Kathy Sobus currently serves as Senior Director, Customer Experience Strategy at ConvergeOne, a leading global IT services provider of Contact Center, Collaboration, and Technology Solutions. She is responsible for the strategy and execution of a $200M+ Customer Experience Portfolio and leads a group of 60+ professionals who work with ConvergeOne’s clients and foster their Customer Experience strategies, which often involve AI technologies including biometric authentication. She is well-versed in utilizing AI technology to keep confidential customer and company data safe from hackers, give clients the advantages needed to compete in the marketplace, and ensure their clients can provide a seamless customer experience.
Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing everything from the product itself to the consumer experience in many different industries. What we're seeing is an explosion in intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) using natural language processing. To help us break down the business case for AI in consumer care, when and how to employ IVAs, we're joined by Kathy Sobus.
[00:00:00] KRISTINA: Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing everything from the product itself to the consumer experience in many different industries, including health care. To help us break down the business case for AI, we're joined by Kathy Sobus.
[00:00:13] INTRO: Welcome to The Power of Digital Policy, a show that helps digital marketers, online communications directors, and others throughout the organization balance out risks and opportunities created by using digital channels. Here's your host, Kristina Podnar.
[00:00:30] KRISTINA: Kathy is responsible for the strategy and execution of over a $200 million portfolio focused on customer experience. Her experience not only involves AI technologies, but also biometric authentication. I can't think of anybody better to have here with us today. So Kathy, welcome, and thanks for taking the time.
[00:00:53] KATHY: Thanks so much for having me, Kristina. It's great to be here.
[00:00:57] KRISTINA: Kathy, you've witnessed many technology changes in your career. I don't want to make you sound old, but you've seen a lot of this in and out. How have these technologies changed the customer experiences?
[00:01:08] KATHY: Oh, my heavens. If you think back, you know, in customer experience, this, the change was, or the epitome was very personalized service, human to human service, where you would pick up the phone only and call somebody or call into a contact center, and a human would answer, and they would take care of your needs. Then, then it moves. Somewhere in the nineties, eighties and nineties, it moved into more self-service arrangements. Right? And the technology is allowing you like, like what we would call an interactive voice response or an IVR system, you would pick that up, and it would prompt you for certain things. And it might give you a balance, or it might allow you to move funds around in the banking industry. Uh, and something of that nature. And, you know, people were pretty pleased with that because they could call into that any time of the day or night, but that was still very voice-related and phone-related. And so now what we're seeing is really an explosion in what we'll call IVS or intelligent virtual assistants, and they use natural language processing or NLP; sorry for all the acronyms here. But that seems to be the, uh, area that we live in, the industry that we live in. But these virtual assistants can be very intelligent and can help you do things that, uh, the typical IVR could not help you do without an incredible amount of work of provisioning, of professional services in order to make that happen.
[00:02:38] KRISTINA: So that's what is interesting because I get frustrated regularly trying to talk to Alexa, or even Google home; I'd much prefer to talk to Siri if I really have to. But even that, I find it's really frustrating as a user. Why do we need AI for customer experience when we're still having a hard time meeting kind of the basics, it seems like, or am I just misunderstanding?
[00:03:00] KATHY: I don't know that you're misunderstanding it. You know, if we talk about, and we think about AI, um, are we, is this true AI that we're working on and the Alexis and Googles of the world, and I hope you didn't set them all off in your, in your studio there. They're really trying to help develop that vocabulary and help understand what your preferences are. So you're actually training them as they're trying to be helpful to you. And, and that's where the intelligence really starts to play in. But if you think about things like Alexa reminding you maybe that you need to buy dog food, as an example, that's a case where you're starting to see delve into more intelligence, more artificial intelligence by your preferences, what you're buying today off Amazon, specifically in that instance. And when you, when they think you might want to renew or refresh based on all of those buying preferences. So there are elements of intelligence that are already built-in, they just might not be as obvious to you, as others.
