July 27, 2021

Digital Labor With Cognitive Capability

Leadership Series: A conversation with Dean Nelson of Virtual Power Systems.

By Softensity

In her latest interview for our Leadership Series, Softensity’s Monika Mueller sat down with  Virtual Power Systems CEO Dean Nelson to discuss how emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence can help alleviate degraded customer service in a post-pandemic world. Digital labor with cognitive capability is no longer aspirational. The technology is here today, and it’s currently in use for millions of calls and chats on a daily basis.

Customer Service Reaches a Tipping Point

Pre-pandemic, customer expectations for efficient service were at an all-time high. Then came COVID-19, and a tidal wave of disruptions that stressed customer service operations like never before. “The whole world suddenly said, ‘I need somebody to help me’ … the influx was massive,” explains Nelson. Call centers were positively overwhelmed as millions of people around the globe dialed in to change flights, cancel reservations, check bank accounts and beyond.

The result? Immense difficulty getting through to an agent, which led to customer dissatisfaction, endless frustration — and in Mueller’s case, a 9-hour wait time to change a flight. “We just don’t have enough people that have enough skill sets in the right time zone to be able to answer that volume,” says Nelson. “And the pandemic really showed the weakness.”

The answer, according to Nelson, is not more people on the other end of the calls, but artificial intelligence. “We need digital labor that has the cognitive capability to be able to act like a human,” he says. He estimates that this technology could solve the issue of volume by answering 90 to 95 percent of all inbound calls.

What About Chatbots?

As most of us know from experience, not all digital assistants are created equal. Cognitive AI is very different from a chatbot, which is based on a formulaic system of input and response. In reality, this type of singular thinking is not how the human brain works. The human mind takes turns at every step, and chatbots are simply not able to keep up.

Artificial intelligence, however, has the ability to factor in context and intent, and to shift gears to handle multiple queries. This allows callers to tackle disparate tasks one after the other without having to be revalidated, or transferred to a different agent. For example, a banking customer can check their account balance, and then transfer money from one account to another — all without having to start over at the beginning. Digital colleagues can even understand human emotion, which improves the overall customer experience.

Digital Colleagues Are a Scalable Solution

Digital labor is a convenient way for companies to streamline human interactions on a large scale, from the customer service center to the IT help desk. Rise in call volume? “You can easily add 10,000 digital agents,” says Nelson. “Regardless of time zone, regardless of issues — it could truly ebb and flow as needed … you can do a lot more with a lot fewer people.” 

This type of scalable service not only saves time and money, it supports consistency and enhances security. Available today, the advanced technology has already proven itself in the marketplace. Companies like Amelia provide digital labor that you can download like an app. Digital colleagues are pre-programmed with various skill sets, from HR to IT.

Beyond solving the type of volume emergencies that the pandemic created, digital labor with cognitive capabilities can have a positive impact on customer service that translates directly to a higher Net Promoter Score (NPS). And when a digital colleague can’t handle a question? It transfers the caller to a live agent — and learns a new skill that it can handle directly the next time it comes up. The skills and capabilities of a digital colleague grow organically as it learns.

The Human Impact

Nelson hypothesizes that 58 percent of jobs in the next 10 years are going to be impacted by digital labor with AI capabilities. It’s inevitable that call center professionals will eventually be displaced by intelligent digital bots, so what’s a company — or a service professional — to do? Nelson points to historical trends that show a connection between job displacement and the creation of new jobs that come out of the emerging technology. 

He encourages the workforce that could be affected to start thinking about developing other skill sets. A call center manager, for example, could become a back-end manager for the call center system. They could proactively learn skills like how to tune and scale this type of digital labor.

Companies need to keep it human as well, says Nelson. How? By helping employees retool their skills, and by creating new paths and roles for those that are likely to be affected. “Companies need to have a heart,” he says. “Understand, plan and manage, because in the end, everybody gets better from doing that.”

Watch the full interview to learn more about how this fascinating new technology can impact your business.

About Dean Nelson

Dean Nelson is the CEO of Virtual Power Systems, which helps call centers and cloud providers optimize power capacity. Nelson estimates that of a baseline 35,000 megawatts of power, nearly 10,000 megawatts are actually stranded. Virtual Power Systems’ groundbreaking Software-Defined Power® Intelligent Control of Energy® (ICE) technology platform solves this problem by utilizing machine learning and predictive analytics to unlock trapped and underutilized power.

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