Strength in Partners: Implementing AI to Address a Global Pandemic

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Call centers encumbered by worker questions and battling safe policies are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

The effects of the COVID-19 virus and the accompanying global pandemic have changed the way the world does business.

The year 2020 has been wrought with change and has transformed the way citizens engage, act, and work. Citizens need rapid and reliable information sources in real-time to protect their livelihoods and the way they conduct business. This paradigm shift has caused businesses to turn to digital channels to support their customers’ experience – given many are unable to work in their standard offices, and customers are more likely to engage online or with curbside pickup for services. 

See also: States Deploy Chatbots to Meet COVID Demands

These changes happened quickly, and organizations caught off guard are looking for ways to support a remote workforce without the skills, know-how, or resources to do so. The push to the cloud has helped alleviate these issues, serving as the bedrock for cognitive technology to address the pressing questions on everyone’s mind: “Where can I get tested?”, “How do I safely return to work?” or “What is the latest research treatment for the virus?” Call centers encumbered by these questions and battling safe policies for their workers have found an answer through the application of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies like those available at IBM and Waterfield Technologies.

The adoption of AI in the contact center has long been a topic of discussion. With spikes in call volume, businesses are now looking to obtain a cost-efficient and intelligent way to address their customers ‘most pressing issues. AI solutions are fueling traditional self-service approaches while also incorporating chatbots and live agent support, all in an effort to create a seamless journey for customers while providing them with the support and agility they need. There are three key areas to address when it comes to incorporating AI and address the new digital world of delivering services:

  1. Self-Service IVR: Traditional IVR self-service offers a more static approach with simple FAQ type Q&A that help customers with basic questions and get their needs met.  With AI-driven solutions, self-service can quickly extend into a more proactive and intelligent interaction for customers, driven by past behavior or preferences in order to deliver a more relevant and personalized interaction.
  2. AI-infused Virtual Assistants: Leveraging AI technology enables businesses to better understand customer requests and behaviors in an effort to deliver a more personalized and relevant experience.  There are a few key components that give AI the ability to truly provide unique and intelligent interactions.  Natural Language Understanding (NLU) AI provides a richer understanding of what the customer ‘means’ not just what they said.  Combined with Data Integration, collected customer information from prior conversations and transactions, enabling a Virtual Assistant to offer more than just simple answers to questions, allowing customers the ability to get more complex business done without the need for live agent support. 
  3. AI to support agent performance and resolution: There are times when live agent support is necessary. The key is to ensure that the conversation continues without interruption (and certainly not with the need to repeat any of the prior conversations/interactions) and that the transition is seamless to the customer. In addition, AI-infused support enables agents to gain additional insight with next best actions or further view data/knowledge collected regarding the situation or customer that enable the agent to quickly and efficiently resolve the customer issue.

However, it is not just the technology that enables this change. It is a partnership – with customers and among the market leaders. The partnership between IBM and Waterfield Technologies represents the strength of technology and services providers: both companies have years of practiced implementation to enable, augment, and service these technologies to best fit the customer need. Amidst a pandemic, governments, healthcare providers, educational services, and commercial companies have been able to use IBM and Waterfield Technologies to:

  • Migrate a majority of their day to day workload to the cloud, resulting in a significant cost reduction in human capital and reduced risk for infection for those workers;
  • Modernize and upskill their workforce with the latest in cognitive and artificial intelligence to retain customer loyalty and ensure citizens have the answers they need;
  • Deploy production-ready, 24/7, solutions to provide anyone anywhere answers to the pressing questions about COVID-19.

When considering how best to incorporate AI technology into the customer experience, the key is to start with small capabilities and build upon that over time.  Businesses must look at how best to prioritize and create a more phased approach in deploying AI solutions either to chatbots or to support agent engagement.  Often businesses will opt to conduct a very specific Proof of Concept (POC), not only to prove out the technology but also to demonstrate the ROI of incorporating AI into the customer journey. Putting intelligent use of AI into the customer journey and enabling them to self-serve effectively can be easy and cost-effective with the right technologies.

