On January 25th, Acqueon hosted its 2023 Kickoff Webinar: Growth Through Data & AI in the Contact Center. Acqueon’s Chief Product Officer, Patrick Beyries, and I discussed what the future of the Contact Center looks like in regard to data and AI. This is a conversation jam-packed with ideas and insights for anyone thinking about, investing in or currently working on their customer engagement strategy.
If you’re not as familiar with Acqueon, here’s a quick background on who we are:
Acqueon is the Conversational Engagement platform that integrates with all leading contact centers to simplify and automate advanced omnichannel revenue generation and revenue recovery (i.e. Collections) campaigns. Banks, insurance companies, healthcare providers, healthcare payors, State/Federal government agencies, public sector and retail companies all use Acqueon to transform their contact center solution into a customer or patient engagement hub and they get a comprehensive, built-in compliance suite on top of it all. Acqueon helps customers do outbound intelligently while significantly improving revenue conversion rates on Sales and Collections campaigns.
We bring together some of the most amazing contact center solutions in the world with all of the CRM and EHR data sources enterprise customers use to create incredible communication, connection and, ultimately outcomes with, with their customers or patients. Right now we’re especially excited innovation being done with the platform’s own built-in Customer Engagement Data Platform (CEDP) and AI-powered Real Time Conversational Intelligence offering called Acqueon AiQ®— AI in the contact center is being adopted at a rapid clip. Our team has a growing passion for transforming the future of how contact center teams operate and succeed by infusing their campaigns and omnichannel strategies with a customer’s conversational data & AI capabilities.
Keep reading for my full interview with Patrick or click here to watch the full webinar:
Patrick! Thanks for taking some time to dive into Growth Through Customer Data & AI in the Contact center! Let’s do this, but before we dive in, I’d love to hear any initial thoughts on the customer engagement landscape as we enter into 2023. Layoffs, budget cuts, decelerating growth stories are everywhere— what does that mean for the contact center?
Thank you so much, Lisa. And thank you to everybody for joining us.
One of the big topics right now is the decrease in everybody’s forecasted expectations for their business. That comes with accompanying cost reductions, and we’re now seeing those consequences. One of the results of that is a renewed focus on things like productivity, outcomes, ROI, and of course, doing more with less.
Vendors like Acqueon (and many of our partners who will be dialed into this webinar) have a significant role to play in helping our customers through these times and in helping our customers collect more and do it more efficiently. We really need to show them a path forward that benefits their company with their current challenges. I want to acknowledge that, and I want that to be some broader context for some of the topics we’re going to address today.
Thanks for that perspective; so with that said, what do you see as the future of the contact center and customer engagement?
I think there’s a more fundamental change required that lies underneath trends like AI, automation, and self-service.
Organizations and particularly, contact centers, need to be more data-driven. Years ago, it was the big companies that beat out the small companies. Then, with the rise of the internet and the evolution of technology, it became that the fast companies were beating the slow companies.
As we look forward, data and insights will be the fuel for the companies of the future. We’ll actually see companies that connect and harness core data about their customers will beat the companies that can’t. I think it’s those that have and use data well that will beat those companies that don’t use that data well or perhaps don’t have it. I think the insights people get from that data will fuel all the other changes that we talked about.
What AI needs to make good decisions is of course training, which many of us have talked about how we can make that better and faster, but it also needs data. It needs examples. It also needs the initiation, the same thing with automation, the same thing with advancements in self-services.
They’re all fueled by the data that you have. When you look at contact centers and how they will connect with their customers, whom they’ll reach out to, when they reach out to them, by which channel, and with what message, the data you have on hand will lead to the results that you get.
I’ve often talked to customers about the idea of this data as a greenfield opportunity. Nobody else in the world has the data about your customers that you do, not your competition, not anybody else. It’s up to you to decide to leverage that information for the betterment of your business and also the betterment of your customers.
That’s one of the starting points among many things that will come – understanding the data that you have and bringing it together, whether virtually or into a single story, into a single picture that you can use for outreach and for customer connections.
How do you see companies and businesses across the enterprise using that customer data the best, or getting started using it?
One of those other major shifts that’s going to happen around customer communication is a shift of ownership from the actual contact with the customer.
