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UJET Executive Interview

Vasili Triant, Chief Operating Officer, UJET

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Sheri Greenhaus, Managing Partner of CrmXchange sat down with Vasili Triant, Chief Operating Officer at UJET, a cloud contact center platform for businesses who put trust at the heart of their customer experience.  

Welcome to the CrmXchange interview. To start, can you tell us a little about UJET and how the company helps the contact center?

We are a cloud contact center as a service application. We build software that is the interaction medium between you or any end user and the companies and brands they are dealing with. Every customer order creates a customer service need. We build all the routing logic, the reporting, the blending of channel access via mobile and web. To reach a brand, instead of popping out to an iPhone dialer, or accessing a chat widget, we keep you within the app you are using. This allows users to connect in the app that they are using to the brand, which creates a seamless, effortless experience for the customer.

It sounds as if you are app agnostic. If there are new apps within the next few years, is it safe to assume you'll be able to connect to those apps as well?

Yes, 100%.

How did you get into this space?

I got in the space starting as a reseller implementing IP-based phone systems. Back around 2001, when I started that company, I sold to a hotel. The hotel needed something for their call center.  None of my engineers could figure out how to add what the hotel needed. I looked at how I interact with the hotel and designed something around the typical customer needs.

Years ago, when you call the hotel, almost 100% of the time, you could not reach the front desk. There were lots of menu trees; press 1, press 2, etc. I built something a bit more efficient and took it to the hotel the next day to implement. They were excited about the application. It was personal for me. From there, it has taken a life of its own.

Let’s take a look at chat. UJET recently did a study that claims 80% of consumers who've interacted with Chatbots said they're frustrated, 78% say they're forced to connect to a human. Why do you think that is?

First, our research, which shows that Chatbots are basically ineffective, is really going against the grain of most industry analysts. Automation and Chatbots are often referred to as AI. It’s supposed to be artificial intelligence, which is essentially a computer that can act as a human with logic, reasoning and learning. What has happened in the industry is an AI label has been attached to Chatbots which is just a legacy IVR tree for chat. That’s the reason why we have less than optimal experiences.

On one hand, you have analysts saying automation can make things more efficient; it can save you money, head count, and help with FCR – all through a Chatbot. In reality it’s a screening mechanism. In my personal life, I don't think I found one that is effective. Most of the time I'm dealing with Chatbots that don't touch any of my own customers, whether it's airlines, Peloton or NFL.com.

Think about legacy IVR trees: 1) the idea was deflection and 2) to get you through to the right group. Consumers are put through multiple trees to find that sub menu that gets them to the right person.

For Chatbots built in the background, it’s a series of questions posed to the user, then based on their answer, they are given a set of other responses. By the time the consumer gets through all the menus and can’t get their issue settled, they are connected to a live agent – who then starts the entire process over again. Customers get annoyed because it is usually something simple, like a product return.

Chatbots are just a series of decision trees, they are not ‘learning’.

Chatbots are working from a database. It seems like it should not be too difficult to transfer the information the consumer entered to the agent. Why is that not done?

The agent and everybody working on live interactions are typically working within a contact center platform. Chatbots pop up when needed. Currently, there are approximately 800 to 1000 Chatbot companies globally. These Chatbots are disjointed; it’s a separate application from the contact center platform. Once there is a Chat transcript, it needs to be handed off to the agent. There needs to be deep integration for this to work seamlessly.

Chatbot companies are trying to get their automation technology in the hands of users. Because of this, it is relatively ‘lightweight’ integrations which creates an ugly handoff.

If the Chatbot and transition is not going to work efficiently, what is the reason an enterprise chooses to go with that technology? Is it strictly cost or there is a thought that this Chatbot is ‘good enough’?

There are amazing marketing messages out there. When you see a siloed demo of a Chatbot they look good with great functionality. Organizations are told the integration is no problem. I think that's where people make an assumption, because nowadays there is such an open ecosystem and you think about the application integration as no big deal.  However, it’s when you put 1 and 2 together that it starts to get much more complicated.

There are levels of application integration: 1) pass off the user and send the transcript 2) transcript goes to a record 3) the agent has to go look in the record to find a transcript.  By that point, the consumer is already talking to the agent. There is also the matter of verifying the user as well.

What is the best way to create the chat structure for a smooth handoff?