IBM’s Data and AI Expert Labs and Waterfield Technologies have had success, from startups to Fortune 100 companies, designing pathways to guide their customers to success through three core areas:

Education: IBM’s Expert Labs takes a customer-centric approach to education, understanding the needs of the business and its people, and tailoring learning to maximize skill growth. With years of practiced experience, IBM provides multiple channels through which anyone in the business can learn and implement best practices for AI.

Waterfield Technologies has a team of experts to assess and uncover areas of opportunity for incorporating new technologies like visual IVR, collaboration, artificial intelligence, or simply to discover quick-hit areas to improve a caller’s experience with speech or natural language self-service.  We evaluate the total overall impact and ROI for implementing.

Consulting: IBM has years of experience on the forefront of software, middleware, and hardware technologies – providing customers with timely, flexible, technical assistance and mentoring to clients when they need it and how they’d want it delivered. Coupling business goals to subject matter experts with years of experience providing technical advice, diagnostic coaching, allows businesses to focus on their strategic imperatives and customer experience for their technology infrastructure. IBM’s Expert Labs has professionals strategically positioned to deliver and guide organizations on their journey to AI and the hybrid cloud – continuing to deliver the best practices even amidst a global pandemic.

Waterfield Technologies uses a consultative approach that delivers a holistic approach to designing and delivering contact center solutions that best fit business requirements.  Our consulting services are focused on discovering the unique needs of customers business challenges and offers a best of breed approach to creating a complete solution.  Waterfield Technologies experts analyze operational, agent, and end-customer data to gain a full picture of the organizational challenges. 

Solutioning: IBM’s global experts have a multitude of specialized skills and expertise, leveraging a user-centric, business-objective approach to problems, IBM’s Expert Labs drive client business value throughout all stages of the technology lifecycle. By focusing on rapid and accurate responses, IBM was able to deliver hundreds of solutions to organizations globally tailored to rapid and accurate responses for pressing questions related to COVID-19. IBM’s Expert Labs work with customers to create a tailored journey designed to collect, organize, analyze, and infuse AI into organizations’ existing business workflows.

Waterfield Technologies provides the best design services in the industry, creating unique personalized applications that align with the customer’s brand and culture of service while accommodating the customer’s behaviors, preferences, and needs. The development and implementation process puts that design into practice, taking advantage of proven deployment methodology with the tools and technology integration components to accelerate that deployment. Additionally, Waterfield Technologies focuses on ensuring the long-term success of its customers through technical support, offering tuning, and a wide range of managed services allowing customers to focus on their core competencies and internal objectives.

The partnership between IBM and Waterfield Technologies represents a union of skills, experience, and technologies best suited to meet the pressing needs of organizations in a world mired by COVID-19. Together IBM and Waterfield Technologies have combined experience to help create the right strategy to provide accurate information, retain customer loyalty, drive longer-term strategies about customer experience, and deliver data-driven insights that offer personalized and relevant services for customers. Today’s world is chaotic, and without clear guidance about implementation of the AI technologies that can be used to mitigate the challenges of misinformation or lack of clairvoyant information, many organizations will struggle to retain their customers, and many people will struggle to manage how they respond to this pandemic. The joint team of IBM and Waterfield Technologies is providing the necessary services to address the most pressing technological needs today. 

This article was co-authored by Zach Eslami, Austin Eovito, Cynthia Stryker, and Kimberley Drobny.

Zachariah Eslami

About Zachariah Eslami

Zach is currently a Services Implementation Leader at IBM for artificial intelligence and data science technologies. His focus has been working to figure out how we can teach clients best practices around AI solution development and fostering adoption of the tech into existing workflows. Prior to working in implementations, Zach worked two years in AI product management and a year in strategy consulting at the Beacon Group. Zach graduated from Colby College with a double major in Physics and Music with distinction. In his free time, he enjoys playing tennis, photography, and playing piano.

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