I see more companies themselves getting proactive, preemptive and taking ownership of outreach instead of putting the onus on the customer to reach out to them. Companies will leverage all of the data about their customers (and other customers like them), both historic and real-time data, and use that as a trigger for contacting them.
Sometimes we talk about this as proactive service, but that’s really just one small piece of the overall scope of what you can do. I think companies will reach out to customers and partners and prospects at the most opportune time with the right message and the right data.
For example, that could be following up on a lead because the customer prospect was on the website that could be reaching out because you see that they’re having trouble logging into the system. Or, it could be because you see their purchase patterns are different than you expect or you see the purchase patterns at the same time as you’re seeing they’re late on their bill. And maybe you put those pieces of data together and decide that this is a good time for outreach.
Using that data as a triggering mechanism or a guiding principle on how you connect to your customers and when to connect with them is another one of those ways that the data is going to fuel the future of customer connection. Imagine using data that you have about what somebody’s currently doing as an opportunity to reach out and ask them if they need help or if they want to be engaged in a conversation about something.
In the outbound world, we talk about right party connect…and we’re just okay with the fact that 93% of those calls are not going to get connected or somebody’s not going to pick up. We could do a lot better than that if we leverage the kind of data we have.
We’ve heard so much about customer profiles and that bleeds into the conversation about CDP. When we say CDP, meaning customer data platform, how do you see the customer profile and CDP kind of playing into this overall conversation?
The rise of CDPs and the rise of messaging about CDPs is a validation of the importance of data going forward, right?
It’s a validation that companies and vendors want to help companies leverage the data they have in a better way, pulling it together in one place. It’s sort of the definition of what the CDP does. That’s only part of the story. The other part is what do you do with it?
Make it actionable and actually change processes because of that data. I often tell people that a CDP or a data warehouse, or an integration strategy is crucial to being able to get the most out of the data that you have. But having a CDP is not the answer. Having a CDP is just the beginning.
The answer is how do you then do something with that data to solve the business problem that you’ve identified? People will use this information to provide highly relevant and personalized outreach and even tailored processes to customers. If the customer is going through some kind of guided self-service process on a website, let’s say, maybe they’re being assisted by a process flow or even AI flow, being aware of this customer’s history and what other products they own will actually mean that they can be better guided to the right solution for them.
With that data, they’re a high lifetime value customer.
Maybe you reached out to them last week about a specific offer and they told you no for a specific reason. How should you contact them next time? What offer should you give them next time? We’ve talked for years about pulling the right data together at the right time, but I think we were only scratching the surface in terms of what that meant. We were saying things like, do a screen pop with the customer profile. Well, that’s better than not having the customer profile, but that doesn’t give you all the relevant information.
We continue to see in any kind of contact center, whether it’s inbound or outbound, that there are five to 10 different desktops the agent may be using to interface with the customer. This is because we’re not pulling that data into one place, or we’re not able to surface the right data at the right time. Instead, they’re kind of surfacing through all the data all the time. So, I think, the concept of a CDP is well and good in and of itself.
In fact, at Acqueon, we’re building our own version of what I would call a CEDP, a Customer Engagement Data Platform that’s specifically focused on prior outreach and prior conversations that have happened.
That’s only part of the story. The next story is:
What do you do with that?
- How does it help you achieve your goals?
- How do you help your customers achieve their goals by leveraging that data?
- So, I think it’s a critical early step, but it’s not the answer or the end of the story.
So, it’s a critical early step, but it’s not the answer or the end of the story.
To your point, the customer profile is so much more than contact information or even the last interaction. It’s really the more information you have about the person that you’re connecting with or working towards an outcome of some kind, the more context-rich, the more human, and the more empathetic that interaction is going to be.
That puts the power in the hands of the contact center agent or the business professional who’s outreaching to the customer. We’re all consumers of this. We’re all on the other end of that phone or that text message that’s coming from the kinds of businesses Acqueon is working with.
I want to ask about something we talk about extensively at Acqueon…personalization and channel choice. As we talk about the customer profile, what you like one day versus what you prefer the next. It’s always changing.
So, talk about channel choice…how is that going to help companies grow and strengthen their customer engagement, client retention, loyalty, and revenue?
Channel choice is really interesting as an aspect of personalization and in the service world.
