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It’s happened to all of us who fly regularly — a flight is delayed, causing a chain reaction of missed connections. A call to the airline to rebook flights is equally frustrating. The agent doesn’t know the details of your current flight situation, is unfamiliar with the airport you are flying from or through and has limited information about your travel preferences to be of true assistance. No one goes away happy from the experience.

But what happens when you add artificial intelligence (AI) into the mix? Cisco’s Cognitive and Collaborative AI solution can listen to the conversation between a customer and an airline agent and then generate information pertinent to that customer. Through the power of AI, Cisco Answers displays information that will allow the agent to offer stylized options for the customer — for example, if the most optimal flight for the customer’s needs includes a very long layover, a discounted lounge pass is offered. But wait, the AI-generated results warn that the lounge at that airport may be closed for repair. Because the agent desktop includes built-in collaboration capabilities, the agent can have a quick chat with the right resource at the airport to get an answer about the lounge’s availability; the answer arrives within seconds. And finally, the system allows the agent to offer the customer an upgrade to first class for the inconvenience of the delayed flight. Because of data analytics and AI, the agent knows the customer’s background and purchase history with the airline and can provide highly tailored service to the customer. The agent is informed, and the customer is satisfied with the airline. It’s a win-win for everybody.

AI is a top-of-mind-topic for C-level execs — they may not completely understand it, but they know it’s a technology that could transform their business in virtually all areas, but especially in how they interact with their customers.

A business enabler

Cisco recognizes the importance of customer experience. The organization is the top North American provider of customer contact centers with over 3 million agents installed globally.

The employees at contact centers are the front line of any organization. When customers make contact with a business, it’s the contact center they reach first and in some cases, the contact center may be the only touch-point they have with a company.

The contact center has long provided automated help for customers, with websites and algorithms that can offer answers quickly. AI can run those processes much faster and more accurately, thereby providing better answers for customers. But AI goes even further. Now, when a customer interacts with a chat bot, that interaction is almost human. The motivation behind this move to AI in customer contact centers is a combination of better and faster service, convenience with customer self-service, higher agent productivity, and sometimes, lower costs.

But this type of technology risks alienating customers if you don’t deploy it thoughtfully, said Zack Taylor, the director of strategic communications for Customer Journey Solutions at Cisco. You need to ensure careful proofs of concept, limited scopes, and making sure you are solving a very definable problem for the business.

AI is often most effective when combined with a strong human element. When people contact customer service, it’s because they have a problem. A bot can write “I’m sorry there’s a problem,” but it lacks human empathy and understanding of why the problem upsets the customer. “Customer service is all about feelings and emotions,” said Taylor. AI isn’t quite there yet with empathy, so AI and humans work together to create the optimal customer experience. The AI delivers personalized information for the customer while the human agent provides compassion for the situation.

“The automation on the front end will help qualify those interactions that need additional assistance or completely handle those that are simple enough and can get done quickly and easily and be automated 100 percent,” said Taylor. “But eventually you will get something multi-variable that requires a human to make a determination.”

But AI is there on the backend, funneling relevant content to the agent to have the right information at their fingertips. “AI is longitudinal and will show up in many places over time,” Taylor added.

Cognitive and collaborative customer interactions

Effective AI solutions should shape the customer experience in a positive way. It should take advantage of the vast amounts of data you already have about individual customers, which will enhance the contact center agent’s ability to provide meaningful responses, while also making their job less stressful.

Cisco’s cognitive and collaborative AI solution applies intelligence and learning to the data accumulated in the contact center and other areas of the business to provide better outcomes for the customer, explained Vasili Triant, Cisco’s general manager and vice president of Customer Journey Solutions. The solution combines AI with cloud data analytics.

“This means you’ll be able to leverage all the data across your entire organization, beyond the contact center, to gain valuable insights about your customers’ behaviors, so you can understand them better and provide more highly personalized care that will improve their loyalty and lifetime value,” Triant wrote.

The traditional contact center has always been reactive, with the agent responding to the customer’s needs. Through data analytics, agents have context of the customer, and that immediately allows for a better, more personalized, interaction. Through AI and data analytics, businesses can predict customer behavior and needs and be proactive in its response.

For example, if a customer spends time on a web page, instead of waiting for them to call in, the analytics tell you that they prefer interacting through a text message over a phone call and the company can proactively reach out to provide assistance.

AI won’t solve all of your customer’s problems, but it will help you quantify their needs in a way that provides a more tailored experience. “By leveraging your customer data to its fullest, you can empower your agents to provide more cognitive, personalized care,” Triant stated. “Which in turn helps you build deeper, more meaningful relationships with your customers.”

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