[00:04:04] KRISTINA: So, if you think about the range, if you will, or the spectrum of intelligent virtual assistance, where are we right now? Are we just starting out in this space? Can we expect to get a lot smarter, or are the intelligent virtual assistants already as smart as we're going to see.
[00:04:21] KATHY: Oh, they're not nearly as smart as we're going to see them. And thank goodness, because of the experiences that you were just talking about, we really need to make sure that the experiences are connected one. So what do I mean by that? So, if you're conversing with an artificial or an AI bot, as an example, and you're not happy or pleased, where do you go from there? And it, and if you can't go anywhere from there, there's something really missing. So, if I can't, we call it to escalate. If I can't escalate out of my intelligent virtual assistant into a human, then I'm frustrated because I can't get what I need to be done in a timely manner. So that's one element of it, but the real area that you want to be in is not necessarily just escalating to a human, but having that human have the knowledge and information that they need about what you all were talking about in that virtual assistant. So, you're trying to do work in the virtual assistant. You're frustrated, and you want to get out, you want to speak to a human, you want to move over to that human, and you want all of that information. All that transcription of what was occurring in that virtual assistant to go along with you. So then when the agent picks up, it's like, hi Kristina, I see we're working on, fill in the blank. How can I help you? That's a very different experience than the ones that are great, you know, that are frustrating people right now.
[00:05:50] KRISTINA: I'm so excited. I'm almost excited about where we're going, because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel that I don't normally see most days, just in terms of IVS; what are we looking at in terms of healthcare? How's that market space evolving?
[00:06:04] KATHY: Oh, you know, think about healthcare for a minute and think about; I love the area of healthcare. Why do I love it? Because there is so much intellectual property happening in healthcare, smart devices, smart rooms, connected devices. And yet healthcare, as a customer experience or a patient experience of calling in setting an appointment, canceling them, getting reminders or prescription refills, all of that is really lacking. And so you, you're almost at a, you know, there's a juxtaposition that exists here, right? Where, where you've got the like really cool stuff that's happening for connected devices. And then you've got the other area of artificial intelligence that's not been implemented as fully as it could be to help those patients along. So if you start to think about. There's a couple of things I think about here. One, if I had my knee replaced and you had your knee replaced, and I know you're a runner, then you're gonna wear your knee differently than I will because I don't run. And yet we could have gone into the hospital, same day, same knee, and it's going to wear differently if those devices if those knees had a device in them that could send a signal back out to the manufacturer, wouldn't it be nice to know that one of them was wearing differently and maybe you want to replaced sooner than what's typically done. Right? You would want to know that, and then you could make decisions based on that. That's what I mean about the connectedness and artificial intelligence and how that can be a little bit more pervasive in a helpful way on behalf of the patient. The other piece of this is to think about setting an appointment, and for some patients that are out there that are chronically in a chronic situation, they might have multiple appointments in one day. In fact, I've worked with some customers they're thinking about using NLP, artificial intelligence to help these types of patients. And so if you've got three appointments set up in the day when it be nice to know, where would I park? Where is that first appointment? Is the doctor running behind? Can I have a meal before I go, or am I going to be sitting in a waiting room, waiting for the doctor when I'm hungry? And I could be eating, and then how do I navigate a building? So, some of these buildings are in urban, highly urban areas. They have multiple floors, and it's very difficult for patients to navigate the building, especially when they're in a compromised situation. So how do you navigate all of that? And then, by the end of the day, where did I park? Where is my car? How do I get back to it? And so the whole experience can be so much different and so much better than what it is today.