We’ve talked about channel choice for a long time, but again, I think we’ve sort of been shortsighted on what that really means going forward. And maybe it’s more about incrementalism, perhaps.
One of the things we’ve misunderstood about channel choice in the past is that we thought it meant a checkmark on the customer profile that says, “This customer prefers to be contacted via text or via email, or whatever that might be.” In fact, channel choice is very dynamic as you point out, Lisa. When I want to be contacted, the way I want to be contacted right now based on what’s going on in my life may be different from tomorrow.
I’ll give you an example of that:
I’ve changed the names from this true story to protect the innocent. Let’s say there’s a tech executive who’s flying to go meet a customer right across the country. He takes an airline, lands at the new destination, gets in a cab, and is headed toward the hotel. In the cab, he realizes that he doesn’t have his Kindle with him anymore.
In the back of the taxi, while he’s prepping for the customer meeting, he sends a tweet to the airline and says, “I think I might have left the Kindle on the plane. Could you take a look for it?” Then he goes off and has the customer meeting. The next day, he flies back and gets back to the airport. And hopefully, that story ends with his Kindle waiting for him on his seat when he boards the plane.
But the part that’s interesting is at the moment of need, his decision to use that channel had to do with what he was doing, what he was trying to accomplish, and what was going on around him at that moment. Maybe tweeting is not the way he would’ve done that if he was already at the hotel and found out he lost his Kindle.
Maybe if he was at the airport, he would’ve used a completely different method altogether. So, the idea of channel choice needs to be higher fidelity and more granular than we’ve treated it in the past.
The benefits of doing that, the benefits of not only giving your customers options but being sensitive to what they’re doing now, even from an outreach perspective, shows them that you care. It also makes you feel more like a partner because you’re meeting them halfway.
So, for example, on an outbound version of that, if you need to talk to this person about maybe a collection scenario, or you want to follow up on a lead opportunity…maybe you send them a text first and that text says, “Is now a good time to talk?”
Click here to get more information or make a payment, click here to talk to somebody right away, or click here to schedule a different time. That puts the power onto the customer side instead of us thinking we know best because the green check mark is on their profile that says they prefer this channel.
If we fast forward, not only are the customers going to expect to have more control and more say, but I think compliance will even shift in this direction. What I mean by that is, today, for example, outbound compliance is driven by government entities as sort of a top-down mandate. There’s a certain state that has controls about calling within so many days or contacting on any channel within so many days. We’re now even seeing that at the city level. And then, of course, international governments have their own rules as well.
What we’ll see in the future is the idea of a customer giving you permission for some kinds of contact on some channels, and they’re going to kind of own the rules instead of a third party, like a government owning those rules.
So, this concept of channel choice evolves into:
- How do we connect with our customers?
- How do our customers want to connect with us?
And that’s not a static check mark. That’s a dynamic thing that we need to consider. What are our customers trying to accomplish? We need to acknowledge that what they’re trying to accomplish now might be different than what they were trying to accomplish before. We need to put more of the power in the hands of the customer, which leads to better right party contacts, and better conversations, and puts the customer in a better frame of mind for whatever message we’re trying to get across.
Many of us think about compliance through the lens of big brother watching, better make sure we follow all the rules, lots of negative consequences, especially in the highly regulated industries where we focus most heavily: FinServ and Healthcare. But flipping the script and thinking about customer data as a driver for using compliance to really deepen that relationship…I think we’ll hear a lot more about that.
Now, the title of this webinar is Growth Through Data and AI and we haven’t really touched a ton on artificial intelligence, AI, and what that means in the contact center and regards to growth and success. What does AI really mean for the future of center customer engagement, customer data and all of the things we’ve talked about today?
There’s no doubt that AI will play a major shift in customer engagement and many other challenges organizations face today and will in the coming years.
The reason we haven’t talked about AI yet is because AI itself is not the answer. AI is a tool to take you to the answer.
What I mean by that is, a few years ago, a lot of people felt pressure to bring AI into their organizations. And somehow, they were accepting that just having AI meant things were going to get better or that they would get kudos for having AI in the organization.
In fact, AI is today (and will be in the future) pervasive in everything you do. It’s a tool to solve the business problems you already have and the things that you identify as business priorities. So, if you want to, if you’re focused on your NPS score, if you’re focused on your conversion rate, if you’re focused on your close rate within sales, there are ways to apply AI to help you solve that business problem.
