Guest: Rob Coverdale, Head of Conversation Design at LivePerson
Host: Mandeep Kwatra, CX Strategy, Solutions & Capabilities Leader at HGS
This week, we launch “Talking Transformation,” our monthly HGS podcast and blog. With this series, we’ll talk to leaders from different companies, industries, and brands to understand how they are using technology, tools, and artificial intelligence (AI) engines to change the customer experience (CX) space. We’ll glean insights into how these businesses have evolved, and we’ll hear about some of their firsthand use cases, challenges, and learnings. To get us started with our premier blog/podcast we have with us Rob Coverdale. Rob is the Head of Conversation Design at LivePerson, a leading conversational commerce solutions provider.
Mandeep: LivePerson has been transforming its journey, and you have been doing a lot to redefine your platform. Can you talk about the paradigm shift?
Rob: Our LivePerson Founder and CEO Rob LoCascio had the vision long ago but, to be honest, it wasn’t until 2013 that we began to realize it, because we had to make changes to capture that realization. The reality is that when I started here, in 2006, all communication was on a website, and chat was new. But technology changes quickly. And our communication changed to support the shift.
Mandeep: So it was also around 2013 that you changed the way you go to market, and the way you have been working with different business process outsourcing (BPO) companies. What has been that thinking behind that shift in how you want to partner and go to market?
Rob: What we saw, early on, is that the initial brands that jumped on the shift to digital didn’t fully grasp and understand what that means. But BPO partners can develop the right key performance indicators (KPIs). They can set the right incentive plans, geared specifically toward messaging, partnered with our technology. We can really show best-in-class service for these brands and give them a very clear blueprint as to how to operationalize and see the benefits that messaging offers. That has been point number one. The second thing that we have been doing recently, and that I’ve personally been working on, is seeing the way that automation transforms the contact center. And that is another example where we are leveraging BPO partners like HGS to employ automation to that transformation. The contact center is a very unique place. It is the epicenter of conversations for every single brand.
I firmly believe that BPOs, especially our partner BPOs in the ecosystem, are the best in the world when it comes to messaging. And that’s because our BPO partners can leverage our expertise to really get the best out of these agents on our technology. Also, when you look specifically at bots and AI, these BPOs are the ones that are really able to provide the best guidance as to how to mature, tune, and optimize these bots. Working with these partners allows us to hit numbers on CSAT, containment, and transfer rates.
Mandeep: How do you compare customer satisfaction between human interaction and AI interaction? That is a question that gets asked a lot of times. The thought is that a bot can’t deliver the same kind of customer satisfaction, even for simple queries. What has been your experience with that?
Rob: Look, people have pleasurable customer experiences with bots. I’ll give you a great example. We’re here in our offices today, and we’re on the fifth floor. You took the elevator to get to this floor, right? How was that experience?
Rob: Right? It got you where you wanted. Did you tip the elevator?
Rob: Did you respond to a survey?
Rob: But you had a great experience. It’s the same kind of mindset when you engage with bots. Absolutely, it has to be measured. It is possible to achieve CSAT of 80% and higher.
Mandeep: In the conversational AI space, what are the sweet spots, since there are still so many improvements?
Rob: It honestly varies per brand and per industry. The big metric that everyone looks to is containment rate, which is the rate that customer queries are resolved by the bot without intervention from a live agent. To actually achieve a great containment rate, you need to teach the bot, train the bot, and empower it. You need to ensure the right training before and after the bot launches, and continue to mature it. Generally, what I see is that even if a bot transfers a conversation to a human, that conversation takes less time after transfer than it would have before. I think the art to it is making sure the transfer is pleasurable.
Mandeep: Can you talk about this? How you make the transfer from bot to human more pleasurable?
Rob: Remember that I’m sharing experience working with our technology. We plug the bots into our system like they are an agent so they all live within one ecosystem. We can modify messages that say, “Hold on, while we pull someone in,” so a customer doesn’t feel disengaged. When a call moves from bot to human, it is critical that all history and any additional notes are transferred and included. We call that handoff a tango—bot and human working together. We want to build that bot to be as smart as possible but also know areas where they cannot answer. For example, if someone asks you a question about nuclear physics, you answer, “I don’t have that answer, but let me gather some information and find someone who can help.”
Mandeep: It’s all about helping the customer get the right answer, fast.
Rob: Generally we see that once some of those transfers happen, we can reduce the amount of conversation between that expert and the consumer, because now the expert agent has all the threaded information—the notes and background, as opposed to spending the additional time.
Mandeep: For many who wouldn’t know, LivePerson recently acquired a conversational AI bot company called Conversable. Rob, what has been the thinking behind buying AI bot companies?
Rob: When we shifted to messaging, we started to see a change in consumer behavior and the impact that messaging has on brands, with the promise of bots. For this to scale, there needed to be an ability for customers to self-serve. That’s the way that this becomes a cost-effective channel for these brands. That is why we pulled in the bot companies. To grow this messaging channel, you need some level of automation to support self service
It’s interesting when we compare the effectiveness of bots versus agents. There are a few things we have proven with the bots we have built. The bots can sell at the same conversion rate. No matter what agents are achieving, we can achieve at that same conversion rate and the bots can sell at higher scale.
Mandeep: If you were to qualify that with your experience, what would you say? What has been your experience?
Rob: We have a number of bots, I would say 20 or 30 or so. Our flagship bot –one that we started last summer that sells grills—sold a quarter of a million dollars, in the two month holiday season.
Mandeep: Quarter of a million dollars? In two months? That’s amazing. And you didn’t have a penny of commission?
Rob: Yeah, and the trick is that our bot lives with a contact center that we manage. And the team that is supporting this particular customer, they have human agents and bot agents. And just like human agents, there is a human manager and a bot manager. Our philosophy is to put the bot in as an agent and give him the same oversight.
Mandeep: It’s the digital workforce. That’s how you have to look at it. And, just to add to your example, Rob, I was recently working on a consumer brand’s business case development helping put together a case for digital workforce sales. And our finding was that their product was more focused on millennials and Generation Z. We started looking at selling through technology like Facebook Messenger, with a bot coming in to manage interactions. What we found, interestingly, is that in about two years the bot would have paid for itself and for its upkeep. It would have turned into a revenue-generating engine—a much higher revenue generating engine with higher conversion and a service side.
Rob: A lot of times you can use the technology to create another bot. Think of it as an agent. You can have one digital agent specializing in sales, and one digital agent specializing in service. The other place that is also really interesting is you can have---I like your word--a digital workforce. You can have a bot that is just agent facing. We have found when you have a bot that is just agent facing, you can reduce ramp-up time for new agents by half.
Mandeep: This is interesting. I understand that you are a messaging company and now into bots. Where is LivePerson going next? What do you have planned for 2019?
Rob: The bot space is not a fad. And, we are, honestly, the leading experts in bots. It’s not what the industry knows us for right now. But that’s where we are going, when you look at the number of bots running on our platform and the digital-human workforce results, expertise, and process we are delivering. In conjunction with the strong partnerships we have in this ecosystem—the technology partnerships, the BPO partnerships, our distribution partnerships--we are really focused on being a leader in the conversational market.