[00:08:59] KRISTINA: Kathy, I want that experience because, honestly, I'm not an experience I have today. I have a father who has dementia, so I manage his prescriptions through PillPack, which is now owned by Amazon. And I was so excited with Amazon bought PillPack. I thought, oh my gosh, here we go through the revolution of technology; I'm going to see really great things. And instead, what I get is usually a call from PillPack. And when I answer, they say, please hold for the next available agent. Right. And I almost start to cry at that point cause it's usually eight to 10 minutes to get an agent online. And really, what they want to do is just tell me, you know, what, we don't have the vitamin B in stock. So can we just say head out of your PillPack again, and we've left it out for the last three months? So, there's nothing new, and I'm thinking to myself, you could have just texted me, emailed me. You could have done a lot of different things. And instead of sitting at least 15 minutes of my life, I'll never get back. And so, it seems like. Far away in the future that we're going to be in this experience where I know have a snack because your doctor's running 35 minutes behind, or maybe reschedule even better. We schedule your appointment because your doctor's an hour and a half behind. That's my doctor. And you're going to be really, really late. Or there's no need to leave the office for another hour and a half.
[00:10:15] KATHY: Exactly. Exactly. Why waste your time sitting there and waiting for them. Right. And, and you're, you're right on target there. Why can't the other area I've been spending time in is authentication, right? So, I'm a company, or as like that could reach out to you. How did they know it is you? Let me make sure I authenticate with you. We're doing a lot with biometric authentication now as well. Let may authenticate that you and you're speaking on behalf of your dad, right? And so, it's not your dad, it's you, but you're allowed to do that, you know? So let me authenticate you, and then let me deliver that information to you. Hey, we're out of vitamin B. Is it okay for me to send it? There is no reason why that information can't go back and forth on behalf of you and your dad in order to let that, you know, uh, orders come out to you so that you have what you need. There's no reason it can't. Backend systems. The tie-in back there. Oh, we partially fill her order. Will she be okay with that? Yes or no decisioning is being made that information, going back into the center and then be processed in a timely manner for you.
[00:11:24] KRISTINA: So, Kathy, does Amazon just need to call you? Is that the big hurdle here? I'm like, you know, wouldn't that be great. You're talking about all of these really great experiences. What's really the hurdle because we obviously have the technology. Why aren't we there yet?
[00:11:38] KATHY: Yeah, that's a great question too. You know, I think sometimes companies have their own hurdles, right? They, they have siloed parts of their organization, and it's difficult at times for them to break down barriers in order to get some of these things accomplished. The marketing department might own part of the customer experience or patient experience. Doctors and physicians again, and the healthcare industry could own another part of the experience, right. Nursing staff, a different one and, and yet, and then there's a contact center that's trying to make appointments or prescribe or refill your prescriptions and do things like that for you. So, it's getting all of the pieces to talk together because the experience is not it just in one department anymore, right. Companies that do customer experience well do it throughout their entire organization. They don't just do it in one department, and they all rally around the customer in order to help them.
[00:12:36] KRISTINA: So, what does that look like from a very mature organization that can do customer experience well, like when I say, hey, you don't have to name names, but when I say a company is doing customer experience really well, they're adopting end to end solutions implementing AI technologies where it matters, biometric authentication, where it's appropriate. What is a really mature organization look like? Like how do I know if I'm winning? If I'm inside of that organization.
