The workplace is changing before our eyes. The tools employees have access to in their personal lives are becoming part of their business toolsets – either because they are being implemented business-wide, or individual users and groups are bringing them in on their own. The fact is, people want to be able to do more, and business communications platforms have to adjust. To bring businesses into the future workplace, they need to integrate any and all communications channels, unify all business teams – including contact centers, embrace the cloud, and leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Recently, Edify CEO and co-founder Cameron Weeks (News - Alert) spoke at Future of Work Expo in Florida, specifically addressing some of the needs businesses have that require a modern approach. Here’s some of what he had to say about the state of the contact center, the role of unified communications, and how it all plays into the future of work along with AI.
Give us a brief update on Edify.
Over the past year, we’ve been really busy building our platform and growing our talented team like crazy. We have a passion and a drive to redefine the way customers and brands interact and the way employees communicate with each other--we’re not stopping until every organization out there is benefitting.
We designed our one-of-a kind platform Huddle because we were tired of watching the technology powering the contact center lag so far behind the communication capabilities we have in our personal lives. A suitable option didn’t exist, so we built one. Huddle has been built to seize the opportunity of the giant void left by legacy contact center leaders failing to properly invest.
We are incredibly well backed by some of the best VC funds in LA and San Francisco. We’ve announced funding from First Round Capital, a venture capital firm whose partners worked with brands like Uber, Roblox, and Warby Parker when they were emerging. Other investors in this round include Anorak Ventures, Pathbreaker Ventures, Morado Venture Partners, Bling Capital, Bonfire Ventures, SeaLane Ventures, 7percent Ventures, and Liquid 2 Ventures.
What’s your take on the contact center industry?
As an industry, we’ve done a disservice by conflating concepts with one another. For example, multichannel and omnichannel, unified and end-to-end. I try to break down the differences, the nuances, and explain why it’s so crucial to understand how true omnichannel can change the employee and customer experiences for the better. And, most importantly, how to get there as painlessly as possible. We are here to bring truth to CX platforms.
How has AI in business changed over the past year? What is the market’s perception of AI today?
There are many nuances and attributes to artificial intelligence (AI) and its litany of subsets — including machine learning (ML). While AI gets all the press, most of what we refer to as AI is really ML. The distinction matters, especially when it comes to how machine learning can transform the way you engage customers, as well as the way you work with your own employees and contact center agents to streamline operations and the customer experience. ML can be a true powerhouse when deployed intelligently and that’s exactly how we are using it as part of our Huddle platform. Bots no longer have to equate frustrating prompts meant to replace a human workforce--they can be so much more. We are finding that companies want to understand how ML can help and are looking to deploy ML so long as they’re assured the way it will be used will elevate and not erode the customer experience. We’re optimistic about adoption.
What is driving interest in new AI-based solutions?
AI (and as I noted above, when people talk about AI, they are actually referencing the capabilities of ML), is such a hot topic right now because it offers benefits for both brands and their customers. With the right tools in place, customers are given the ability to enjoy the convenience of self-service; lots of people want (and expect) this option.
Additionally, AI/ML gives companies the ability to make the most of their agents’ time, too. If an intelligent bot, powered by ML, is able to help a customer obtain some basic information, the human agents can step in to assist customers on more complicated issues and provide the empathy and care that a bot just can’t deliver. Other drivers of interest in AI/ML are the benefits they offer in terms of coaching and training agents. And, 100% QA coverage is now possible out of the box.
What are the greatest challenges with AI today?
It’s really around education. People need to understand how to deploy their technology in a bot and human manner to empower both sides. AI/ML should benefit both the customer experience and the employee experience. Additionally, legacy platforms can’t even handle combining email and phone – How do you expect them to manage AI/ML?
How does AI change the hiring landscape?
AI is changing the hiring landscape in many ways:
- It’s changing the workforce optimization – reducing churn by improving the employee experience;
- It’s providing insight to intelligently staff your CC and route calls – further training and coaching agents and fixing customer issues before they even happen and removing wasted time from interaction;
- It’s allowing leaders to determines how each individual agents performs on their best and worst days and only gives them as many concurrent interactions as they can handle, which means each agent is always providing the best CX possible.
Are companies using chatbots and virtual assistants effectively?
