The recent Genesys Xperience19 conference in Denver, Colorado, saw some of the most exciting developments in Customer Experience technology showcased to an eager global audience, and in case anyone was under any illusion about the future of CX – it involves AI.
The tech itself is dispassionate, and can appear benevolent to users as it cheerfully helps them along their customer journey. However, decades of pulp sci-fi dystopia has left AI with an image problem – no matter how helpful it may seem, some simply cannot shake the idea that bots might someday pull a Hal 9000 and see humans as inferior and deserving of subjugation…or worse!
Such fears ought to be dispersed when one discusses the details of AI technology with the real intelligence behind it – someone like Olivier Jouve, Executive Vice President of Genesys Purecloud, perhaps the planet’s most popular contact centre platform.
Olivier took on the role of PureCloud EVP in 2017, having spent over three decades honing his craft in pioneering customer sentiment technology development, including through senior positions at IBM.
His impressive resume also reveals a stint as an associate professor in computer science at Leonardo da Vinci University in Paris, and today, with a 150-strong AI team under him, Olivier is one, if not the world’s foremost authority on AI and its ability to make our journeys as customers easier.
He knows, in detail, how much his tech helps us in our lives – often without us realising it – but still the idea that AI will have a negative impact on humanity can cloud the vision and judgement of some sceptics who see it as an evil overlord-in-waiting.
Fresh from a timely Xperience19 breakout session on AI Ethics, Olivier took time out to chat with Customer Experience Magazine about his work, its reputation, and just how much AI is used for the betterment of our lives as consumers.
Speaking of the “creepiness factor” that some associate with AI, its access to personal data, and how it could be used in the wrong hands, he describes why being open and honest with customers, and letting them see the advantages with their own eyes, is the best way to go.
“We want the customer to know that we respect their data, and we need them to see what data we are using, so they are able to opt out if they so wish,” he explains.
“In the way we build our products, we do a lot of design thinking with customers to understand where the limit is. You know, what type of data they are comfortable with.
“And of course, you are being careful not to introduce any bias, which is something that’s very complex – not using any gender, or lifestyle, race…whatever, that could turn your model into something that is going to be targeting a specific minority.
“This wasn’t on the table 15 years ago when we were already scoring contact centres for next best action, cross-selling, up-selling, and so on, and using that data. Now there is much more sensitivity about how you use the data, and I think that’s actually a good thing, as it forces us to be clear from the get-go.”
Olivier highlights that those who are creeped out by an AI’s use of data, to the point where they will walk away from it, are a small minority compared to those who see the benefits and remain loyal to brands brandishing the tech.
“Companies which use AI the right way will enjoy great benefits, by being fair and respecting privacy,” he adds.
A common cause of ‘creepiness’ is the notion that a customer is unaware if they are interacting with a human or a bot on their journey with a brand, but as Olivier sagely states, that uncanny valley effect is being superseded by good old fashioned customer satisfaction when the AI does its job – and does it well.
“Me, personally, I don’t care if it’s a bot, as long as I get what I want, quickly, and with a great experience,” he continues.
“I don’t think customers care as much about the technology they use as much as the experience they have. I do think we should disclose that it’s not a human though – that should be part of the disclaimer. But at the same time, I don’t see that as something that should be discouraging people, who may think ‘oh no I’m not talking to a bot as I won’t get anything from it’.
“That’s also a danger of going to market too quickly with AI tech – some chatbots don’t provide the right experience. There are, however, things chatbots and voicebots can do very well, and I think we should double down on those.”
As Olivier points out, it’s not as if customers aren’t already used to interacting with bots on a less ‘intelligent’ level already.
“When someone asks for the balance of their bank account, they don’t care if it’s a human giving it to them, so people are already used to this sort of automation. We just have to be careful that if we go deeper with more complex things that users don’t get the feeling we are not responsive.