[00:13:04] KATHY: Yeah. It's knitting together, all those pieces that you just named. Right. And all the, all the causes for the disruption that you have when you reach out to a company, and you go, wow, there's gotta be a better way. And I don't understand why there isn't a better way. It's, it's being able to, uh, contact them whenever and however you want, any time of the day or night because there are people that like to call in the middle of the night because it just occurs to them and they want to be able to do something for themselves. It's getting; it has the intelligence systems that allow for them to have that rich discussion with that system. Right. So poor for IVA technology. Just built in a silo and doesn't allow you to go outside the box. Right? What are the hours of operation? Nine to five? That's all I'm telling you. Where's the location down the street, 1 23 main street. How do I do this? Well, the process is A, B, C, and D, but they don't go that extra mile and say, well, if you choose B. And it's filling out a form. Would you like me to send you that form? No. They continue to refer you to a website that, in many cases, has the information it's just difficult to find. And so, the IVA doesn't have to be voice-driven. It can be SMS driven; it can be chat driven. It can be email-driven. You can have IVS on social media as well, but having a purpose built in order to help the customer and not just help the company, I think, is a great start. And then if, if escalation is required, what do you do? You allow it to go to a human; you don't keep them in jail. Right. And that's the one thing that really does not reside well with a customer, right? They want to be able to get out. They want to be able to talk to somebody. And if I can partially self-serve, then these long hold times that you were talking about. They're going to go away as well. Not completely because, you know, we have an employee shortage. We all know that right now, but they are going to go away over time. And so the more I can do for myself and contain it myself, the less traffic goes into the center. The easier it is for me to process that, especially if the person that's receiving it has that information. So, take care of the employee as well. And now, all along the way here, there are these wonderful nuggets of data that are happening, and I have to grab that data, and I have to behold it in such a way that in the future, which is now for some companies, I can understand what preferences look like. I can understand how to market to people, and I can understand how to serve people. I can understand what their sentiment is. I can modify the websites. I can modify all of the things that are happening in order to meet the needs of the customers that are contacting me at that moment in time; I can also meet that need individually. Right. I don't have to do it at a group level. So take that data, make it actionable, and hold onto it because that becomes your basis for machine learning and AI, right? True AI. So, machine learning will take place because you've got all that richness and depth of those trends and that data. And then, the AI will take over and allow you to modify it with confidence levels in scoring as well. Always allow your customers to provide feedback and take that to heart. Like, don't just say, wow. Whew. We did great. Make sure that you can continue to expand on that and do well. And that. Yeah, it was probably a little longer than you wanted, but
[00:16:53] KRISTINA: I actually, because I'm actually in my head, I can't the math being in my head almost like a checklist. I asked you to give me a checklist of what does a mature company look like? And I think that that's actually a really great point am also sure that you're continually taking on feedback from your consumers. So don't just rest on your laurels and say, we've done. Let's all go home. It's just a continuation of where we've been and where we're going. And it doesn't sound like you reach a place where it's like, now we're done.
[00:17:20] KATHY: Very much, so very much. So things are changing too rapidly for us to rest on our laurels. And I also think if you have brick and mortar facilities, you have to think about how those get tied in as well. So there are still retail stores and locations. There are banks; there are healthcare systems. What does that experience look like? And how do you keep those nuggets of that experience and allow it to feed these AI engines that we're going to have and continue to build out?
[00:17:49] KRISTINA: No, that's a really great point. I was actually going to try and take a break from my running into a kickboxing class today. And I didn't go because, believe it or not, I signed up via an online chatbot for my trial class, but the company failed to give me any kind of calendar invite, or any kind of detail on the address. I know roughly where they're located. But there was no kind of prompt or up. They just signed me up for a class and let me float up to the ether. And I just wasn't really inclined, I guess, to go digging. And I was like, yeah, you know, I'll just go running again. Cause it's easy. And they were shocked today. They said, Hey, you missed your class. And I was like, you never told me where to be, what time? And I even did ask you, what am I supposed to prep? So it's like that last mile almost that's continually missing.
[00:18:35] KATHY: It really is, right. And a lot of consumers will do what you did today. And they'll just say, oh, you know, it's easier to do whatever. And let me not do that. And I sit here, and I think about what you just said and, oh my gosh, send you a text message. We're really looking forward to it. Don't forget to bring X, Y, and Z. Right now, the traffic is whatever your fastest route. Would you like us to pull up a Google map or, or whatever map app you have, and you can track, you know, you you'll know when you need to leave. And we're really looking forward to seeing you; that would have gone miles for you. You probably would have shown up to.
