How to make phone conversations with customers better


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Despite the introduction of all sorts of new technology, a myriad of new channels and a host of self-service options, when things go wrong, get complicated or become difficult for customers most of them will want to pick up the phone and talk to another human being.

That behaviour makes phone conversations an integral and hugely important part of the whole customer experience, whether the conversations take place at the beginning (sales), middle (service) or the end (renewal) of the customer’s journey.

However, the problem with phone conversations is that they don’t always go as well as companies or customers would like. And,  following a phone conversation it’s not uncommon to hear phrases like:

“I don’t think they understood my problem”

“I’m not sure they were really listening”

“It felt like they were more interested in selling me something rather than fixing my problem”

“I didn’t get what I needed”

“They didn’t solve my problem”

“It all felt a bit rushed”

So, in the midst of all the new and exciting technology that is emerging, it’s exciting to see some technologists turning their attention to phone conversations and how companies can use advanced technology like artificial intelligence (AI), behavioural science, analytics and deep learning to help companies improve the conversations they have with their customers.

Here are a couple of examples of two firms that I have come across in the last few weeks that are using advanced technology, in different ways and at different parts of the customer journey, to help improve conversations with customers.

The first is Cogito, an MIT spin-out, that was co-founded by Joshua Feast and Dr Alex Pentland (MIT Media Laboratory and the author of the best-selling book: Social Physics). Based on Dr Pentland’s social signals research, Cogito has developed AI technology that delivers real-time emotional intelligence feedback to customer service professionals.

The way their technology works is that whilst an agent is on the phone with a customer, the software analyses the conversation and offers real-time practical guidance, via a little text message type screen on their desktop, on how the agent can make the conversation run more smoothly. For example, during the conversation the software might tell the agent if they are speaking too fast, if they are speaking too much, if they are interrupting a lot, if they are not listening, if they are adopting the right tone etc etc but it will also tell them what to do about it too.

In terms of the sort of impact the technology is having, Cogito worked with Humana, a health insurer, on their senior care service programme. Initially, they piloted their software with a small group of agents and found that those that were equipped with the Cogito software generated a 28% higher customer satisfaction rate over the course of 3-4 months than those that were not equipped with the software. Moreover, over the same time period, the employee engagement rate for the pilot group improved by 66%.

The second company is ExecVision, that was co-founded by David Stillman and Steve Richard, based on their own experience and frustrations with the performance of sales and customer success teams. As a result, they have developed a call tracking/voice analytics platform that is being used by customer success and contact centre teams to provide insights, training, monitoring and improvement of inside sales staff.

What that means, in practice, is that their platform is using using artificial intelligence to identify speech patterns and extract meaning from calls. The calls are also scored across a number of areas and areas for improvement and coaching are identified.

In terms of what sort of impact their technology is having, ExecVision’s clients report a range of benefits including 25% more revenue in less than 90 days for one sales team, 35% increases in productivity and conversion for another whilst another team reported a 144% year on year growth in their sales pipeline.

Now, both firms’ technologies are both exciting and offer companies fast ways of helping companies have better conversations with their customers. But, what their applications also show is that in a world where it can feel like technology’s sole aim is to replace people, their technologies show what can be achieved when we use the latest technology to enable people.

This post was originally published on my column here.
Photo Credit: ukCWCS Flickr via Compfight cc

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


  1. Very interesting developments. Is there any suggestion of measuring agent adherence to the AI feedback?

    I’m wondering if responsiveness to real-time input could become a new performance metric.

  2. Hi Jack, thanks for your comment. I’m not sure that agent adherence is a big issue right now given the difference in results between pilot and control groups. The pilot groups have generated 28% higher customer satisfaction rates over the course of 3-4 months and 66% higher employee engagement rates over the same period.

    Moreover, i’m wondering if the contact centre and the people that work in contact centres need or would appreciate another performance metric.



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