If you want a good Chatbot it must be simple to implement and simple to administer. And the reality is, if you want to provide better service with more seamless interactions, it's actually not simple. Simple is creating menu trees saying, ‘here’s my menu 1 and it trees off to menu 2 and 3 and here's your 4 buttons and then you're going to pop out to a live agent. That's simple. Complex is ‘I want to learn’.  That’s the true definition of AI. It actually learns, without human intervention. The result is similar to a human-to-human conversation.

It's taking past interactions and saying something there didn't work. What was the learning? Is it identifying which interaction was successful? So now for the next interactions, the model will be changed. The Chabot understands that sentiment, emotion and specific words used in a specific order means that consumer is or is not frustrated.

Some companies are choosing to just have chat, no agents. That can cause some real customer service issues. Chat may be less expensive up front. Is that the primary reason for chat?

Everybody gets stuck on cost per transaction for customer service. A few analysts started this back in the early 2000s thinking chat is going to replace voice. Voice is too expensive and everybody is going to want to go to chat. But the reality is a conversation is fluid and flexible; all kinds of things change. It’s important to understand the tone of voice. There may be technologies that are coming that will usurp chat.

Frontier Airlines recently announced that they are going to only chat.

When I saw that, the first thing I thought is that Frontier is trying to remove cost. They were having a challenge with their voice agents and I think they specifically stated their hold times were too long. It was an internal issue. Instead of fixing the issue, they got rid of the entire thing making it a customer problem. The danger is, the customer may now decide to call another airline. The only people that are going to fly Frontier are the ones who really want that low-cost airline coming from a specific destination, like their Denver hub. If I am flying from another airport, why would I choose them?  I'm just going to fly with somebody that provides better service.

Maybe over time things shift. Generations cause that shift. I think what this industry is missing is that chat isn't the future: textual communication through a plethora of applications is the future.

The trend is to meet the customer where they are. Are they in Snapchat or Instagram, or some other application? Our partnership with Google has opened my eyes. Forget WhatsApp, WeChat, SMS etc.  Where do most people go? They start either in the mobile app of a company, or they go to Google search.  A consumer can bypass how they reach a company. Between a brand and consumer, if someone goes to Google, they can actually speak words into the Google search and a contact us button could pop up through something like SMS or whatever app the customer is on. It's amazing what could actually be improved in a very short period of time. Around 90% of customer service inquiries start with a Google search.

You were saying things will be different. It's not necessarily going to be chat, or the chat that we know of today.

We are looking at the number of different communication means that people are using. The next generation are using many different apps. They're using short code words, not full written explanations. They may want to escalate, but they want to escalate between multiple different apps and channels versus escalate to voice chat. Chat is a dedicated textual experience versus being in an app and message from that app. Today it is handled by doing something like an Instagram or WhatsApp integration. At some level, you have to be able to support all these applications seamlessly. And if you continue to try to build an integration by app it will take forever. Chat will stay there but the ‘new’ generation with a dedicated chat bubble will change.

Technology will get more conversational; the tech can listen and learn. It can listen to your entire phrase. Technology will be more expensive but it will provide a more personalized experience.

Where does ChatGPT fit into all of this? It is all over. I read two different viewpoints: it’s great and it’s not ready. Which is it?

ChatGPT is a product from OpenAI. I'll call it advanced conversational intelligence for chat which can learn and figure out phrases and conversations to give you the right responses. It will get better over time because it's going to learn; it's going to have more data points and more information. Chat is a menu tree of options, ChatGPT actually learns.

ChatGPT will become not just a product from one company; there are other companies that are doing learning textual conversations, where it learns and actually has a human conversation which can understand sentiment in real time.

There is going to be more of an emphasis on results and how your customers feel.  Companies need to test their own Chatbot – they need to see how they feel at the end of placing order and think, is that how you want your customers to feel?

I think we'll see some of it during this recession. Companies realize that they need automation that works while looking at financial constraints. We will see a strong focus on having great customer experience through the right tools and allowing your customers to connect to you in any way they want.  We will be out of the phase where the customer experience does not matter.

You mentioned recession. Some say we're in it, some people say we're going into one and some say we will have a light recession. Let’s use the premise that we will be in some form of recession. What do contact centers need to do to prepare for that?

First, companies need to look their technology stack. The focus is now on the agent. Easiest thing to do is remove bodies, but there is a lot of money wasted on their technology stack - in the millions in most companies.

Boom time is over. During boom times, we assimilate lots of applications for very niche things and then we bolt them all together because money was available. We start stacking it all together. Those integrations cost money and people's time.

