Synopsis: In this AI Leadership Insights video series Mike Vizard speaks with Jaime Meritt, chief product officer at Verint, about contact centers and how they will evolve in the age of AI.

Mike Vizard: Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the Video series. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today, we’re with Jaime Meritt, who’s Chief Product Officer for Verint, and we’re going to be talking about customer engagement, contact centers and how they will all evolve in the age of AI. Jaime, welcome to the show.

Jaime Meritt: Thanks, Mike. Appreciate you having me.

Mike Vizard: What ultimately will be the impact of all this? Everybody, of course, is in equal measures, excited and deathly afraid of what it means for their jobs and, and customers are wondering if they’re going to be talking to people anymore, or is it all going to be some sort of digital representation of a virtual entity? Where are we? How do you see this evolving?

Jaime Meritt: I do think it’s really fun to talk about a future where there’s no people and everything’s automated and everything’s AI based, but I still think we’re far from that. I think increasingly there’s more and more AI applied to both make people much more effective to augment your workforce, and you’re seeing increasingly use of much more advanced AI, LLMs and things like Chat GPT, et cetera, being used to do more and more complicated conversations with customers.
But I don’t believe that we’re at the point where everything is just going to shift and be a hundred percent contained in a now super AI channel. I think a lot of the benefits really come from applying AI to make people more effective at their roles, in addition to using AI to deflect and to manage self-service experiences. I think you’ll see both, and I think you’ll see a boom in real efficiency through the use of AI to augment your workforce.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that maybe some of the business leaders are overly excited, in that they’re buying a little bit too much into the hype and they think that-

Jaime Meritt: For sure. It is a major part of the hype cycle right now, where we are looking at every possible expectation we’re going to handle with AI, any possible problem can be solved, and that’s not the reality. I don’t want to downplay how exciting generative AI is, but yes, I do think business leaders and others that don’t understand maybe what the technology can and can’t do effectively are at the point where they have inflated expectations about what it will deliver.
It’ll fully replace developers in four years. And no, I don’t believe that’s going to happen. I’ve been in the industry a long time. We’ve been trying to replace developers ever since I started being a developer a hundred years ago, and we still haven’t been able to replace them yet. I do think that generative AIs are getting great at writing code. They’re making developers much, much more effective, but you still need a developer brain to make sure you know how it fits together and to deal with a lot of the errors that are introduced by generative AI, and hallucinations that are introduced by generative AI.
So I think you will see humans taking a more position of orchestrating, controlling Ais, like we orchestrate and control teams today, but you still need that human brain in the lead, I believe, for the foreseeable future. So yeah, we are really excited. There are tremendous opportunities that are unfolding because generative AI is an order of magnitude more capable, more exciting than any AI we’ve used for the last 50 years. So it is a real reason to be excited about all the things that it can do in customer service, but it’s not getting rid of a hundred percent of your people anytime soon.

Mike Vizard: It will make us more efficient though at the end of the day.

Jaime Meritt: Absolutely.

Mike Vizard: As a result, will the economics, customer service and contact centers fundamentally change in ways that are interesting and compelling?

Jaime Meritt: I think that’s the key, is that the dream is not to have any people. That’s what the dream is for some of these business leaders that are viewing generative AI. But no, I think that the reality is generative AI and technologies in these families make every employee better, faster, stronger. You need fewer of those employees to take a similar workload as your entire customer service operation does today. So yes, I do think economically it shifts from requiring …
The way we used to really improve customer experience was just by adding more and more people. Now, we’re at a point in customer engagement, we’re spending $2 trillion on people and only about $65 billion on technology. I think that spend will shift and you will spend materially more on technology and be able to reduce the amount you’re spending on that workforce on people because each of your individuals will be better, more efficient to their job, be able to deliver more optimal outcomes on fewer dollars per person.
So I do believe the economic shift, I believe the shift in spend, shift from labor and labor expansion to leveraging technology, much less seat based orientation, much more value, and paying for my bots to do a lot more stuff using the technology, as opposed to just building tools for people. And that’s where I think the economic benefits are, is in workforce efficiency and the ability to utilize them much more effectively.

Mike Vizard: One of the dirty little secrets about contact centers in particular is the turnover rate is really high. People burn out, and it’s not always the most enjoyable thing because you’re probably meeting people in their worst moments and you’re absorbing all of that, one call after another. So do you think that AI will ultimately make this whole process maybe less stressful?

