In April 2020, UKCCF ran a webinar with Sovran AI which looked at ‘The human voice in the complex voicebot space.’. You can view the webinar replay here: https://event.webinarjam.com/go/replay/22/lx7qyigh5u7uk.
I caught up with Clive Elleforde, CRO, to get more insight into Sovran AI and its impact on the UK Contact Centre Industry. Read our full interview below.
Q: I have heard so much about Sovran AI over the last year, before we discuss more about the sector, I have been keen to establish why so many companies have engaged you as a business since your start-up?
A: I think that is the question we asked ourselves at first, but very quickly realised that the technology we have created is a far distant cousin from anything else on the market today. Building a solution based on language, rather than code, has been an advantage for both us, and our clients.
Q: I wanted to talk with you about the current status of contact centres and how this sector is evolving. You have been involved in many projects with contact centres through the year. From your perspective, where is the sector heading?
A: Well before the pandemic, the contact centres started to focus more on CX and bringing added value to consumers. However, despite the fact that CX was a priority, it hasn’t always resulted in the actual adoption of effective solutions. 89% of customers switch providers as a result of a negative CX. Unfortunately, the majority of negative experiences relate to interactions with contact centres. That is why, for C-suites around the world, improvement of CX is a primary objective. Post pandemic, consumers will be even more judicious with their spending, and will place a lot more emphasis on the CX to ensure the experience is consistent and reliable.
Q: Like consumers, decision makers in corporations tend to be more conservative during a crisis; did that have a negative impact on your business?
A: As you rightly say, consumers and decision makers tend to be more conservative, but also more determined in terms of selecting genuine added value whilst reducing risk. In fact, our business has been considerably more contact centre centric, as the priority for decision makers shifted from improvement of services to integrating solutions which are scalable and pandemic-proof.
Q: Frequently changing circumstances, and how to understand customer behaviour, is one of the most difficult tasks to navigate for an organisation. How do you help your clients in this unprecedented scenario?
A: You see, we are specialised in automating very complex support for customers. This can be across any business function, but here we are talking contact centre communications. Those conversations, when handled by the traditional contact centre, can last up to 20 minutes as multiple tasks need to be addressed. With our tech, not only have we reduced the resolution time by 50% (which together with a 24/7 attendance, and zero waiting time, is already a tangible and immediate improvement of the customers experience), but we also allow our clients to access actionable rich-data resulting from those conversations. For one organisation alone we manage the equivalent of more than 100 million conversational minutes per year. Those interactions are complex, problem solving, and can include negotiations as well as additional sale of products and services. This means that our client has the benefit of understanding their customer’s behaviour and can therefore predict their needs. This is a greater added value for our clients; whilst they improve CX and reduce operational costs, they get to know their customer’s needs as they rapidly evolve.
Q: I hear you, but if virtual agents are so strategic, why have we not seen a wider adoption of this tech, for example, it has been literally impossible to get through to contact centres during the pandemic, I mean the likes of banks, utilities, healthcare providers etc.
A: That is a very good point. You see, contrary to popular belief, digital transformation is less about technology and more about people. For a number of years there has been a lot of hype about virtual agents. When you present a solution, every player claims to be the best – in reality, things are quite different.
Q: What would you say makes clients turn to Sovran AI?
A: First of all, we have approached the market from a completely different angle with our solution. We have developed our voice-powered automation (VPA) from a language, opposed to a technical or coding approach. This fundamentally changes the game and builds a totally logical and human interface that the customer wants to engage with from the outset. Our proprietary technology was born out of an obsession for the customer. The technology works around the needs of the individual, not the other way around.
Secondly, we are measurably faster than the majority of players in the market. This means we provide our clients with a strategic advantage over their competitors. The traditional approach, based on ML to develop virtual assistants, simply does not cut it when there are complex scripts to automate. Remember, a contact centre does not deliver the same product day in day out; it changes with market needs, product additions, and needs to be flexible. Therefore, the solution not only needs to be scalable, but practical – for example, you need the ability to amend and add scripts instantly, something we made sure was available to all clients from the outset.
Q: Putting people first is interesting, but isn’t that a bit unusual coming from an AI company?
A: Technology has always been about doing more with less. You can get results and achieve added value only if you are capable of blending in technology with the right human skills.
When we advise our clients on how they can improve their CX (or EX), the initial assessment is carried out by our Language User Experts. The subtleties of the human language require sophisticated expertise. Of course, after that, you need a tried and tested proprietary tech to create a virtual assistant which we call “humanised” because it is tasked to interact with humans in the same way as we do.
So, our solution is an enabler of the digitalisation process. It is about allowing organisations to re-skill and upskill their workforce, and the reason why they engage us is to simultaneously augment humans and technology. A key aspect of what we have seen and supported, is an increase in the acquisition and retention of employees; this is because they are seen as engaging in valuable and productive roles, instead of mundane tasks.
Q: In terms of interoperability how does your tech work?
A: I am glad you asked me that. One of the most important traits of our technology is how it easily interoperates with other technology.
Q: Can you give us an example?
A: Ok, let’s say that a client needs a multichannel solution to manage 10Mil inbound (or outbound) calls for a new service. With Sovran, within the same solution, it is possible to blend a conversation with a virtual agent, book Google calendar, launch a Webex Video call, send an email with attachments, as well as using SMS or Whatsapp; all this is seamlessly integrated with our tool, and it is up and running within days.
Q: How can you support the overall growth of the technical development in Sovran to support clients with the success you are experiencing?
A: In our view, the best way to make our organisation more technically sustainable is through the very way we set out to develop our products – through language. This ensures that when we need to scale, we are not reliant upon technical developers alone. We can selectively invest in those who are most adaptable, curious, and flexible in language rather than code.
Q: COVID-19 has had a great impact on us all both personally and commercially. How do you see this working in line with your solutions as we see restrictions lift?
A: Yes, it has, and we should not forget how much this has changed our lives globally forever. Even with restrictions being lifted, the landscape of the business environment has changed, and will continue to evolve. What we need to ensure is that a business has a contingency in place, to guarantee it will not be negatively affected or impacted upon by any future unpredicted occurrence or occurrences, and be able to seamlessly deal with whatever eventuality is thrown at them.
We have seen some clients hit hard – their Webchat services going down for example which affected their whole revenue stream; they need to have plans in place which counter this and which are not susceptible to human pandemics – our VPA offers this solution.
Q: What would you say is the value proposition of Sovran AI?
A: This can be many things to many people. It could be as simple as automating a large volume of simple tasks, to the complexity of a vast volume of complex tasks. All clients have individual business challenges which need to be independently identified and addressed. However, if you look at the key elements which drive business growth and profit, our VPA is able to address every function of a business. Ranging from sales and marketing, finance and order processing to operations and technical support; the list is limitless. This would ensure you not only reduce overheads and increase profits, but you develop your employees to be better engaged in their roles, and the cost reduction enables expansion of the business in other areas, new products, services etc.
Q: Where do we go after COVID-19
A: We need to ensure that our solution is a long term strategy and not just a sticking plaster. The present COVID-19 will eventually wane but there is every likelihood it will return. It is therefore critical that businesses prioritise and identify their areas of vulnerability to ensure they are not negatively impacted upon again, and to reduce the more serious and far reaching implications of the long term damage that could result. Part of this would be to ensure that their infrastructure is digitised and in order to protect both profits and jobs in those areas of CX, that there is a smooth and uninterrupted transition to deal with the implications of another pandemic or unforeseen event.