I recently looked at over our vendor list and was shocked how many SaaS applications we had just started stacking up. We need Salesforce and an application on top of it because Salesforce doesn't do forecasting better, and another application on top of that. Before you know it, you have 20 applications because a standard out of the box Salesforce doesn't give you what you need.

We turned it off to see how people feel. It’s possible to change core pieces of your stack, get more from one vendor who is going to give you a better ROI and bolt in automation to get some of the FCR though automated technologies.

Contact centers need to look at modernizing their stack to save money. Modernize your processes, so you're giving customers a better experience.

For a company that's looking to consolidate and find a better option, what's the first thing that they need to do? Do they look at what is not working well?

I would look at what is possible. What exists that can transform my specific business and my industry and what tools do I need to include? Normally, I would say an integrator or technology provider can do an assessment. However, most are still motivated around selling more bits. Because of that, you may have an assessment that tells you to replace one piece rather than think through what is needed over the years.

I would tell the business owner to take themselves completely out of their business position as a business manager and think about what matters to them. Look at tech and decide if it helps the customer. I'm probably hurting some people's feelings, but for tech-like speech analytics – is it worth it? It tells you after the fact that the interaction didn't go well and helps with analyzing issues and coaching, but it did not help with that particular customer’s experience.

For virtual agents, I would think through interactions you are trying to automate. I’d make sure that the ones I already know don't need to be automated are sent to a live agent immediately. You would be saving money going directly to the agent by not paying Chatbot ‘time’.

FCR is always important. It’s better to solve the problem the first time rather than make the customer follow up. If an application is to be eliminated, it should not be voice. Eliminate email, one of the worst service experiences as a channel. There is no SLA, it can take days between a response. Get down to the core pieces.

You need automation – you need routing between channels, you need reporting. You need to make it easy for the end users and then try to figure out what are all the things you've added on top of that.

When you're looking at the overall picture of what needs to be done to provide the customer with the optimal experience, who within the company should be involved?

The VP of Customer Experience, Chief Customer Officer, and the Marketing VP because they're the ones reaching out touching customers and marketing usually has a pretty good beat on what people are frustrated about. Bring in your support - whoever is actually on the front line of support. The CFO is involved for the financial buy in.

Sometimes the problem is that too many people get focused on cost. What we really need to move to is looking at true ROI models and check-ins. For example, if something is more expensive but in the long run can save 500,000 dollars more, which is the better spend? Then there needs to be a check in 6 months later. Was the spend correct? We need to look closer at models and see what moves the needle with customers and saves on cost.

What surprises do you see coming during the next year?

There’s a lot of surprises going on in the vendor world of this space. Some of them have now started to play out. You are going to see new players in this space. New players that see the value of customer experience and what it means to their other applications. There are folks that have a lot of knowledge in the real world of AI. There will be a shift in the contact center premise world and the proliferation of other channels of communication.

I think the main thing is going to be some of these new entrants coming in. Much of the old guard in this space are changing. Experiences are going to become more conversational and you'll see a weed out of things like the bad experiences that you and I are having.

Is there anything you think our audience should know that we did not cover?

When we started the conversation, you said that you have had bad experiences. I think your audience has to realize that these experiences aren't great, but people are using them because you stuck a gate in front of it and you just have to go through the gate.

Many times, I've asked companies what in chat is working for them. They mention deflection. But are they tracking whether that user came back in through another channel or did a reorder? The reality is they are not tracking. The reality is they track the end of the session only. Companies need to see how many times the customer came back because they did not have their question answered. They should also assess what the chat live agent provides as a solution to the customer problem and what the phone agent provides. Does one know what the other is providing, is there a single source of truth?  This is the reality your customers are facing. Companies need to reassess their process and their technology stack.

And when nothing works, you go on Twitter and complain, and then they get back to you.

I hate doing that by the way, because people think Vasili just goes on Twitter because it'll just solve this problem. It’s not because I'm a CX executive, I have literally tried everything else. Chatbots right now are very frustrating, but they don’t have to be.

We were talking about Google. Through cookies you know where people come from and what they looked for. Now, when that user comes in, I know how many places they've been, what they've been looking for, if they accessed knowledge-based articles. It’s a better customer experience if the agent can pick up where the search left off. “I noticed you're looking how to reset your account password. Is that the reason you're calling?”  By doing that simple thing, you change the entire conversation. When you already know what the person wants, the customer thinks you actually know them – and is provided a better experience.