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Verint® Systems Executive Interview

Raj Balasundaram, VP, Verint® Systems

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In an interview with Sheri Greenhaus, Raj Balasundaram, VP at Verint, discusses the role of AI in enhancing customer experiences. They explore how AI components work together, address various customer challenges, and emphasize the importance of domain expertise. Raj also highlights the potential for AI to transform contact centers into revenue centers and the significance of data management for improved CX.

Sheri: Please tell us a bit about your background and how you came to Verint.

Raj: I'm electronics engineer who started in robotics; back in the day, I did what was called neural networks, which is the old school artificial intelligence. That's always been my passion and funny enough in the days when I graduated, you didn't tell anybody that you did robotics or artificial intelligence because people would make fun of you. Since robotics engineers were considered as nerds; we would always say we were in mechanical engineering. I’ve seen the evolution of AI through the years, especially in the last 10 years. I've built HR platforms for SAP, before that I've worked in AI in the field for Oracle, especially in the SAS world. I've been in the software service industry for a while now, especially in the CX area.

Verint is revolutionizing the CX automation market, especially with AI and data at its core. I am on the commercial side of engineering, providing solutions to customers. My team works very closely putting together architecture, solution design, and helping the customer implementation.

Sheri: AI is omnipresent. You can’t open up your email without getting an invite to a webinar that discusses AI. What is Verint doing that is different?

Raj: The number one thing about AI is it’s not just the algorithms or the models, or how sophisticated the tech is. The most important thing is the application of AI and what outcome it actually provides.  And that will only come from two things: 1. understanding the depth of how AI can be applied and 2. how the industry works. It’s a combination of fully understanding the domain, understanding how AI works, and fusing it together.

That's where Verint comes in. Verint has been in the field for the past 25 years. We have over 60 to 70+ patents associated with Verint AI. The depth of tech, and the depth of domain knowledge help to create what we call bots, which helps with business outcomes. And that's very unique.  AI open source is pretty much free at the moment. There are ridiculous amounts of models, but that doesn't make you a pioneer. What makes you a pioneer is how you apply the tech to make sure it's available to consumers and the people who are serving the consumers in such a way that they don't even notice that they're working with AI.

Sheri: It’s about the application. What applications do you find are of the most interest in the contact center? Are they looking to save costs? Are they looking to increase productivity? How do they want to use AI?

Raj: From a consumer's perspective, we're looking for the best service; from the brand's perspective, you want to do the same. And most importantly, you want to do it in the channel in which the customer's requesting that service, whether it be over phone, SMS, chat or another app. This puts a different strain on brands where they have to staff people in a certain way.

This brings up two challenges: with shrinking budgets, organizations cannot staff all channels with adequate level of service that the consumers are expecting. Traditionally, to reduce costs, service was reduced. But what if with a hybrid (agent and bot) workforce, you could do both; the staff stay status quo but service level increases? That's where AI is coming into play. AI Is taking the automation to a whole new level where we're finally at the point where the hybrid workforce can come together. And that's where we are with AI this point in time.

Sheri: For a company that says: “I'm buying into it, I want to do something with AI, I want to compliment my agents.” Where do they start?

Raj: For customers, we do what is called a maturity assessment, which is a discovery. We work with a customer in understanding what their complete CX map is; how they are interacting with the consumers, where they have gaps, and where they need extra help, either with staff or with AI. We'll start with low-hanging fruit then advance to the higher complex and more sophisticated projects. The next step is retraining or helping the existing agents to work with bots. It's not a question of changing what they do, but helping them to work with another entity, which can help them work better.

Take, for example, a customer who calls in to change a policy. The agent is new and would normally not be able to work with that level of complexity. From a bot’s perspective, the bots have seen all the patterns. They're always up to date - that's exactly how AI works. When you have an agent assisted bot, the bot using the knowledge base, recognizes the pattern. It understands what the customer is asking. With the bot readily supplying the information, the new agent is not wasting time looking through databases or asking for a supervisor to find the answer. Bots work in tandem with every agent. And perhaps the best part, the bot actually adapts to the need of that agent and their level of skill sets. We're training the agent to work with the bot to provide a superior level of service.

Sheri: How does the bot know the level of the agent?

Raj: There are a couple of indicators. Let's go through the back end of what's happening. As the agents are listening to the consumers, the bots are also listening to the consumers. The same way we transcribe in our head what the customer is saying, the bots are also processing the information, except bots are also looking for what the agents are doing. The bots can tell if the agent seems confused by watching the agent search for answers, be non-responsive to the customer or even doing something incorrectly. That’s how the bots actually figure out how to help. In the pharma industry, for example, if somebody's reporting a symptom, you have to go through a very compliant workflow. The bot recognizes if the agent is doing something incorrectly and alerts the agent.

Bots look at the patterns of successful agents and learn from them. If an agent is not exhibiting those patterns, the bot course corrects the agent by advising them on what to do. The bots see all those patterns and help the agents to be successful.

Sheri: In the case where the agent's not in compliance. Does information pop up on a screen to let the agent know what to do?

Raj: Typically, information is available on the desktop all the time. There might be indicators, pop-ups, color screens. It automatically brings up data points about the customer, such as the person calling is an important customer and has cases pending. It’s a true blended workforce and it's not replacing anyone. It's mainly enhancing.

Sheri: With a blended workforce (chat and agent) is seems that the information is delivered quicker with more accuracy. Is that correct?

