Customer support operations increasingly rely on automation and complex workflow processes to reduce costs and improve experiences. Automation also allows organizations to make their service processes richer, incorporating information and staff from back offices, for example, or embedding conversational tools into contact center processes.
Uniphore is a technology provider that focuses on using artificial intelligence to build those workflows and automations. Since 2020, the contact center industry has seen a widespread trend to accelerate digital transformation projects with an eye toward injecting more intelligence into processes like self-service and agent guidance. Uniphore has taken advantage of this trend to develop an automation engine that makes customer interactions more conversational and versatile.
Intelligent virtual agents are an example of how automation is enhancing very mature, traditional interactions. IVAs are characterized by their ability to converse with humans in an automated yet intelligent manner, carrying on a dialogue that resembles one with a live agent because it can pivot, branch out and stray from the original topic in real-time.
IVAs can access data sources for complex interactions, much the way a live agent would perform a lookup by ascertaining the cause of the query using natural language recognition. In either a voice or text interaction, many IVAs can use predictive algorithms to anticipate customer needs and enable what we call “conversational computing.”
Ventana Research asserts that by 2022, three-quarters of organizations will have explicitly introduced more than one AI or machine learning application into contact center service processes for predictive routing, chatbots and agent assistance.
The speed at which AI and automation is penetrating the staid contact center world presents an opportunity for vendors like Uniphore that specialize in process design. Uniphore offers software called the Conversational Service Automation Platform that uses a combination of AI/ML, robotic process automation (RPA) and natural language processing (NLP) to optimize customer interactions. It also provides an alternative mode of customer self-service (via IVAs) in which processes and pathways customers encounter on their own are connected to the agent environment.
One element of the offering is an IVA called U-Self Serve that deflects transaction-oriented interactions away from high-cost agents. Another functionality is U-Assist, an automated agent guidance tool. In combination, the Uniphore approaches knit largely siloed operations together to smooth interactions into relatively friction-free experiences.
Uniphore also has a security application for preventing agent fraud via agent verification in work-from-home or remote contact centers.
Uniphore recently acquired Jacada, a company that has a long history as an agent desktop integration specialist and has more recently built a low-code/no-code platform for contact center automation.
It is that latter capability that Uniphore needs most. Having a low-code/no-code automation development environment adds significant depth to Uniphore’s own development resources, and to its expertise in the agent desktop process integration stack. Besides helping Uniphore enhance its own products, Jacada brings the organization a way to make the automation/workflow design and usage process more available to non-tech line-of-business workers. Pushing automation creation out to people without coding or development skills reduces the time it takes to design solutions to what are often relatively straightforward problems. It also reduces the need for dedicated IT resources when workers most closely tied to processes have a hand in their design and deployment.
Uniphore also plans to leverage the resources within Jacada to optimize and customize its AI models for different industry verticals, and to use RPA for building better knowledge-based agent guidance and assistance during interactions.
In March 2021, Uniphore raised its largest funding round to date — $140 million — bringing the total raised to $210 million. The company has announced that it will put some of those resources to use developing video-based AI applications with technology from another recent acquisition — Emotion Research Labs. With the pair of acquisitions, Uniphore now has a complete portfolio of non-developer automation tools to supplement what they’ve built in-house.
It is clear that contact centers are on the cusp of a decisive shift to more automated processes, especially as they connect to back-office functions. This will heavily impact many types of workers, including agents, supervisors, line of business managers and IT professionals. Organizations will find it easier to control costs using automation, and they will also be able to better measure the impacts of contact center operations on the goals of the enterprise.
Contact centers will be ground zero in organizational efforts to automate workflows. But others who orchestrate customer experiences will also find it valuable: marketers, sales teams, and knowledge workers who are not necessarily customer-facing but are “adjacent” to the customer experience. Self-service will probably become an arena for experimentation using automation and AI.
Organizations should consider the value of automating both agented and self-service processes, especially as they connect to other internal processes, so as to create friction-free pathways for customer interactions and communications. This will also open up the opportunity to solidify new management techniques needed in a largely work-from-home agent environment for training, coaching and peer collaboration.
For further reading on issues related to automated customer interactions using agents and self-service, explore these Analyst Perspectives:
- Intelligent Virtual Agents Are an Imperative for Digital Self-Service
- Customer Service and Support: Expanded Role and Need for Software