[00:19:14] KRISTINA: I probably would've signed up today. I probably paid my fees. But yeah, that didn't happen. So it's interesting. We're talking about all of the opportunities and the upsides of IVA. And so I'm really excited because not only are you talking about the great things that are coming down the pipe. And I was at LEAP Saudi Arabia, and I got to see just really cool things that are really almost available to consumers. Things like the ability to take our phone and be able to point it at a snack that I'm about to have out of my fridge and for my phone to tell me, oh, you know what? You need to adjust your insulin if you're a diabetic because you're having a snack with too much sugar. So those types of interfaces are really exciting, especially because then, of course, you can feed that data to my doctor, who could see how I'm doing. Give me a pat on the back. Or tell me, to step it up a little bit harder or better, and lots of opportunities, lots of upsides, but there are also risks. So enterprise has faced a lot of risks, anything from data breaches to data privacy regulations to brand issues. What are the things that you tell enterprises to think about as they start to kind of go down this IVA path? Like what should they be thinking about in terms of the opportunity versus the risk and trying to find that fine balance?
[00:20:26] KATHY: Yeah, that's a great question. Uh, and you've experienced some IVS that is not good. Right? And so they run the risk of damaging their brand. When you have one that hasn't been built well or properly or one that doesn't even have a conversation with you, one that's kind of flailing out there a bit. And so I think that on that side or on that front, I would, of course, recommend working with a proven provider that can help them navigate those waters that can help that IVA grow. And the expectations are set properly with it, as it does grow and mature and learn more and more along the way. So I think that's one area, the second area, and I'm spending a ton of time there and in the area of cybersecurity. And I mentioned biometric authentication because it's biometric authentication is what you are. It's not what you remember or what you know. So it's, it's you, it's your facial ID print. It's a 3d mapping of your face, or it's your thumbprint, or it's your voiceprint, and all of those are helpful in making sure that we have identified who you are. And that technology is actually going now into liveliness to make sure that it's a person and not a picture or a deep fake that's in front of a camera or has done that voiceover and cobbled together those phonetics in order in a way that can be damaging to that person as well. Allowing people to authenticate that way does a couple of things. First of all, it secures the person. It secures an agent to, and, and these agents who want to be so compassionate and helpful, that's how they were hired. Now it can be a little bit more comfortable that person is who they say they are. So that's one area, the other area for authentication that I see a lot in is regarding the employee. There are rings of employees out there right now that where you've got one person that interviews really, really well, and then they get hired, and then their sibling shows up for work. It's not the person that was hired. And I've told this story over and over again. We just came off of a customer summit last week. And I was telling that story at the customer summit, and I had someone shaking their head, like in violent agreement. And I went. You know, did that happen to you? And the person said, yes, not only did it happen to us, it took us five months to get rid of them. And so when you think of the hiring, the recruiting, the time spent the training because the person had every excuse in the book that they were nervous or whatever, right. It just wasn't the person that they had hired. That's sitting there. So that's one area. The other area is we're all working from home now. And so, as you work from home, it's been told that some agents will get up from their desks. And then, a spouse will sit down and take two or three phone calls while the other person goes and takes a little bit of a break. And so that isn't the same person that you hired. And then that person has credentials, and they have access to information. Of course, most of the time, it's encrypted. Of course, it is. Um, but it's still a good way to safeguard the employees and the customers of the company to think about security in a little different way. Um, those breaches are frightening, and we see them in the paper all the time. So, no one wants their name in the paper that way, right in the virtual paper, in the news that way, no one wants their name in the news.
[00:24:06] KRISTINA: Oh, absolutely. And so much risk in terms of the brand, right? I mean, breaches follow you for many, many years. And so, for some companies, that actually spells a bankruptcy, even depending on how bad the data breach can be, and you probably know this better than I do, especially in the healthcare space.
[00:24:21] KATHY: And the ransomware, the ransomware attacks, right. And companies pay them because they're frightened that they won't get their data back and they can't do business without their customer data. So, um, yeah, it's, it's bad. It's bad. So definitely would look into security cybersecurity.
