Technology Got Companies Through the Pandemic, NICE CEO Says

The eight months since NICE's last conference seemed like a complete roller coaster ride, company CEO Barak Eilam said during his keynote address at the virtual NICE Interactions conference yesterday.

"At times, it feels like we could clearly see the directions we were heading and at times we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, only to experience another setback," Eilam said. "Some of the roller coaster ride took place in complete darkness. I believe the light we are seeing right now is the end of tunnel. After a year on this roller coaster, this is the right time to pause and take a look at how far we have come."

Companies stayed connected even though they were forced to stay socially distanced from their customers, Eilam added. Yet in many ways, they became much closer than ever, sharing the unedited versions of themselves.

"It looked like we were better prepared than we thought," Eilam said, pointing to the technological acceleration of the past two decades that enabled many companies to handle the challenges of 2020 without going under.

If the pandemic had happened in 2000, rather than 20 years later, smartphones were seven years from launch, AOL offered what was state-of-the-art internet, broadband was largely unavailable, and laptops were luxury items, Eilam pointed out. "The world as we know it would have come to a complete halt, shutting down global economies for an extended period, maybe even creating a global systemic collapse."

Instead, many companies were able to weather the economic storm caused by the pandemic thanks to the technological advances in the last 20 years.

"In 2020, virtualization, which had debuted about a decade earlier, became the engine that kept the economy from shutting down and our lives from being completely disrupted," Eilam said. "Virtual will become part of every aspect of our lives based on wider adoption and consumer-led demand. This will be accompanied by the maturation of virtual technologies. They will become faster, smarter, more real, more powerful, and they will be connected to every one of our devices."

The next decade will feature a shifting landscape of consumer preferences, which can be seen among three main transitions, according to Eilam. They are as follows:

  • A "phygital" mentality, combining elements of the digital and physical mentalities. This will coincide with the evolution of virtual technology.
  • The evolution from pursuing convenience to a frictionless reality. Consumers learned they wanted to maximize experiences, with everything being easier and more convenient. The next decade will take this a step further by focusing on extracting every element of friction from daily experiences, Eilam said.
  • The move from data privacy to data as trust currency. "Trust will take on a renewed significance," Eilam said. "The new decade will see a re-negotiated contract of trust between consumers and organizations. Consumers will treat their personal information as a new type of currency, willing to exchange it for the right hyper-personalized virtual experiences."

"For those who are well-prepared, it can be an opportunity, leading to change, freedom and invention," Eilam added. "We are just at the very beginning of the first virtual decade. Decisions that you make today will determine the decisions that you make in this new decade."

He recommended that company executives use their experiences connecting with family and friends as a blueprint for how they should connect with consumers.

Drew Kraus, a Gartner research vice president, added that 80 percent of service leaders want to migrate customers to self-service channels in 2021.

Gartner identified other priorities for customer service leaders in 2021. They are as follows:

  • Upgrading legacy contact center technology (79 percent);
  • Automating customer service processes (77 percent);
  • Shifting from reactive to proactive customer service (68 percent); and
  • Understanding customer service through data (64 percent).

"There's no surprise there, but it's interesting to have this fed back to us in customer survey data," Kraus said.

In 2021, Kraus sees the following five core use cases for AI in the contact center:

  • Virtual customer assistants, including interactive voice response and chatbots to provide automated answers to a wider and deeper set of queries;
  • Agent assist, with AI providing better context to the agent so she can better empathize with customers;
  • Call summary, which dramatically decreases the amount of after-call work;
  • Speech analytics, to provide quality assurance on all interactions; and
  • Intelligent routing, to properly route and prioritize customer queries.

Not surprising then, NICE used the conference to launch its own intelligent routing solution. Enlighten AI Routing, which is powered by data from NICE Enlighten AI and infused with available customer data, is designed to understand customer needs and match the customer with the optimal agent in real time.

At the beginning of every interaction, NICE Enlighten AI Routing's artificial intelligence evaluates its massive datasets in real time to determine the most influential data for each connection. The data is layered with analytics to provide insight into customers' recent experiences with the business, such as their sentiment and the outcomes of previous interactions.

The technology identifies the most relevant datasets to gain a holistic view of the agent and select the optimal agent, including their recent training successes, active listening skills and ability to demonstrate empathy. It also displays continuous outcomes in a Benefit Report, making ongoing improvement visible to business leaders.

"In today's post-virtual decade, organizations are racing to distinguish their experiences and meet the demand for next-gen CX," Barry Cooper, president of the NICE workforce and customer experience group, said in a statement. "Embedding AI across data sets speeds the delivery of brand-differentiating service. With NICE Enlighten AI Routing, organizations can immediately deliver the gold standard of service to their customers while powering measurable improvements in efficiency, [customer satisfaction], revenue, and more."

Also during the conference, RingCentral and NICE extended their long-term agreement to market and sell RingCentral Contact Center worldwide.

RingCentral Contact Center integrates NICE's CXone cloud contact center with RingCentral's cloud Message Video Phone (MVP) platform.

"We enable organizations to delight their customers in every interaction with outstanding service," said Anand Eswaran, president and chief operating officer at RingCentral, in a statement. "We believe it is critical to equip contact center agents and company employees with the right tools, insights, and capabilities to communicate internally and assist customers quickly and efficiently via any mode, any device, anywhere. By combining RingCentral's industry-leading MVP platform with NICE CXone, RingCentral can deliver a best-in-class integrated UCaaS-CCaaS solution that is unique in the industry. Our customers value the fact that RingCentral is a single provider that sells, deploys, and supports all of their internal and external communication needs."

"RingCentral Contact Center brings the power of two industry-leading solutions together to help organizations create next-generation customer experiences and at the same time improve workforce agility, reduce costs, and enhance customer satisfaction in the least amount of time," said Paul Jarman, CEO of NICE CXone, in a statement. "We are excited to deliver the advanced capabilities and completeness of CXone and extend our successful partnership with RingCentral and bring further rapid innovations to our joint customers."

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