A proactive conversational AI technology used by large corporations across industries, ContactEngine Inc. announced on 15 July the appointment of two new board members, Michael Beckley and Tarita Miller.
Both Beckley and Miller have a proven track record in the technology industry whose expertise and knowledge add value to the company. Michael is Founder and Chief Technology Officer of software company Appian, overseeing customer initiatives and the company’s technology vision.
Tarita is a solutions implementation expert whose experience includes 30-year employment as a program manager at Verizon, supporting the operation call centres for the entire company and serving on various boards including Junior Achievement, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (New York) and the Visions – Services for the Blind & Visually Impaired (New York). Tarita joined ContactEngine in 2019 as a program manager, employing innovation and technology to deliver transformational customer experiences for clients.
Giles Bryan, CEO of ContactEngine Inc., said: “We are delighted to have both Michael Beckley and Tarita Miller join the board. Aside from their notable expertise, Michael and Tarita bring with them a passion for innovation. We pride ourselves on innovation at ContactEngine – it is an important part of our company culture and differentiates us. Michael and Tarita will be great stewards for ContactEngine as we look to provide exceptional customer experiences with our technology and capabilities.”
Michael Beckley commented on the new appointment: “It is a very exciting time for ContactEngine. As leaders in the global customer engagement software market, the company has a significant part to play in revolutionizing the customer experience for some of the world’s largest brands. I hope that with my experience in the software industry I can help ContactEngine’s growth and development in the Conversational AI space.”
Tarita Miller said: “ContactEngine has enabled me to combine innovation, technology, collaboration and programme management to create transformational customer experiences for our clients. I am thrilled to be taking this a step further by joining the board. I am very much looking forward to helping ContactEngine become even more of a leading force in AI-powered communications.”
Recently I have found myself comparing COVID-19 to 410AD, but not because it was the prelude to a new Dark Age, but rather the reverse, that we have been sleepwalking for decades into an apocalyptic future, with no regard for what we are damaging in the process.
In fact, COVID-19 might lead to a new age of enlightenment, where we accept that post-COVID-19 we are all in this together, we need to look after the planet better, and we will be nicer, and better people for it.
So, here are my five post-COVID-19 predictions:
1. Working from home
COVID-19 has necessitated home-based working.
It turns out that working from home can, at times, be more beneficial – take call centres for example. Enabling agents to work from home not only makes sense from a business continuity point of view, but it could also open up access to a new and geographically unconstrained workforce with the desired skills and experience to handle complex queries.
What’s more, with no time wasted on tiresome commuting, likely a more productive one. Read our latest whitepaper to find out more.
2. No-growth economies will become the norm
We have just the one planet, we have just the one atmosphere, we have just the one set of natural resources to use. The economic madness of continuous growth will stop. It does not make sense. An economy should seek zero growth, not up, not down – but enough.
3. Local power production
The power needed to work from home is minimal – a laptop uses about 50 watts of electricity, the equivalent of 0.05 kWh. Using it for a day costs about 5p.
I predict that governments will stop building massive infrastructure projects – like railways, airports, motorways, and the like, and turn to renewable power – wind, wave, and solar. Planning laws will make for zero carbon new builds.
4. New non-profit corporations will emerge
I predict that new non-profit organisations will emerge through technology – whereby technology is the ‘people’. So the technology, with human oversight, of course, makes the profit and the profit is used to develop the technology.
If you want to know what I mean ask me – I have one lined right up and you never know it might help save the world.
5. Biodiversity will rise up the agenda
David Attenborough has shown us the incredible beauty of the planet that we share with loads of other beings. But over that 100 years, we have smashed this fragile museum up.
Worse than an ancient asteroid, we have driven at least 680 vertebrate species to extinction in the blink of a celestial eye. We kill things before we even name them. So with the canals of Venice clear and the pollution maps of the world showing clean air, maybe, just maybe, we will realise that we are part of an ecosystem and if we set fire to it, we set fire to ourselves.
Any technology that makes this and life tangibly better, be that proactive communications like my company, or AI that optimises energy usage, or works out the best way to tackle say a virus… they will win.
But more importantly, I hope that we will move into a nicer, better, safer, and less angry world.
