Simon Horton, vice president of sales at Sangoma Europe, spoke to Comms Business about how small and medium businesses are using contact centres and what innovations are on the horizon.
Comms Business Magazine (CBM): What has changed for small and medium business contact centres over the course of this year?
Simon Horton (SH): “First of all, because we all had to work from home, agents have had to be remote. So utilising a base Unified Communication system has been key, because Unified Communication systems enable your laptop and/or smartphone to use your same business phone number for incoming and outcoming calls. You can be remote and use the same business phone number, so no one knows you are not in the office. Essential these days.
“We have the basic contact centre functionality included in our base product for free. Features we’ve been asked about include music on hold, call back, callback when available, call queues, having inbound callers hang-up while in queue and still retain their position in line.
“These features enable better customer service and even make your company look bigger to the outside world. All of this can be routed to a business phone number, which can be your desk phone and/or your smartphone – so you can handle customer service calls remotely as well.”
CBM: How is artificial intelligence impacting the contact centre?
SH: “Utilising and analysing all the data that is becoming available to a contact centre has brought Artificial Intelligence concepts to the contact centre platform. As Artificial Intelligence gets integrated, the business communication system can start making decisions based on context, past similar decision history, etc. One of the earliest examples of this is in call centers with keyword spotting and change of tone of the speaker, for something called “sentiment analysis”. Essentially, the computer could determine if you were upset when talking to an agent so you could be handed off to a more experience person. With enough data from thousands and thousands of past calls, the computer decides when you are upset, or about to be upset. So what’s next?
“More and more speech technology integration into the contact centre. Speech technology has been around for some time, and most of us are now used to it because of Siri. But it is not really into our business communication systems currently except for specific IVR use cases. The simple ‘talk to me’ instead of hitting buttons to drive through an IVR menu gave way to more and more computer driven tasks. And it was OK because you as the IVR caller were getting through the menu and you didn’t have to wait. But you always knew it was a computer because it sounded that way …probably on purpose. However, these more simplistic chats have evolved greatly and today, it is very possible you are having a conversation with a computer and you do not even know it. I see this moving forward this year more and more.”
CBM: How are chatbot technologies progressing?
SH: “Probably a computer that sounds like a native language speaker. In other words a sophisticated chatbot. This chatbot will engage you more, and take you further down the discussion as time goes on. Chances are you have talked to a chatbot and did not even know it. I once was talking to a person who gave very robotic answers and so I asked “are you a chatbot”. It took some time to answer and it said “no, I am not a chatbot”. What a bizarre response cycle. So yes, it was a chatbot. But it was a good one and I didn’t care because it got me what I needed.
“Like most contact center innovations, chatbots have been driven by the oxymoronic need to both reduce costs and provide better service. And as speech recognition and text to speech programs and computing power have both improved and come down in cost, the advent of computer driven speech into the contact center occurred. In fact, right now, both Google’s and Microsoft’s speech recognition claim to be 95% accurate, which happens to be as accurate as a human brain.”