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Vistio Executive Interview

Gregg Antenen, co-founder and Executive Director, Vistio

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Gregg Antenen, co-founder and Executive Director of Vistio, discusses their unique approach to call center optimization with Sheri Greenhaus, Managing Partner of CrmXchange. Antenen highlights their focus on enhancing agent experience and shares how their innovative tools, ServiceSim and AgentHub, are making a significant impact on reducing attrition rates and improving call center operations. Their solutions are designed to maximize the value of every agent, whether they’re in training or they are seasoned professionals.

Sheri Greenhaus: Let's begin with an overarching view of the company.

Gregg Antenen: Our journey spans a remarkable 25 years. Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to partner with a colleague, and together, we've orchestrated the development of four startups. Our modus operandi has always been centered around identifying a need in the market, building companies to fulfill that need, and subsequently attracting potential buyers.

Our initial foray into the world of innovation revolved around decisions automation. We melded scoring algorithms with unique datasets, which were immediately accessible. This journey commenced with TransUnion, a credit bureau with copious data resources. The challenge lies in making this data available for swift decision-making. Hence, we embarked on the path of decision automation and instant decisions, leveraging these data sets to enhance the speed and quality of decision-making.

Our first venture in this domain targeted the property and casualty insurance sector, revolutionizing underwriting decisions. This success led us to our second startup, where we harnessed similar capabilities but in a different context. Here, we integrated these capabilities to streamline decision automation, specifically focusing on life and health insurance and risk assessment within the health insurance industry. Our efforts primarily revolved around back-office data integration.

Building upon this foundation, we extended these concepts into call centers approximately 16 years ago. Our focus shifted to interactions between agents and customers, particularly those seeking to purchase or modify products. Our expertise extended to conducting comprehensive health risk assessments, using interview techniques and conversation methodologies, followed by decision-making based on the acquired information. This transition was pivotal, especially during the shift from traditional underwriting to the era of Obamacare, where understanding individual risk became imperative.

We were pioneers in this field, having doctors and nurses manning the phones as early as 2009. Following a series of acquisitions in 2016-17, we realized that the complex interview techniques we employed in health insurance were like the challenges faced by customer care representatives across various industries. We recognized that agents, regardless of the sector they served, required augmentation with tools and processes to excel in their roles.

This realization marked the inception of Vistio in 2018, with our initial success story in the utility industry. Our primary objective was to assist agents in navigating intricate transactions, often involving new service setups and compliance adherence. This approach, which we had perfected in the realms of health insurance and utilities, proved invaluable in training agents to tackle a myriad of customer inquiries and challenges. Our unique capability enabled us to guide agents comprehensively, from the moment they answered a call until they concluded their post-call activities, automating as much of the process as possible. 

Sheri Greenhaus: Let's delve deeper into this transformation. With the emergence of Large Language Models (LLMs) many organizations are leveraging automation to assist their agents. What is your approach?

Gregg Antenen: What we've observed is that the low-hanging fruit, the easy tasks, are already being handled through websites or chatbots. What this essentially means is that agents are left with the truly complex problems to solve. In this context, our guidance becomes even more crucial. So, instead of automating the agent away, we've turned the tables by using LLMs to simulate customer interactions, effectively making the LLM the "customer." This approach allows agents to practice and improve their skills.

What we've recently discovered is that there's a significant gap between what companies need to train their agents effectively and the methods they currently employ. Often, traditional training involves presenting a lot of information and then having agents conduct one or two mock calls. This approach doesn't provide agents with ample practice, and they're bound to make mistakes when they finally engage with real customers. Our solution is to offer agents extensive practice across various call scenarios by simulating customer interactions. This approach is reshaping the entire structure of agent training.

Sheri Greenhaus: So, it's not just about training; it's also about simulation and agent guidance.

Gregg Antenen: Absolutely. Agent guidance has always been at the core of our approach. When we decided to incorporate AI into our solution, the question was how to utilize it effectively. While it's possible to automate calls with chatbots, there are limitations with large language models. They can make errors, go off-topic, or lack an understanding of a company's internal processes. However, what large language models excel at is simulating customer behavior by asking questions and seeking information.

Sheri Greenhaus: Does one aspect of your product seamlessly complement the other? Are you essentially building the guide while creating the training system? Does the system learn and adapt based on agent interactions?