UK Customer Experience Award winner ContactEngine has been named as one of Europe’s fastest-growing companies in The Financial Times 1000 ranking.
The rating is the result of a joint project by the Financial Times and Statista, which – now in its fourth year – conducted months of research, public calls, intensive database research, and directly contacted tens of thousands of companies. In the end, they were able to identify outstanding companies among the millions of existing European enterprises.
ContactEngine, the conversational AI technology used by large corporations across industries to automate customer communications, is deployed by the top UK, European, and North American brands in telecommunications, utilities, financial services, auto, and retail, including British Gas, Whirlpool, DHL, Sky, TELUS, Verizon, Virgin Media, and BT.
ContactEngine’s partnership with BT earned the firms a Gold title for Use of Technology at the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards in London.
The company was also recently presented with the Best Use of IP Award at The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 Awards Dinner.
Speaking of the latest high-profile recognition of his firm’s work, Dr Mark K. Smith, CEO of ContactEngine, said: “We are pleased to be recognised as one of Europe’s fastest-growing companies. It’s a testament to all those involved in ContactEngine – our employees, investors, and clients – and to the technology in transforming the way global brands engage with their customers.
“Looking ahead as a business, we continue to focus on growth and expansion both geographically and by industry – it’s an exciting time for us and for our customers.”
The awards event was held in London this week, and the conversational AI tech firm was congratulated on their win in a video message by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The nomination for the event follows the firm being securing Gold in the Use of Technology category at the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards last month. The gong was presented following a joint presentation by ContactEngine and BT on their successful partnership.
ContactEngine’s proprietary machine learning algorithms are devised by a team of linguists, behavioural scientists, and mathematicians to perform automated human-like conversations. The company has also attracted leading scientists like former government chief scientific officer Professor Nick Jennings to their advisory board.
Dr Mark K. Smith, ContactEngine CEO, said: “We were honoured to be ranked in the Tech Track 100 and are very proud to receive this additional accolade amongst so many technology leaders in the field. We look forward to continuing our AI journey and discovering more ways in which technology can enhance business and Customer Experience.”
Among the successful partnerships at this year’s UK Customer Experience Awards was ContactEngine and BT Enterprise, which together won Gold in the Use of Technology category.
The winning team secured the title following a presentation on the success of BT’s ‘Brilliant Installations’ initiative. BT Enterprise implemented ContactEngine conversations across broadband and landline customer services in order to deliver an unrivalled Customer Experience.
ContactEngine engages customers in intelligently automated conversations using Natural Language Understanding, from initial order through to appointment scheduling, billing, and surveying. The accolade represents the outstanding results achieved with ContactEngine, which exceeded the targets set out at inception.
These included a 40 percent reduction in customer-driven cancellations; a 50 percent reduction in customer calls related to enquiries; an 85 percent customer engagement rate; and a 38 percent improvement in NPS.
Dr Nicola Millard, Principal Innovation Partner at BT, said: “This is a fantastic example of how innovative technology can be deployed as a win-win for both the customer and the company. Using cutting-edge AI to create proactive, intelligent conversations with customers about things they want to know, whilst freeing human agents up to have the really important, value-add interactions.”
Dr Mark K. Smith, Chief Executive Officer at ContactEngine added: “We’re very happy to be recognised for our achievements in partnership with BT Enterprise. BT has long made it a priority to deliver a differentiated experience for both their customers and employees, and we’re pleased to be able to deliver that for them while achieving significant business benefits along the way. We look forward to continuing our partnership and to achieving more fantastic results together.”
Last year, the 90s masterpiece Friends, which has been running and rerunning on TV for the last two and a half decades, caused joy and uproar when it made a return to the small screen via Netflix.
It was back! Hardly daring to believe this stroke of luck, many people of a certain age (these fearsome millennials we’ve been hearing about) took to their sofas to binge watch.
As one of these millennials, I was a happy cog in this machine of nostalgic fervour. However, alongside my uncritical enjoyment of this frankly problematic TV show, as I watched there was one aspect that stuck out, which I hadn’t paid much attention to before…
Phones and phone calls, and the sheer amount that these are used. Friends was filmed in the 90s, so there weren’t really mobile phones yet. They appear in later seasons, but they’re not a big feature. What struck me, though, wasn’t just the absence of mobiles and internet and so on, but rather the easy, natural, unstressed way they all use the phone. They ring each other constantly! They call strangers and service people! They’re always just picking up the phone and…ringing! Unannounced!
