metrics within many organizations around the world.

  • Part one covered “do you think you are digital?” This highlights the gaps in more than 50 per cent of customer interactions.
  • Part three covers the “real needs” within omnichannel and real-time data strategies.
  • Part four covers how these speech technologies are helping to transform sales and service functions and leadership.
  • Part five concludes on the future vision for speech analytics and conversational computing.


I want to make clear that this chapter is not about the Borg taking over and replacing the human race. Naturally, there is a place for complete machine automation. We use these services every day. Love them or hate them, they play a critical part in many organizations’ strategy to reduce or automate “the mundane”, so our super intelligent applications (the human) can deal with the more valuable, important, or complex interaction. However, two issues have emerged in the past few years in this regard:

  1. Have our (no-human required) automation services gone too far? Many customers would say yes. So, we have to consider new demarcation points of what gets 100 per cent automated.
  2. If you are lucky enough to get to a human, the next question arises. Is that human able to do a good job and cope with the sheer complexity of the products, historical communications and external market information at the precise time of the call? Whether the function is to serve or answer a question, or perhaps to sell a product or service, the data related to that particular call, customer and moment is now a lot to handle.

Let us consider why humans get involved (or perhaps should get involved) in an interaction with a customer, prospect or citizen. Typically there are four dynamics. Is this a premier client / prospect? Is there an issue or escalation? Is there an imminent sales opportunity? Or, is this a complex product or service? There are many more permutations that involve issues such as compliance, data privacy, location and so on, but this is the high-level framework we typically live within.

Much is being done to profile our customers, prospects and citizens to better understand their respective socio-economic status, historical purchase patterns, click stream data and more, but this is typically used to route the customer to the correct channel of service:  IVR, web self-service, form, app or perhaps a human.


Low-importance customer x low-value inquiry x low complexity = automate

High-value customer x high-value inquiry x high complexity = human

…and all the permutations in between these two extremes.


Organizations also regularly consider all the scenarios, irrespective of class and value, where there is an escalation. This is a “moment that matters”, as escalations typically directly impact commercial success, emotion, security or potential brand damage. This is where any interaction should potentially move to a real-time voice or video channel.

These moments that matter are critical. However, the agent taking the call typically has three to five seconds notice before the caller leaves the queue and the call is taken. Yes, in many advanced contact centers, the agent may have some rudimentary data to hand: who are they connecting with, their profile, all recent interactions and so on. But let’s face it, keeping up with everything internally, everything that is going on externally (for example, the FX markets made a big shift 30 minutes ago, or product marketing sent an update yesterday about an offer on a particular product line or support sent a notice that there is a known defect and how to resolve it) is a daunting task.

Yes, knowledge management tools have helped agents with process and structure that can help with solving complex interactions, but a knowledge base still requires the agent to capture the situation, understand it and then enter this into the keyboard before any meaningful intelligence or action can be given. Also, many of the calls that have happened in the past do not capture the detail, the sentiment or context – agents are just too busy, lazy, there may be no field to capture the detail or they are new members of staff or merely ineffective.

The emergence of “tuned” speech processing that aligns to your specific industry terms, products and phrases with incredibly high accuracy, together with the addition of AI and deep-learning capabilities, are now giving the agents the edge – not replacing them but making them superhuman. Technologies that “listen-in” to the call conversation, can detect questions, sentiment, key words, look at internal data or notices such as product notifications or sales offers, or external data from sources such as Bloomberg or other new-wire services and summarise all the previous voice.

The businesses or organizations that deploy this capability are capturing massive insight. The digital picture is significantly richer. Agent performance is dramatically improved, both in quality and richness of what is being captured within the system of record, but also offering real-time or near real-time services that help the agent detect a question and reference this against information they may not have digested or received, or simply assisting with a summary of the call actions once the call has ended and they hit the wrap-up timer.

The contact center in many organizations has lived through the phase of low value / transactional service point. The services that they used to deliver are now widely automated. The role of the next phase contact center is a strategically important and high-value knowledge and service system. This is a premium role, non-scripted, that requires knowledgeable professionals that can react to customer needs and conduct a range of AI and information systems to deliver excellent service or sales strategy.  The contact center is no longer a humble job, it is the center of a business, as all calls that reach this location seriously matter.

See you at the next blog.