“People like empowerment, and chatbots can be great for that. But there are still some limitations, so we are not yet at the stage where AI is going to replace humans. We have chatbots that are very specialised and do things very well, but we need to find the right moment where you have to hand over to a human.”
Yet will there be a day when there is no human to hand over to? Will we fleshies be redundant in a future where all the work is being done by bots?
“I don’t think it will replace humans, as we are putting humans into something they are really good at, and so I see that more as a collaboration between AI and human – something we call blended AI. We can do sentiment analysis automatically, but it has limitations,” Olivier replies.
So what are these human skills that we can still feel superior to the bots on, and that customers still desire on their journeys? What’s the key difference that currently keeps humans in contact centre customer-facing roles?
“Empathy – we aren’t there yet,” says Olivier.
“Humans are great at it, and we need to think of the overall CX, the CX we want to provide. AI does things a human cannot do because you could not integrate all the different insights you have about a customer, but AI is really good at that.
“However, to take the conversation to the next step, at some point currently you have to hand over to a human. Of course, even humans need to be taught empathy in some cases!
“Perhaps in 10 to 15 years we will be able to train AI better in applying empathy, but for now that’s why we need this combination of human and technology.”
Ok, enough of what humans can do better than bots! It’s time to let Genesys genius shine, as Olivier outlines exactly why today – not years from now – AI is simply superior in most non-emotional ways to humans when it comes to steering customer journeys and earning the desired end result – superior Customer Experience.
“Our products work on finding the best agent for an incoming call or interaction, something we do very very well thanks to machine learning. The AI is understanding what the topic of the interaction is and uses historical data and a sophisticated decision tree to move the interaction forward.
“We want to optimise the customer journey, so we have a solution called predictive engagement. We can look at what a user is going to do on a website, view their navigation, and see at which moment he or she might need some help, and decide what the best outcome is for this customer.
“Once you have this interaction you can develop additional models which could be for retention or selling – more things we do very very well that a human couldn’t match.
“When you do next-best action and you have a customer calling who is ready to leave, our tech knows if you go for a specific action, there’s an 85 percent chance that this person is going to remain as a customer, for example.
“That’s from crunching a lot of data, gained through similar situations, and handling so much data – well that’s not something a human can do.”
Other than the aforementioned empathy, does Olivier feel his AI is lacking in any other areas that might be beneficial to overall CX?
“I think what AI does not do very well yet is go deeper into the conversation,” he tells me.
“We see breakthroughs when we look at things like Google Duplex, where, you can find yourself questioning if you are interacting with a real human or not, but an AI able to handle 100 percent of complex interactions? I don’t think we are there yet, though we are making a lot of progress.”
Despite my impatience as a customer to know when exactly this will be possible, Olivier sensibly refuses to give a date.
“I don’t like giving predictions, but I see how fast we are moving forward. I think Duplex was really a breakthrough – suddenly you see something and you think ‘wow’ – the voice, the type of interactions…it’s all very human.
“I don’t think it’s about developing the technology now – it’s about the right data and making it accessible. All of that is moving at an exponential speed. What’s really accelerating AI is that everything is in the cloud. Every single interaction from the employee or customer’s side – all that is feeding our AI platform. The more data we have, the more we are going to be able to power the customer journey.”
In the midst of such dazzling tech capabilities, it can easy to forget any regulation necessities to protect data and ensure AI is used for the good of humanity.
“It’s our responsibility to propose how we want to be regulated. It’s the right time to do the right thing,” adds Olivier
“Over 30 years I’ve been through a few AI ‘winters’, where AI had been at peak hype, but then died. I don’t want this one to die because some people are not responsible, so I will do whatever I can to make sure we are doing the right thing.
“There remains a fragility to this whole sphere, caused by the actions of Cambridge Analytica for example, which rocked people’s confidence in AI and data use, but I believe what we are developing at Genesys is promising, and beautiful, in a way that will not kill the hype this time around.”