Public Enemy and getting practical with AI in the contact centre – Interview with Mikhail Naumov

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Don't believe the hype

Today’s interview is with Mikhail Naumov, Co-Founder & President of DigitalGenius, a venture backed artificial intelligence (AI) company based in San Francisco & London. Digital Genius is focused on eliminating the mindless work customer service teams often have to deal with on a day to day basis so that they can focus on complex issues that technology, like a bot can’t handle. Mikhail has also just published a book: AI Is My Friend: A Practical Guide for Contact Centers. As result, Mikhail joins me today to talk AI, contact centres, hype, reality and the new book.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Corporate Rebels and their bucket list show how to create inspiring workplaces – Interview with Pim de Morree – and is number 244 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Highlights from my conversation with Mikhail:

  • Digital Genius is using deep learning algorithms to help to eliminate many of the mundane and mindless tasks that teams in contact centres face on a daily basis.
  • They have been on their journey for the past four years and have spent a significant part of that time ‘living’ in contact centres so that they could answer the following question:
    • How do we apply AI and machine learning to the contact centre in a way that delivers practical value?
  • I was introduced to Mikhail via Minter Dial. Check out Minter’s Myndset podcast.
  • Mikhail has also just published a book: AI Is My Friend: A Practical Guide for Contact Centers, which he describes as a guide from the trenches and one that came about from their experience over the last 4 years.
  • There is a lot of hype in the service and experience space when it comes to AI.
  • There are three things that are enabling the big advances in AI taking place right now.
    • The first is access to large amounts of historical data that AI models can learn from.
    • The second is the access to and efficiency of new hardware that facilitates the processing of large amounts of data that is required to help AI systems learn, and
    • Thirdly, advances in the AI algorithms themselves.
  • AI is an over arching concept and robotics and automation are more specific applications of AI.
  • AI is being put into two broad buckets right now. It is either a threat to jobs, the economy, society or the individual or a super-power in that it will help us and will be the tool that helps bring about the next industrial revolution.
  • We are already using AI every day when it comes to things like image recognition or how we search for things and more often than not we take it for granted.
  • Mikhail believes that AI is a super-power and it can hep unlock efficiencies, specifically in contact centres, that will help them compete in the future.
  • There is so much talk about AI in the marketplace it makes me think of Public Enemy’s song: Don’t Believe The Hype.
  • Amongst all of the hype is the question: How close are companies to being able to realise their AI visions and how many of them have practically and successfully applied AI technology to help them deliver better service? The answer to those questions remain to be seen.
  • The adoption of a new technology takes time e.g. look at the development and maturity of CRM systems.
  • AI is going to prove itself over the next 5-10 years.
  • However, the difference between AI and other new technologies that we have seen in the past is that AI continuously learns and as it does it will have an increasingly significant and accelerated impact on business.
  • Digital Genius’ technology is powering over 30 contact centres for global brands around the world.
  • Whenever, Mikhail meets a new prospective customer he asks two questions:
    • 1. On a scale of 1-10, what sort of impact do you think AI will have on your operations? (Invariably, the answer is 7 or above).
    • 2. In what span of time do you expect to see these changes happening? Digital Genius look for answers that are something like ‘in 1-2 years time’. However, they are often faced with answers go something like: ‘If we don’t do this know then we will fall behind’.
  • That implies urgency but also, possibly, unrealistic expectations and a misunderstanding of how the technology works and can be applied.
  • Before talking to an AI vendor, Mikhail recommends that contact centre leaders start by doing an audit of all of the baseline customer service systems that they use today and then look at their own metrics/numbers.
  • If you don’t have the right volumes of data coming into your contact centre then it is unlikely you will get great benefit out of an AI system as there won’t be enough data to train the AI system on.
  • Mikhail reckons that if your contact centre has at a minimum of a couple of hundred agents then it is likely that you will have enough data to get value out of implementing a system like Digital Genius.
  • That being said, the smallest company that they have worked with had just 10 agents.
  • However, with lower volumes of data it does have an impact on how quickly the system learns and also how quickly value is realised.
  • Ultimately Mikhail reckons contact centre leaders need to get better informed about what they want from technology for their business. That means getting to a point where they can say to vendors something like “I have a 100,000 cases a month and the average handle time is 7 mins. I need to get that down to 4 mins because if I do it will save me X millions of dollars. What can you offer me that will help me achieve that goal?”
  • To make their work real, Mikhail cites a couple of client examples:
    • KLM, already an innovator in the social customer service space, found that when they opened new channels (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp) their contact centre was flooded with inbound enquiries. They used the DigitalGenius AI system to help their hundreds of agents become more productive (e.g. by classifying cases, searching knowledge bases etc) and avoid many of the things that they don’t like doing. KLM has had this software running for over a year and, in that time, they have experienced a nearly 35% increase in efficiency.
    • Aylesbury Vale District Council is one of the first local government bodies in the UK that has implemented AI in their contact centre operations to help their residents get better, faster service. Their challenge was both to reduce the amount of time that residents had to wait for their questions to be answered and increase the efficiency of the contact centre in a lower funding environment. Digital Genius’ technology automatically routes cases and predicts case metadata like tags, classes and reason codes. It works in any language and across multiple channels and when an agent receives a new question, they are automatically presented with an AI-suggested response to save time. This has helped the residents services team to now be able to respond to enquiries within three to five minutes, compared to eight minutes (an average reduction of response time of around 50%) before the DigitalGenius implementation.
  • You would never expect an accountant to be able to do their job without a calculator. In future, you will never expect a contact centre agent to do their job without being enabled by AI-powered systems.
  • A chatbot is a channel through which we can have autonomous conversations between brands and customers.
  • Chatbots can get lumped into the same conversation as AI and machine learning.
  • However, many of the chatbots out there right now are not powered by AI or machine learning but, rather, are only powered by rule based and scripted systems. They can be effective in narrow use cases but are not comparable when it comes to facilitating end to end solutions.
  • Wow service for Mikhail is epitomised by an experience he had with Zappos and why he considers them to be one of the best, if not the best, when it comes to delivering great service. When he called an agent answered his call very quickly and said with great enthusiasm “Good morning. It’s a wonderful day today here at Zappos. How may I help you?” That speed, effeiciency, enthusiasm and obvious investment in people was thing that wow’ed Mikhail.
  • Business is a very human experience, especially customer service.
  • So, if you want to win. Invest in your people.
  • Huge shout out to all customer service professionals who spend each and every day trying to help their customers.
  • Don’t forget to check out Mikhail’s book: AI Is My Friend: A Practical Guide for Contact Centers.

About Mikhail

Mikhail NaumovMikhail Naumov is the Co-founder and President & CSO of DigitalGenius, a venture backed artificial intelligence company based in San Francisco & London.

Its Human+AI Customer Service Platform combines the best of human and machine intelligence enabling companies to deliver on increasing customer expectations. At its core are deep-learning algorithms, which are trained on historical customer service transcripts and integrated directly into the contact center’s existing software. Once enabled, the platform automates and increases the quality and efficiency of customer service & support conversations across text-based communication channels like email, chat, social media and mobile messaging.

At DigitalGenius, Mikhail is responsible for bringing practical applications of deep learning to the customer service operations of growing companies.

Mikhail is a frequent speaker on topics of emerging technology, AI & entrepreneurship, and has been recognized on the “Forbes 30 Under 30” list for Enterprise Technology.

Find out more about Digital Genius at www.digitalgenius.com, say Hi to the folks at Digital Genius and Mikhail on Twitter @DigitalGeniusAI and @MikhailNaumov and connect with Mikhail on LinkedIn here.

Thanks to nchenga for the image.

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