As the cost of artificial intelligence (AI) comes down and its applications become more widespread, companies are increasingly exploring and executing implementation. Fifth Quadrant spoke with Ryan Lester, Director of Customer Engagement Technologies at LogMeIn to get his views on AI, chatbots, contact centres, and what LogMeIn’s products can do for customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX).
FQ: So LogMeIn has Bold360 and Prompt ai, with the former being customer facing and the latter used by companies internally, correct?
RL: That’s right. One point to make is that Prompt ai is purely about employee engagement and and Bold360 is customer-facing but some of that customer engagement involves helping agents do their work better. The former improves EX, while the latter is a blend of CX and EX.
FQ: We’ve noted AI as a leading trend in CX this year. Is that something you have also seen?
RL: Absolutely. The majority of companies are actively investing or investigating – i.e. setting aside budget – to do AI. The technology has really moved from the fringe to become much more front and centre. I think there are two main reasons: One, companies such as LogMeIn are making the technology more approachable and two, companies are seeing real world success.
FQ: It seems like in hindsight 2017 was the Year of the Cloud and 2018 the Year of AI. Would you agree with that?
RL: I think you are spot on. Both are interesting topics in the sense that they are incredibly broad and can mean a lot of different things to different people. Which is why we hear about them so much. When we look to AI, for example, it’s important to specify which use case you are describing and the solutions that are required.
FQ: It feels like these technologies are moving from “nice to have” to “need to have”.
RL: That’s true and while AI is becoming a “need to have”, organisations need to be smart about how they implement it. The first thing you have to ask is ‘what is the business or customer problem I am trying to solve?’ Then you can look at appropriate solutions.
FQ: Are there any other hurdles?
RL: We see three challenges companies run into. The first is getting the right stakeholders involved across a range of departments to avoid creating silos. The second is getting executive buy-in for both the project and the flexibility to test and learn from the first implementations. The third is realising that the process is just as important as the technology. You could have the best chatbot in the world, but if it’s not connected to the contact centre, and doesn’t allow a seamless escalation to the human agents, it’s a recipe for failure. Successful AI implementations are ones that have the bot working hand-in-hand with human agents to create the best possible outcome for the customer.
FQ: Do you think there is a fear factor?
RL: I think there is to some extent. Organisations could be afraid that AI won’t live up to the promise or that they invest in the wrong technology or areas. The other is that employees themselves feel like they are going to be out of a job. There is a concern that AI is going to take over, but this is really a misconception. In a recent study we conducted with UK firm Vanson Bourne, most companies said that if chatbots could reduce the number of queries into a call centre, they would train their employees to do additional or other tasks. AI really opens an opportunity for employees to lean in on strategic work that can have a true business impact.
FQ: I blame Hollywood.
RL: Ha! Most of us do have this vision of robots taking over, thanks to movies we’ve seen, but what’s actually happening is that AI is assisting us in making better decisions. Just as we are comfortable today having AI tell us the best driving route, we won’t mind AI helping us to better manage our contact centre.
FQ: Regarding Bold360 and Prompt ai, which verticals do you work with the most?
RL: Bold360 is focused on customer engagement and customer service so we built our AI and natural language processing (NLP) technology to support those use cases. Our most prominent verticals for Bold360 include telcos, financial services, retail and ecommerce, hospitality and logistics services. The common denominator across these verticals is that they care about the lifetime value of the customer, and know that a great CX can be the path to long-term loyalty.
Prompt ai, on the other hand, is less focused on verticals and more on the employee support use case. To date, we’ve seen Prompt ai deployed to help employee service teams like IT and HR. At LogMeIn, we drank our own champagne and are using Prompt ai for these exact use cases. Prompt ai is helping us onboard new employees, set-up benefits, answer common questions and troubleshoot IT tools and systems.
FQ: Tell me a bit more about Bold360’s CX value-add in the contact centre.
RL: There are four layers to CX that we focus on. The first is the direct interaction with the customer where we use NLP to understand the customer’s intent. We then move on to routing, so based on that intent we ask ‘what is the best action for this person?’ Following routing, there is our knowledge management system. We have articles, web pages or content that agents can use to solve the customer’s problem. Finally, we have the agent workspace where we can decide which tasks can be automated and assigned to the AI and which would be better served being handled by a human.
FQ: Regarding the pace of AI, do you feel it is advancing faster or slower than you expect?
RL: In general, it is advancing faster. We are seeing lots of innovation happening in lots of different directions, which is exciting. For example, companies using AI to adopt new channels of engagement that they were not able to support previously such as social messaging. In addition, companies blending experience across channels with AI where a customer may start with voice but then be shifted to a chatbot for faster results. Where it is going slower than I expected is that companies are getting stuck in “analysis paralysis” when it comes to implementation. The tech has matured a lot and the risk of trying it out within an organisation is significantly lower than ever before. Despite all the success stores, I’m still doing a lot of educating and I think many companies are sitting on the sidelines longer than they should.
FQ: Going back to our earlier point, cloud is clearly already “need to have”. Is AI “need to have” right now?
RL: I would put it this way. It is “need to have” in the sense that you should be testing and learning now. Companies need to balance how to approach this in a smart way and realise that there are already so many areas in which AI can help them. Every company should be looking at this.
Two years ago implementing AI would have involved a consulting firm, a seven-figure cheque, and a promise of great results a year down the road. Today, the technology has evolved to include much more business applications and has a lower barrier to entry. In the case of our customers, they are seeing a really solid ROI within three months. AI, today, is providing companies with a competitive differentiation, but that window is closing. In 18 months, it will be a must and those that aren’t testing now will be behind.
FQ: How do you think Australia is doing when it comes to AI uptake?
RL: I am just finishing up a bit of a world tour in which I have spoken with around 300 companies and I don’t think Australia is significantly behind the rest of the world. There are a lot of local companies that I have talked to that are starting to think about how AI can help them and I’m seeing more use cases emerge. There are places of very strong innovation but there still are some parts of the market that are a bit more disconnected. There is still a challenge of keeping up and every geography has leaders. These days you aren’t just competing with your own geography, you are up against the likes of the FANGs – global companies raising the bar of CX and EX everywhere.*This interview was edited for length and clarity