Raj: That's right. In the industry the channels have become very agnostic. It doesn't matter whether you're chatting with someone, whether you’re SMS texting, or whether you're on social media channels. Now, you can actually have a chat with a bot first, then if required, the bot can bring an agent to the conversation. There are now three ‘people’ in the conversation. The agent, the customer, and the bot. The bots continue to listen. Once the call is ended and there are post-call duties, the bots take over, and the agent can go to the next call.  The communication is faster.  In the past, we would have chatted with a bot and with the bot not being able to help, the customer frustration increases, especially when the customer has to start from the beginning with a live agent.

Sheri: Where do you think organizations are with the process of not forcing customers, when they go from chat to agent, to repeat what they have previously said?

Raj: It is pretty recent. I think the number one problem is bringing the data into one central place. Since the data is not centralized, they're not thinking about channel-agnostic conversations. Many organizations still separate the person that calls-in with the customer on chat or social media. It is a decades long problem.

Verint is revolutionizing that space with a completely channel-agnostic technology; one can interact with customers across the channels. For example, similar issues come up whether the customer is on chat or on the phone. The system will instantly recognize the issue across channels because it identifies the pattern. Channels are not isolated anymore, because the bots are listening across channels. They are in one application.

Sheri: You mentioned that data silos have been an issue for decades. Is the bot listening, picking up data from every channel, and bringing it to a central location? If an agent is on a call or on a chat, are the bots ‘thinking’: "I have heard this before, I am going to supply the information that I know to the agent?"

Raj: Essentially that's what it is, whether it's a voice channel or any channel where we're receiving information. It's brought into a single place within Verint across the call center ecosystem, whether we're talking about agent performance data, HR data, or the voice calls, and the chats, and everything comes to one place. And that is where the AI trains and looks for patterns. AI is all about looking for patterns and finding solutions for patterns. It’s as simple as that. I think people are making it more complicated than what it should be because artificial intelligence simply takes unstructured data and looks for patterns and finds a solution. So, when queries and interactions are happening across a lot of different channels, the data comes to a central place where you then have a singular entity. Patterns are identified. The solution is then available for any channel, any agent. And that's the simplicity of it.

Sheri: Does the AI start to ‘think’ for itself as a human draws conclusion or it is it constantly looking at data and drawing conclusions from patterns?

Raj: AI has several components. When a voice call comes in, it uses natural language processing to convert voice into text and it's not interpreting what the customer is saying. That's one part. There are other entities or algorithms within AI which figure out based on a selected data set, these are the things that could happen, like forecasting a workload, for example.

Verint takes all these different AI components; think of them as Lego blocks. We take different Lego blocks, probably hundreds and thousands of Lego blocks, and build something.

For example, the voice call comes in, there's an AI entity deciphering and converting into data: such as when customers are calling, when agents are coming to work, etcetera.  The combined data figures out the forecast. It is a string of entities coming together to make it work but you need domain expertise to have it work correctly.  

One way to look at domain expertise is to use the example of building a house.  Let's say you have a huge workforce ready to start.  Despite the best of the carpenters, electrician, plumbers, you cannot build a house because you don’t have the domain expertise on how to do it. Whereas if you knew how to build a house, instead of hiring ten thousand, a thousand may be sufficient. The domain knowledge is huge in the application of AI.

Sheri: What do you find customers are looking for?

Raj: Different customers have different problems. Some customers need a rapid expansion of agents but lack the funds to accomplish it. This can be defined as a problem of scale.

Others such as huge insurance companies want their agents to be more effective at what they do. Even scheduling a shift for them is a nightmare. That's a different problem. In that case, we apply different algorithms and different techniques to make sure that we optimize their workloads and forecasting schedules. It all starts with the problem statement.

Understanding the problem in a CX ecosystem is not easy. After defining the problem, the solution is fairly straightforward because the platform does the majority of the solutioning itself. We have solutions for many problems. If you have an issue of containment, where you don’t want a lot of calls coming in and you want to contain the customers to be within a chat channel or an SMS channel. We have a straightforward application, a bot, which goes with it called a containment bot. For another example, if agents need to be more effective with phone calls, we can apply a Wrap-up bot.

Sheri: It sounds like using something like a Wrap-up bot would be a win to start with. It can immediately create savings.

Raj: 100%. It’s a quick calculation to show how to save 10 minutes per agent per call. The application is straightforward. This is also unique to Verint in terms of how we do wrap up. Because we are there during the call the bot ‘knows’ when to take over for wrap-up. 

Sheri: There is always a concern that AI is going to take away jobs. What are your thoughts on that?

Raj: It will enhance not take away jobs. And most importantly, it's going to increase the revenue. It’s going to change the contact centers, which have been seen as cost centers in the past, into a revenue center. With a hybrid workforce, we can serve customers better. Customers will, in turn, be loyal to the brand. AI is going to enhance what we do on a day-to-day basis, make us better and increase revenue.

Sheri: Is there anything that we have not touched on that you think is important that our readers know?

Raj: From an AI perspective, how we think about data is very important. So currently, we have a lot of enterprise customers doing massive data warehouse projects. I sometimes say Data Lakes and the Data Warehouse projects are the place where data goes to die. They are never used.

We tell customers to think about end-to-end CX platforms. Think about platforms like Verint as an engine which collects data across the CX, which helps you to understand the pattern. Verint is a perfect complement for a CRM platform. Within the CRM platform, you generate data from customers from your Salesforce, and all of the data comes in. Whereas within Verint, we collect the data downstream, which is the interactions that we have with customers. So, instead of putting all the data in one place, we use these platforms to bring everything together, and they will provide way better CX in that case.