That doesn’t mean that AI is a solution in and of itself. The first piece you need to understand is what you’re trying to accomplish. Then look at what tools you can bring in to accomplish that. And there is no question that AI will play a big role in that in many, many different ways.
But the hype for generic AI is going to subside a little bit in the contact center, and companies are going to be more focused on the specific results and use it as a tool to solve business challenges. They’re already prioritizing self-service, getting business insights out of conversations, conversational intelligence or agent guidance, which Acqueon launched this year. AI has already unlocked new ways to do business and how we do business and will continue to do so.
Technology itself doesn’t solve any business problem per se. It’s your people and your business processes that change because of the technology that does solve those business problems. So, even for the 12 years I was at Salesforce, I would stand up in front of executives and say, I want to tell you that Salesforce is not going to fix your business. I want to tell you that we can help you fix your business because you have it.
You still have to change the business processes. You still have to understand your customer better. You still have to use the tools that we’re putting in front of you.
That’s what I would say about AI. If you want to use AI for growth, figure out your paths to growth and then look at the tools that you can apply, including AI. Don’t think that by bringing AI into your organization, it’s going to wave a magic wand over your bad business process and your disconnected data, and not understanding the customer. It won’t fix any of those things.
However, it can be a wonderful accelerant for the things that you’re already trying to solve. And so, AI is huge. AI is going to be huge. We believe in it strongly at Acqueon. Conversational intelligence to guide agents to better conversations is one tool that we’re using. We’re also analyzing the data in our Customer Engagement Data Platform with AI to help find those business insights.
Those are all steps to help you move in that direction to solve those business problems that you already have.
I like that. It’s all about people, process, and technology, right? That’s the trifecta.
Using conversational intelligence as an example, at Acqueon, that’s our AiQ product: real-time agent guidance and coaching. The technology is incredible, right? I don’t think it’s hard to argue that, but without the agent, without the supervisor, the coaching mechanism isn’t as effective. Then, there’s the process you wrap around at implementation…those three pieces have to work together.
I see what you mean about AI in and of itself not being the answer. You need to apply the people and the process with that technology. There’s some magic there. That’s a game-changer.
So, if you had to give everyone here one piece of advice in terms of their customer experience or customer engagement strategy, what’s something they can implement or action this year? What might be a piece of advice you’d recommend (or would urge) everyone to focus on this year?
What I would do is: think about your top priorities, right? What are your top priorities for the next 12 months or 18 months?
Then, think about the data you already have in your organization, and look for the overlap of those two things. Where does the data that I have in my organization, whether I’m using it today or not, where does that overlap with how it can help my top priorities?
As part of that journey, you may be looking at tools like AI, you may be looking at tools like integration systems or some version of a CDP, like our Customer Engagement Data Platform, or others. The idea is you already have this data.
You can and should have your priorities top of mind for the next 12 or 18 months. There’s an overlap between those two things. If you look for that overlap, it can be a guiding factor to help move you in the right direction on where to get started or how to make progress right now without necessarily bringing in some huge new system or dramatically changing things.
“Realize the value of the things you already have, see where those connect to where you’re trying to go, and then get started.”
Takeaways and What To Do Next
During the webinar we polled our audience, all Acqueon customers and partners to gauge progress using or implementing AI including Conversational Intelligence such as real time Agent Assistance, as well as to find out how well everyone is leveraging customer data. Not surprisingly, the majority of respondents shared early to mid-process progress in their AI and customer data usage journey. The opportunity for putting AI and customer data to work in the contact center is huge and if done correctly represents transformative opportunities ahead. Low hanging fruit opportunities:
- Outbound advanced campaign automation with built-in compliance
- Real-time Agent Guidance & Real-time Agent Coaching
- True omnichannel for outbound contact center campaigns, and using automated campaign workflows and rules to ensure all customer outreach channels (voice, SMS, email) all speak to each other
If the unique customer data you own isn’t working for you, and if AI isn’t helping you do more with less, lower operating costs and generate more revenue, you’re missing the boat. Don’t spend 2023 playing catchup; instead, get proactive about growth through data and AI in the contact center this year!
See How Acqueon Can Help You Leverage the Data You Already Have.
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