This question is a tough one to answer because there are definitely some companies using chatbots well and others who have not yet found the right bot for their needs. Chatbots have historically garnered a mixed reputation, because so many companies thought they could be a one-size-fits-all solution for all kinds of requests, and they wanted to simply replace the number of live agents they had on staff.
Our intelligent bot, Hammon, leverages all the best ML is offering today. Hammond gives customers self-service abilities first, moving conversations to the right agent anywhere in an organization if and when it’s time. By enabling seamless switching between channels – such as going from phone to text to email without starting over – the end result is one system to connect everyone and reduce customer friction. It’s all about customers, bots, and agents blending perfectly together. That’s the key – it’s not bots OR humans, it’s everything and everyone working together.
How big of an impact can AI have on customer experience?
For a long time it’s been agreed that the best experience is one in which the customer doesn’t have to engage. ML finally gives us the ability to be proactive – first with a bot for self-help and then immediate human engagement on any channel, at least for brands using the Edify platform.
What communications tools are available today that truly help employees communicate better?
Today, we can send texts (one-on-one or in groups), make calls with one push of a button or a voice command to Siri, send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing, record ourselves wearing virtual sunglasses or superimposed in a winter wonderland, and so much more. In short, the number of ways we can connect with our friends and family is limitless, not to mention incredibly fun, intuitive and always improving.
Yet, few, if any, of these capabilities are available to help employees to communicate better. We’ve been stuck with just a few basic options when it comes to connecting with brands and just as many uninspiring ways for employees at these brands to connect with each other. But, not any more. We decided it should be possible to have fast, easy, and even enjoyable experiences with customer service departments, and it should be possible for employees to enjoy enterprise communications that are intuitive and innovative. And that’s why we created Edify Huddle.
How can businesses understand which tools are best suited for their needs?
Picking the right vendor who is willing and able to dig in to specific use cases and demonstrate how their solution addresses them is key. Also, there is nothing like being able to touch and feel the product before committing. This is why we offer everyone five users on us forever. We want people to be able to see how Huddle can help them.
What are the most interesting or exciting innovations in the space in the past year? Why are they important?
Edify Huddle, of course. It’s important because we are shifting the power back to the brand. The legacy vendors have failed, every single one of them, and protected themselves in secrecy. We aim to not only be the most powerful platform, but also the most transparent.
What challenges exist when implementing AI or developing AI solutions?
One of the biggest challenges we see when companies implement ML solutions is they think these tools can replace their humans. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Bots are not meant to replace humans, they are meant to empower them. Bots free up time by handling repetitive inquiries, so agents are able to focus on more complex customer problems. A bot is a great way to provide 24/7 customer service, but the human touch is still important to a stellar CX. The second is the underlying platform. Again, if your vendor can’t figure out how to combine all channels into a single conversation, can you really trust them with ML?
Please make one interesting, surprising, or unexpected prediction for the AI space for 2020.
In 2020, we should begin seeing leading brands use machines to learn how individual employees perform. Using sentiment analysis and natural language understanding (NLU), machines will be able to identify patterns in each person’s productivity. For instance, on “good” days, Bob can handle three chats simultaneously, but on a day he’s lagging because he worked the late shift the night before, he can manage one chat. With information on patterns like this, contact center software can route interactions to Bob according to the kind of day he’s having.
This capability is available because ML is leveraging the NLU and sentiment analysis data. Imagine what happens when employees and agents get exactly what they can handle, in a cadence that works for them… customers get the best of those employees and companies free up valuable supervisor and IT time.
Why should businesses care?
If your organization wants to improve its CX or its employee experience (which I’m hopeful that all companies do), you need to see how the Huddle platform is making both of these goals a reality. Huddle is the only platform in the market that combines contact center and unified communications and API in a single solution and offers every channel inside a single pane of glass.
The latest trends in customer engagement and experience, UCaaS, and how Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can benefit both customers and internal users are the crux of Future of Work Expo 2021. Taking place at the brand new Miami Beach Convention Center, June 22-25, 2021 as part of the #TechSuperShow. Future of Work will again sit beside its collocated events – ITEXPO, SD-WAN Expo, MSP Expo, IoT Evolution, The Blockchain Event, and more – to deliver a compete learning and networking opportunity for business leaders who need to know what new technologies will drive their companies into the future.
Edited by Erik Linask