Fast forward to the present and things are quite different.
Firstly, our phone usage has decreased – we’re all calling each other far less. Three years ago, 96 percent of smartphone owners were making at least one voice call per week. Now, only three quarters of us do, while a quarter of us don’t make weekly phone calls at all.
Research commissioned back in 2012 by O2 found that the ‘telephone’ app is only the fifth most used app on the general public’s phones. Based on the rate of development of smartphones and communicative practices, chances are high that this has decreased again in the seven years since.
Secondly, phone calls make us nervous. A new, but increasingly prevalent problem for the modern age is so-called “telephone apprehension”. And it’s not only millennials who suffer from this (although they famously do). Around 10-15 percent of the population suffer from anxiety or fear when using the telephone; of these, around 2.5 percent are so anxious that they can be described as truly “telephonophobic”.
But where is this anxiety coming from? One argument is that for some, it’s about politeness. People born since the late 80s and 90s have grown up with numerous methods of communication, and as such, are never out of reach. Accordingly, they might be more likely to choose written rather than verbal communication, because it’s less intrusive – it doesn’t create an immediate demand on someone’s time.
For many, it’s not the case that phone calls are The Worst and to be avoided at all costs – but their intrusiveness needs to be managed. It’s become common courtesy to send a quick message before you pick up the phone, to check whether the person is free. This might seem odd, but it’s commonplace in the workplace – in many professions, people are far more likely to schedule non-urgent calls than to pick up the phone and demand immediate attention.
This is something to consider for companies like ContactEngine, which conduct multichannel customer conversations. It’s all very well sending SMS or email or other written comms, but voice calls are a different beast.
Because looking at the above in reverse, if people are making fewer calls, they’re not answering calls either. Another new (or not new anymore) aspect of phones is caller ID. We used not to know who was calling us when we answered the landline. Without caller ID, you just had to risk it. And we did!
But now? How many of us actually answer calls from an unknown number?
When designing our communications, we talk about the problem of customers not answering phone calls – but when I asked my colleagues if they answer calls from an unknown number, none of them said they do. I know I don’t. And we’re not alone, as some recent ContactEngine research indicates…
As shown, when receiving a call from an unknown number, some people decline the call (27 percent), some wait for a voicemail (21 percent), some Google the number (18 percent), and some do nothing (20 percent) – but none of these pick up the phone. Only around 14 percent of those we asked said they would actually answer the call.
As a business based around conversations, if people simply don’t answer their phone – whether because they’re anxious or they just don’t want to – what can we really do? Receiving cold calls isn’t nice, and especially not from an unknown number.
Well, there’s a couple of things we can do. First, we can consider the customer journey as a whole and take a holistic view of the communications. For example, ContactEngine may try to call a customer about their delivery details.
They may not pick up. Fair enough. But we can configure the conversation so that if there’s no answer, it leaves a pre-recorded voicemail explaining why we called and setting an expectation about what will happen next – for example, that we will send an email, and asking them to look out for it.
Or we could send an SMS – ‘We tried to call you earlier’ – and let them know what our next move will be: ‘We’ll try again tomorrow’. Adding context, or attempting contact via a different channel, makes the communications more trustworthy and increases the chances of contact.
Secondly, we can ask people when they’d like to be contacted. If a phone call is really necessary, we can ask via a written form of communication when would suit them. Our AI can interpret responses and book a slot, and they can be called back at that time by a human. If you’re expecting a call, you’re more likely to answer the phone.
As argued here, gaining permission is key to a successful phone call, and this could be a key to solving telephonobia too.
Consensual telephoning, basically.
These approaches might be unrecognisable to Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, et al – but times are a-changing. Friends celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. If this much has happened, technology-wise, in just those years, I wonder where we’ll be in another 25? Hopefully Friends will still be available on Netflix, anyway.
It’s a comfort thing. Don’t @ me.
This article was written in partnership with Zoey Planjer, Head of Customer Journey at ContactEngine.