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This content is part of the Conference Coverage: News and trends from Enterprise Connect 2019
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Contact center AI trends take center stage at Enterprise Connect 2019

Several vendors at Enterprise Connect 2019 focused on contact center AI innovation and virtual agents. But are businesses actually ready for the technology?

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Enterprise Connect 2019 was host to several AI announcements as vendors start to take advantage of natural language processing, advanced analytics and machine learning. Many vendors are looking to AI as a way to differentiate themselves.

The contact center market, in particular, has vendors presenting AI-enhanced offerings for customer-facing interactions. In this market, virtual agents are examples of growing AI trends with several vendors introducing AI developments at the conference.

"We find a lot of interest in AI in customer engagement to improve interactions and route calls to the right person," said Irwin Lazar, a Nemertes Research analyst.

As AI finds its way into contact centers, more customers may find themselves interacting with virtual agents instead of live agents. In part, this AI trend is due to the growth in development for natural language processing and machine learning.

Historically, interactive voice response has been the go-to greeting for many contact centers, limiting customers to a specific list of commands and preprogrammed responses. With AI virtual agents, the initial contact can include simple questions, data collection and pattern recognition. These features help get a fuller picture of what the call is about, whether the call requires a live agent and which agent should get the call.

Some of the AI virtual agents that made an appearance at Enterprise Connect 2019 included:

  • 8x8's Virtual Agent. This virtual agent uses a mix of 8x8 AI technology and Google Contact Center AI to answer routine questions without the help of a live agent, allowing for continuous customer support. It can also hand off calls to a live agent while supplying the agent with documents based on the conversation.
  • Content Guru's brain Virtual Agent. This agent has a layer of AI-enhanced automation meant to gather information at the beginning of an interaction. The virtual agent handles routine questions before handing an interaction off to a live agent. The brain Virtual Agent has AI tools that include chatbots, natural language recognition and image recognition.
  • Masergy Intelligent Virtual Agent. This agent functions as a queuing agent for the Masergy Cloud Contact Center. Using machine learning and natural language processing, it can interpret what customers say during an interaction. The virtual agent can route calls to the appropriate live agent by analyzing the interaction for keywords and phrases.

Despite these AI trends, some businesses are hesitant to adopt AI virtual agents with machine learning because they require more mind share on the part of the business, said Dean Manzoori, vice president of product management at Masergy Communications.

"The biggest challenge we've seen is a company's own internal resources," he said. "We've seen a lot of interest in implementing this type of virtual agent, but most customers start with a set menu and postpone rolling out the natural language as a second phase."

With enough time and resources, AI virtual agents that use natural language and machine learning can drive down contact center costs, Manzoori said. As virtual agents become more mature, contact centers can reduce their reliance on live agents, which are more expensive than virtual agents.

AI trends target automation and efficiency

Virtual agents are not the only contact center AI innovation. Task and management automation is another focus for vendors.

In this video from Enterprise Connect 2018, see how contact center services enhance customer engagement.

San Francisco-based Talkdesk Inc. introduced a cloud-native workforce management platform anchored by Talkdesk iQ, which integrates AI across the vendor's platforms. The new product aims to automate staffing management to increase efficiency. The platform can automate day-to-day analysis to determine staffing needs and make staffing recommendations in real time. The platform can make long-term predictions and send notifications if staffing levels drop lower than a predetermined threshold.

AI trends are also moving into the unified communications market by way of advanced analytics. The focus on optimization in UC has pushed some vendors to look at AI additions to operation management and analytics offerings.

Optanix Inc., based in New York, showcased the Optanix service assurance platform at Enterprise Connect 2019. The platform has machine learning that can detect abnormalities and assess their potential effect on services. The platform automates the analysis of problems and can take corrective action to increase accuracy and efficiency when creating help tickets.

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