Gregg Antenen: You've hit the nail on the head. Our training and guidance systems are intricately linked. As agents progress through their training, they encounter various scenarios they may encounter in real calls. This exposure helps them become more comfortable and familiar with what they might face when they're on the phone with actual customers. The guide becomes second nature to them because they've already encountered similar situations during their training.

Sheri Greenhaus: It sounds like your ServiceSim plays a pivotal role in getting companies to fine-tune their processes. Does it help identify areas where agents might need more training?

Gregg Antenen: Indeed, ServiceSim is instrumental in refining processes. Often, companies believe they have their processes down, but when we delve into the details of how they want interactions to unfold and handle various scenarios, they may realize there are gaps in their understanding. ServiceSim allows agents to practice based on their knowledge base, and we track the interactions they have with the simulator. We then summarize these interactions for the company, highlighting areas where agents may need more training. It's an eye-opener for many organizations.

Sheri Greenhaus: When it comes to the agents themselves, do you find that your customers are working with top-tier agents, or does your system help develop them over time?

Gregg Antenen: Our system caters to a range of agents, from those in training to seasoned professionals. In the training phase, we take agents through various modules, gradually introducing them to different scenarios. They start with soft skills like empathy and progressively add complexities, such as handling billing inquiries. This progressive learning setup is quick and efficient. We can set up companies with hundreds of call scenarios in just a few days, allowing them to train on these scenarios rapidly. The key is ensuring that every step of the process is well-documented, which often requires a deep dive into the company's specific needs and processes.

Sheri Greenhaus: It's clear that your approach is all about understanding the unique needs of each organization and tailoring your solution accordingly. Can companies make adjustments themselves if something changes, or is it more efficient for you to handle these changes?

Gregg Antenen: While companies could make adjustments themselves, it's usually more efficient for us to handle them. Our team is well-versed in the intricacies of our system, and we can swiftly implement any necessary changes. Companies can focus on their core operations, and we take care of the configuration. In emergencies, we can make changes almost instantly. In the five years we've been doing this, we haven't encountered any issues with this approach.

Sheri Greenhaus: Are all these adjustments included in the licensing fee?

Gregg Antenen: Yes, indeed. Our goal is to make our clients as efficient as possible, and we intentionally designed our pricing model to ensure they can use the software to its fullest extent without worrying about additional costs. We've been on the receiving end of hefty hourly fees for software changes in the past, and we want to avoid putting our clients in that position.

Sheri Greenhaus: It seems like there are many companies entering this space. Why do you think that's happening, and how do you distinguish yourselves from the competition?

Gregg Antenen: The rise in companies entering this space can be attributed to the increasing use of call recording, which allows organizations to analyze call data and workflows. However, the real challenge lies in effectively converting the insights gained from large language models into actionable solutions within call centers.

Many companies are attempting to address this challenge. Still, what sets us apart is our comprehensive approach. We start from the moment an agent answers a call, automating steps and enhancing the agent's abilities, rather than merely providing instructions. Our aim is to augment agents, not replace them, by leveraging data, AI, and automation to create a seamless and efficient process.

Sheri Greenhaus: It's clear that you prioritize understanding your clients' problems and tailoring solutions to address their specific needs. Can you share an example of a company that experienced significant positive changes after working with you?

Gregg Antenen: Certainly, one industry that comes to mind is the health exchange sector. These exchanges face an array of processing issues and complex interactions with consumers, often compounded by evolving regulations and product changes. Our approach has allowed them to navigate these challenges more effectively. We've worked with various state-level exchanges, each with its unique problems, and our capabilities have helped them adapt and improve their operations. These exchanges constantly deal with "fires" caused by regulatory changes, and our solution has become an invaluable asset in managing and evolving their processes.

Sheri Greenhaus: It sounds like your approach has made a significant impact on organizations facing complex and ever-changing environments. Is there anything else you'd like to share before we conclude?

Gregg Antenen: I'm truly excited about the rapidly evolving landscape of this industry. We're on the cusp of discovering new ways to leverage technology and innovation. With AgentHub we focus on experimentation and finding novel solutions. We aim to simplify complex processes for our clients and change the way they approach training and agent experience. One key focus is on reducing attrition rates by improving the overall experience of agents. ServiceSim has been a significant step forward in achieving this goal.

Sheri Greenhaus: It's evident that you're at the forefront of driving positive change in the industry. Thank you for sharing your insights, Gregg. Your innovative approach to agent augmentation and problem-solving is inspiring. We look forward to seeing how Vistio continues to shape the future of call center operations.