Future Whisper Coaching: Will AI Do All the Whispering?

The customer experience battle is being fought in the contact center. Whether it’s a service line or an inside sales call making first contact, the phone is often the medium that matters in moments of truth.

When customers are talking to an inside sales rep or an agent in a support organization, the ideal interaction is often described by customers as “a conversation” — just the customer and the company representative on the phone, talking through the issues together, person to person.

However, your conversation may not be as one-on-one as you think — and that’s a good thing. We’ve all heard the disclaimer that “this call may be monitored for training purposes.” In other words, if your call goes particularly well (or notably badly), the recording is likely to be shared by managers with other agents to help make future calls more effective.

There’s another way that the calls between businesses and coaches may be something other than one-on-one conversations, though. Several contact center vendors offer a feature known as “whisper coaching.”

Matching Responses to Situations

With whisper coaching, managers can listen in on agent’s calls, and when it’s appropriate, they can share advice with the agents. This advice is audible only to the agent and can help bring calls to a successful conclusion while also providing practical training to the agent.

There’s only one major limitation to whisper coaching: You need people to do the whispering. Most managers are in charge of multiple agents, and so they can listen in on only so many calls. Invariably, there are calls that could benefit from the expertise of a manager, but they never receive it, simply because the manager is listening to the wrong call at the key time.

What are those overstretched managers doing when they use whisper coaching? They’re listening for certain situations that come up during the call and then mentally matching them to the right responses and tactics, based on their experiences. They’ve been trained to recognize these circumstances throughout their careers, and they quickly recognize the right ways to deal with them.

This represents yet another promising opportunity to use artificial intelligence in the sales process.

Coaching the Coaches

AI is great at doing what sales managers are doing today — recognizing patterns and suggesting the right responses to them — and it can do it in a way that can benefit anyone and everyone on the phone at the same time. Everyone can have an AI coach whispering in their ears during a call — or popping up useful data on their screens.

The other benefit of using AI for whisper coaching is that, by being present on every call, it can collect data much more quickly than a manager can. While a manager learns over time and through individual calls, AI can learn from all the calls, allowing it to develop conclusions and make suggestions much faster than a human. This, in turn, can help managers learn faster. In other words, AI-enabled whisper coaching can coach the coaches as well.

It also can provide data that forms the basis for ongoing training for agents. You can take the word “may” out of the message “this call may be recorded.” The contents will be recorded, and key points will be noted by AI, allowing managers to spot areas for improvement, common stumbling blocks, and questions that often result in less-than-satisfactory answers. Agents can hone their abilities, and onboarding can be made more valuable and on-target.

Keeping It Human

The challenge for managers is to evaluate the conclusions that AI reaches. There may be a few occasions when the AI gets it wrong, based on a number of corner cases that give it inappropriate data to learn from.

More often, however, it’ll be a matter of nuance: The AI may be on the right path, but it still needs the experience of a manager to nudge its suggestions so they align with the business’ objectives.

Don’t think of AI as something that will replace people — think of it as a tool that will allow people to work at a level beyond their current capacity, but that will still depend on humans to provide a reality check.

Coaching is still a very human activity, and managers will need to commit themselves to ensuring that the suggestions generated by AI are as human as possible.

Chris Bucholtz

Chris Bucholtz has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2009. His focus is on CRM and other topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He is director of content marketing for NewVoiceMedia, and a speaker, writer and consultant. He also has written four books on World War II aviation.Email Chris.

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