2 min read

Why your IVR, voice and chatbots need HR for AI

HR style management of a BOT workforce

There are two fundamental differences between conversational experiences, like IVR, voice and chatbots, and graphical user interfaces, like web and mobile experiences. These differences demand a different approach.

Learned vs Instinct

Web and mobile are learned experiences. They use physical metaphors like inertial scrolling, desktops and filing cabinets. But the interaction we have with them is learned.

We learn to use a touchscreen or mouse. We discover how to navigate the user interface. We adapt to the technology. And we can do that because we have big flexible brains that can adapt our behaviour to our environment. That’s what helped us populate every corner of the globe and imagine, build, and use digital devices.

But language is different. Conversation is different. We learn language at such a young age that we can’t unlearn it. Harvard Professor Steven Pinker describes language as an instinct. Just as babies instinctively attach to their parents for food and protection, they instinctively develop language. And we can’t un-learn it.


The other big difference is that most of the channels we use to interact with bots started as ways to interact with humans: the telephone, text messaging, web chat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. These were all originally used for talking with other humans. Bots joined the party later. So customers interacting on these channels don’t just need bots to speak and listen like humans do. They also expect them to be smart, helpful and resourceful in solving problems, just like humans are.

Web and mobile experiences don’t have that human expectation problem. Most web and mobile customer service experiences are like forms and documents, in-store adverts or shopping catalogs. We expect those things to be useful and easy to understand. But we don’t expect them to be smart, helpful and resourceful.

These two differences set a really high bar when it comes to building bots.

We adapt to use web and mobile experiences, and we expect them to be useful. But we won’t, in fact we can’t adapt to the way bots talk, and we do expect them to be smart, helpful and resourceful.

They need to speak and listen like a human, then understand and act like a human would too.

A different approach

The best Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms today can match or exceed human performance in specific, narrow areas. We don’t have a generalized form of AI with anything like human levels of flexibility and robustness. But there is a fix for this.

You need to treat your bots like a workforce, that needs leading and managing, just like humans do. You need clear job descriptions for your bots, so they can excel in their narrow areas of expertise. And you need to review their performance and coach them to improve, just like you would do in regular 1-2-1s with your staff. We call it HR for AI.

It’s a big mindset shift, but once you look at your bots from that perspective, getting maximum ROI from your investments in conversational AI becomes as simple (and difficult) as applying management best practice to your bots.

2 min read

What’s the best conversational AI platform?

Finding the best conversational AI platform

You know you need to up your game with Conversational AI. Maybe speech enabling your IVR, or implementing natural language. Perhaps you want to roll out a new chatbot or experiment with Voice Assistants.

So you google: what’s the best conversational AI platform? Or something like that!

You’ll find there are so many options and choices. Should you use long-standing platforms like Avaya, Cisco, or Genesys? Or one of the newer conversational AI platforms from Google or Amazon? What about Microsoft Bot Framework, or IBM Watson? How do you decide?

Wait a minute! Who says those platforms are going to be any better than what you already have? Will it actually deliver a better experience? More ROI?

The platform is not the experience

A platform is just that, it’s something you build on. The platform doesn’t deliver a great experience or amazing ROI, it’s what you build on top of it that does that. However, the platform you need does depends on what you’re building. The Eiffel Tower needs different foundations than a shed, right?

So here’s the question, what are you going to build? What do your customers want? What does your business need? What can IVR, voice, and chatbots (let’s just call them all bots) do best? What’s the cost, and return on investment? This is where you need to start when you are thinking about Conversational Al!

You don’t need a new platform (just yet) You need a new strategy! A Bot strategy!

And not just: “we want to do more with conversational AI”. You need to understand exactly what your bots will do, what it’s worth, and how you’ll measure and optimize the outcomes.

Then you can decide whether your current platform is OK, and if not, you’ll know what questions to ask a new vendor, or put in the RFP.

Why start with strategy?

The advantage of starting with a strategy that’s centered on your customer and business needs is that you can evolve and improve the experience in a methodical way, while you make all sorts of changes in the backend. You’re prioritizing the customer experience and evolving your tech to suit. Not the other way around.

Because that’s the other problem with picking a platform first. It locks you in to a particular strategy. And vendor.

Are you sure the tech vendor knows what your business needs? Will you leave something as important as your conversational AI strategy to the whims of their product roadmap?

We think it’s essential that you create and own a Bot Strategy. It makes the tech choices obvious. It’s essential for great conversation design. And it gives you the ability to hold your bots, and your team accountable to deliver the benefits that got you to invest in bots in the first place.

Getting hitched to a new conversational AI platform, or staying with your current one has consequences. A Bot Strategy makes sure those consequences are what you want.

So before you dive into researching the right platform. Make sure you’ve got the right Bot Strategy in place first.

4 min read

How Do I Get More ROI Out of My IVR, Voice, or Chatbot Platform?

Getting more out of your IVR and chatbots

You’re expected to meet escalating customer experience expectations and manage costs at the same time. Conversational AI systems like IVR, voice, and chatbots are supposed to help, but often the outcomes don’t live up to the promise. So how can you maximize the ROI from your Conversational AI?