[00:24:40] KRISTINA: That's actually bringing to mind another topic for me personally because I go into enterprises where there's never just one vendor of record. There are usually multiple vendors of record. If they're lucky, or there are just vendors that are doing bits and pieces of enterprise support. Your company ConvergeOne provides cloud management and professional services, you've acquired a dozen service providers, and you're rapidly expanding. There's the opportunity there to have a single vendor of record, or at least to pair down the vendors of record. And also start to maybe overcome some of these silos that are going to make it possible to adopt technologies. What trends do you see in the marketplace? And do you think that this is an opportunity for organizations to balance out some of that risk and the opportunities by going with a single vendor? Or is it like, Hey, I'm putting too many eggs in a single basket.
[00:25:32] KATHY: Yeah, it really depends on what the approach is for the company. I want to use the word sophisticated, how sophisticated they want to be. And I've seen very small companies be very sophisticated, right? So it's not a size question here. It's a level of integration. It's a level of importance that they place on their customer experience. And I do know that a couple of years ago, that was the trend, one-stop-shop. It was talked about quite a bit by a lot of industry professionals. And I like our stance honestly pick the best of the best, work with them and work with a proven integrator that can work with them, with you, and help you. And that's what ConvergeOne offers here. We offer the ability to not have everybody choose just one vendor but choose the best of the best and allow us to help them work those or integrate those pieces together to provide the experiences that they want to provide to their customers. That would be my answer if you wanted a one-stop-shop, a company like us, like ConvergeOne would be the place to go. We are a one-stop-shop with the backdrop of having all that vendor knowledge in our place. We work heavily with all the vendors that are in the upper right-hand quadrant of Gartner and others. We have been working for years and years on how to integrate them to provide the best experience possible.
[00:26:58] KRISTINA: That's really helpful. And, certainly, I think it starts to map out some actions or some actions that we can all take as we're thinking about what's next. Thinking ahead to this integrated consumer experience, and I hope that we're all going to have a much better-integrated consumer experience as a result of talking to you, what are the one or two things you want people to focus on for this year? What is it that we should be trying to achieve this year so that we can be well-positioned for what's to come next?
[00:27:25] KATHY: Oh, that's a really good question too. Kristina. I think one of the things that I would encourage companies to do is to look at artificial intelligence and look at this IVA technology and think about what you could use. And there are so many companies right now that are overloaded. You had mentioned having a long talk time. So I had one where I was replacing something on my security system in my house. Every time I called in, it was at least a five-minute wait. That was my barometer before or after five minutes. And so I, I would look at the clock, and I would say, oh, I have 15 minutes. Oh, good. I can wait right before the next phone call that I would be on, uh, you know, the companies like that just are so overwhelmed with traffic coming in right now that they can take a step back, and they need to take a step back and say, how can I help? There are two areas. One, look at the IVS and look at them as a way of offloading some of the inbound traffic, but to look at an IVA as an outbound mechanism if you've got information that you can share with a customer that's relevant to them, I'm not talking about marketing messages here. I'm talking about, like, your prescription. If that company reached out to you and said, Uh, you know, we have this, it's mostly filled. We're missing this. Do you want it? You would have been the lighted. Instead, what happened was you got a message that said, call me, you add it, that added to the inbound volume. So think about ways that you can be proactive to reach out to your customer base and take care of them in ways that are relevant to them. And that will both of those things will help offload traffic and have happier customers.
[00:29:12] KRISTINA: And that's, at the end of the day, what we all want to strive for.
[00:29:15] KATHY: Exactly happy customers, happy employees, being able to transact in the world, get what we want from the companies that we do business with. Absolutely.
[00:29:26] KRISTINA: Well, thanks so much, Kathy, for being with us today, helping to break down, not just IVA technology, but how to start to overcome some of the organizational barriers that prevent us from adopting it. So we can all make for happier customers and happier customer experiences. Appreciate you being with us.
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