Jaime Meritt: I think the AI will handle the overall majority of those less stressful conversations. I don’t know if that’s really leading to the humans not having to get involved in those really, really high stress calls. It actually might have the reverse effect in some ways, that humans are now only needed for those really, really emotionally draining and high stress calls. But I do think that’s looking at a very narrow window of AI really being used for containment and letting people stay in channel and just self-service.
I think AI makes people, as I said, much more effective. They enjoy their job more. It takes some of the rote activities that they do and automates that for them. So I do think, even though they still probably have to have a lot of those emotionally charged conversations with customers that have gotten to that point, their whole job overall gets better with AI.
Instead of spending five minutes after the call doing after call work and writing all my call notes and making sure it goes into the CRM, well, the AI can summarize really, really well for them. They don’t have to worry about that. Instead of them searching through millions of different articles and knowledge bases and applications that are available on our desktop, don’t worry, AI can suggest the right piece of knowledge based on listening to the call or watching the chat interaction that they’re currently on and suggest knowledge to them.
So when we’ve seen our customers apply AI to make agents’ experiences better, we actually see a reduction in attrition, an increase in the time they get to onboard, an improvement in employee engagement and employee satisfaction as measured on their job. So while I’d love to get rid of the hard calls they have to deal with, sometimes I think that’s where you need a human brain most applied, but it can make all the boring and repetitive and robotic parts of their job tremendously easier, and I honestly think that’s where so much of that cost savings we’re just talking about comes from.
They’re getting from interaction to interaction much quicker. They’re not doing as much after call work. They don’t have to do as much prep before the call because the AI is telling them, “Here’s everything that happened with this customer that’s relevant, and why they’re calling.” The AI during an engagement is telling them, “Here, look at this. This could help you right now.” So I do think when you provide people tools that make them better at their job and make it easier, they become more happy and they stay in their seat longer. So maybe it reduces attrition because they have more job satisfaction.

Mike Vizard: There you go. Well, the dynamics change. I feel like a lot of organizations make the bar for engaging with their customer service fairly high because they don’t want that ticket in their system in the first place. So they’re hoping that some folks might just simply find another answer or go some other way. If we can automate more and more of that, will the dynamics change where people will say, “Well, if we do engage with folks more, maybe we’ll sell them some additional stuff. We’ve been talking about upselling through the customer service window for a long time, but it makes success. So might this all get better?”

Jaime Meritt: Yes. I have rose glasses on the future, but I feel like I have good reason to see it that way. To your point, will it get better? Contact centers, customer service been around for a very long time. For the early part of it, and for much of my exposure to it even, the old way of viewing was it was very much a call center, it’s “How do I give people just enough of a response that they don’t leave my company?” It was really about managing what’s the least I could spend and give adequate experience to our customers, because they don’t have any choices. They can’t go anywhere.
So that’s I think historically, and this is a hundred years ago in the beginnings of customer service, optimization was the focus, and that’s financial optimization most often. What I think people have realized over the last decade, let’s say, is that customer experience and customer loyalty are, A, the only true competitive differentiators they have because everyone’s still selling a lot of the same products at this point, especially if you’re a big B2C organization. So you need to differentiate off of a great customer experience. That breeds loyalty, that breeds repeat business.
So you start to see people caring less about the cost per interaction, the cost of a specific channel, and more about are we serving them on their preferred channel at the time that they want, in the language that they want? Right now, we see a lot of people that really prefer asynchronous chat messaging. I’ll go on Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp and have a customer service engagement that might last a whole day because I’m getting to it in between my meetings, but I love the outcome of it because I was able to do it in the middle of time when I had free time and I had a better experience even though it lasted a full day.
So what my long-winded answer really a way of saying is, well, I believe that, yes, you will see containment in much richer and more capable channels, so you will see more being handled in self-service, I think you’ll see the cost per call, the cost per chat, the cost per everything go down because you’re doing so much in self-service. You’ll still want people to be in the least costly channel that they’re going to get the right experience in, and AI will be the key to helping deliver a superior customer experience, which people will measure their customer service increasingly on, as opposed to, “How can I just give them the best experience with the cheapest price?”

Mike Vizard: Do you think the institutional memory of organizations will improve, because one of the most frustrating things about customer service is if I send you a text message and then you call me back and then route me over to somebody else who’s going to talk to me in email each time I have to explain the problem over to every-

Jaime Meritt: Yeah, for sure. That’s the most frustrating experience in any omnichannel interaction, or especially if I just got put on hold and I go to the next agent and they don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s even more frustrating. I didn’t even switch forums or formats or anything. So yes, that’s typical frustration today in very disconnected omnichannel experiences. And that’s very often because those systems are disconnected, those teams are entirely separate and they don’t have any shared context that travels with the customer, with the engagement.
Even if they did, there might be so much information that they can’t process. So yes, AI helps a lot with that. AI is better at finding people, even though they might have slightly different names and different behaviors on different channels. AI is better at remembering everything that you train it to remember and more. So it’s good at processing very large volumes of data and coming up with unique or distinct recommendations based on that data, more so than a human can.
So yes, absolutely I think that you’ll see omnichannel experiences improving because, whether you’re in self-service, the AIs can be more and more connected across channels, or you end up in assisted service where a person has to help you through digital or social or even on voice. They’ll have a lot more information and they’ll have AI assistance helping them process the data, making recommendations, and listening on their shoulder, listening to the same engagement they’re in the middle of, and making recommendations throughout, whether that’s upsell them this, there’s a risk of return, maybe we need to give them an offer. We’re hearing indications of competitive threat here.
Whatever the AI is nudging you to do, maybe it’s just speak nicer. This person’s having a tough day. A lot of the empathy nudges are really important as well. So yes, overall AI powered humans will give better experiences and, going back to our prior question, they’ll be happier at their jobs. Customers will have better experiences, and companies should make more money with happier customers.

Mike Vizard: All right, folks. Well, you heard it here. Machines make us better people. How about that? Hey, Jaime, thanks for being on the show.

Jaime Meritt: Mike, thank you so much for your time and I had a lot of fun.

Mike Vizard: Thank you all for watching the latest episode of the video series. You can find this episode and others on our website. We invite you to check them all out. Until we see you again, we’ll look forward to the next time.