It’s tempting to turn to your tech team or vendor and demand better results, or look for a new platform that will solve the problem. But the platform is just that: it’s the foundation you build on. It’s what you do with that platform that nets your return.

In this article, I’ll show you how to spot the problems that might be affecting your bot workforce, and some simple techniques to coach and help them improve. Just like you would with your own team.

How Problems With Your Bots Affect Your ROI

Everybody says they want a better customer experience and lower costs. But how do you get that? The answer is to get the right team members, bots and humans, doing the right things and working together seamlessly.

The goal of your contact center is to get customers to a skilled agent who knows how to help, or a bot that can do the job just as well. Your bot workforce and your human workforce need to work together to achieve that goal. For your human agents, you’ll routinely spend time listening to their conversations with customers, watching their performance metrics, and coaching and training them to do better. You need to do the same for your bots.

What’s Causing Problems With My Bots to Begin With?

Bots can do exceptional work in the specific areas they’re designed to operate. But four organizational issues can make things really difficult for your bot:

  1. Lack of maintenance and updating. Just like your human workforce, you need to keep your bots up to date. Let them know when a new product launches, or a process changes. Your bots won’t figure these things out on their own!
  2. Uncontrolled changes. Conflicting instructions will undermine the confidence and capability of your agents. Same with bots. You wouldn’t let anyone and everyone from across the business tell your agents what to say. You need to apply the same standard to your bots. Uncontrolled changes have unintended consequences.
  3. Technology problems. Sometimes, your agents can work around problems in the CRM. Bots can’t. So watch out for changes in the backend APIs that will have Bots spouting garbage to your callers.
  4. Poor conversation design. You need to bring in an experienced conversation designer to address this issue.

Chances are that some or all of these problems are already undermining the performance of your bot workforce, so how do you figure out what needs fixing?

Apply Your Existing Management Skills to Your Bot Workforce

Among your skills as a contact center or business manager is the ability to listen to and work with your human agents to uncover problems and cultivate your team’s skills. You know how to hold effective one-to-ones to identify areas of improvement as well as growth opportunities.

Just as you work closely with your human agents to optimize their performance, you can work closely with your voice, IVR, and chatbots to do the same—with a few tweaks. Your bots can’t tell you what problems they’re having. So how do you apply your existing skills to effectively manage your bots?

  1. Listen to call recordings and read chat transcripts. With a human agent, you’d probably just do side-by-side call listening or chat monitoring. With your IVR, voice, and chatbots, listening to their interactions with customers and reading chat transcripts serves the same function. Get your tech team to pull a selection of whole call recordings, or chat transcripts, so you can review the interactions your bots are having with your customers. You’ll learn a lot.
  2. Mystery shop your bots. Mystery shopping is a great way to put yourself in the shoes of your customer and experience what they experience. You can do the same with your IVR or chatbots. Just call up and pretend to be a real customer. To really get a feel for things you’ll need to have an end customer account or actually go buy and return an item to see how your bots handle things.
  3. Dig into data. Your bots can’t tell you what they’re struggling with, but you can learn a lot from digging into the data. Are you getting a lot of internal transfers? That could mean there’s a routing problem. Or are people dropping off the call or closing the chat session mid-task? Could mean the bot is getting stuck. When you see these problems, go back to the call recordings, chat transcripts, and mystery shopping to understand what’s really going on.

You’ve Identified the Issues with Your Conversational AI. Now What?

You don’t need to be a techie or a conversation design expert to spot problems in your bot workforce. Just treat them like you would a human workforce. You know what good performance looks like. You know the kind of experience your customers expect and you want to deliver. And hopefully this article will help you see where your bots are falling short. But how do you fix the problems you find?

If your bots are basically doing the right things, but not understanding the customer or being understood themselves, the answer could be to update your bots with a better conversation design. But often the problems are deeper. You wouldn’t hire a bunch more agents without a strategy for what they’ll do, what skills they’ll need, and how you’ll measure and manage their performance. Same goes for bots. If the problems run deeper, you probably need to build a better Bot Strategy.

3 min read

Optimize IVR with Tactical Channel Integrations

Optimize IVR with Tactical Channel Integrations

‘Omni-channel’ can be a daunting prospect.

And connecting all your channels isn’t just a huge logistical challenge, it can also be extremely expensive.

4 min read

6 Tips for Integrating Outbound Text Messaging

6 Tips for Integrating Outbound Text Messaging

In our last post ‘How outbound text messaging can improve the customer experience’, we outlined some of the benefits of integrating outbound text messaging in your contact strategy. As with any channel, the success of those interactions will be dependent on an understanding of who will be using the service, how the text messaging fits with the wider journey and designing great SMS content. So what should you consider if you’re thinking about offering your customers outbound text messages?

3 min read

Stop IVR Rot

Stop IVR Rot

Over time, customer demands and language change. For a contact centre agent, adapting to these changes is a natural process, but what about your IVR? Is it frequently updated in line with new expectations, or has it simply been left to rot?