Conversational AI is Talk of the Town as Call Centers Adapt to New Realities

Chat between NLX and PYMNTS.com about conversational AI for customer engagement

Andrei Papancea

02/21/2022

In the often-infuriating experiences infamously delivered by customer service chatbots and voice prompts, digital-savvy consumers know there has to be a better way of operating.

Still, human call center agents are in short supply lately, and they need to eat and sleep and take a day off now and then, which is why bot and voice prompts were invented in the first place. Solving for this multifaceted dilemma is conversational artificial intelligence (AI) that takes automated customer service experiences to a better place using smarter tech.

On a mission to decode conversational AI for customer engagement, NLX co-founder and CEO Andrei Papancea told PYMNTS that demand has “exploded since the pandemic.”

“Through the needs of having to scale human operations, conversational AI is such a practical use of technology,” he said. “This goes beyond just the digital assistants that we’re used to like Siri, Alexa … especially in the call center. We’ve seen quite an uptick in demand for call center technology and automation, in particular.”

All consumers have call center horror stories, but it’s getting less harrowing as AI advances. Consider the task of resetting a password you’ve forgotten.

“It’s one of the top call reasons in just about any call center, and it’s hard to automate over voice,” Papancea said. “For you to automate that over voice, you’d have to first of all deal with a relatively insecure channel” — saying passwords out loud over the phone — plus “it’s prone to errors.”

Instead of that risky and fraught method, NLX has introduced a technology that takes people off the phone after following a few prompts, texting them a link to reset the password. Afterwards, instead of dropping the call, the digital assistant stays on the line and synchronizes with what the customer sees on screen.

Using the range of human/digital expression from the spoken word to the embedded link, Papancea said, “It creates this uniform end-to-end experience that can transcend channels, but at the same time doesn’t lose context and doesn’t frustrate the users through the process. It’s all about like making sure the end user has a good experience.”

Say the Magic Word

Having been on the team that built the conversational AI platform for American Express, Papancea told Nesto that the pandemic crisis catalyzed need for NLX’s platform.

After completing a $5 million seed funding round in January, NLX is investing in further innovation while adding to a client and partner list that includes Amazon, among others.

“Our growth started in the pandemic,” Papancea said. “In our partnership with Amazon, we focused on the travel and hospitality industry because they were really hurting, and we wanted to be part of that bounce back. There were a lot of opportunities to help them do things better.”

Clients like Panama-based Copa Airlines were plagued with cancellations and COVID entry rules enacted by many heavily traveled spots around the globe.

“Let’s say the traveler calls in because they have a massive disruption with their ongoing trip is kept on hold for two hours, whereas a myriad of other people are calling in to ask what the PCR test is,” Papancea said. “The balance and the key to solving the problem is to put practical automation in place that can solve use cases through self-service as much as possible.”

By bringing AI automation to bear on the call center, “It just felt like a great opportunity to contribute to the reshaping of an industry,” he said.

Building on that experience, NLX is the launch partner of startup airline set to begin operations inside of a few months. The company is also moving into financial services and healthcare, he said, where the company’s SOC 2 and HIPAA compliance comes in handy. Along the way, it tells customers that not every solution calls for automation: Optimizing experience is the objective.

“Sometimes the right thing for the customer experience is to send the person to an agent,” he said. “The problems arise where automation is not being used, or it’s not used properly,” he said.

Putting Customers First

Papancea said that from startups to enterprises, “We teach [clients] how to use our products so they can go and build and manage these conversations themselves ... introducing transparency into how these applications work. We don’t need the black box solution where you go in a corner and hide behind magical AI. We build practical business solutions.”

That practicality is resonating with companies seeking to revamp automated customer service at a time of ultimate optionality, meaning that experience is everywhere — so make it good.

“The cool thing is that we’re seeing more and more companies looking to put the customer first,” Papancea said.

Whatever the company type, “Most of the time, it’s about being able to scale their operations in an elastic way,” he said. “If you peak the volume on how many call center agents you have ... you can allow the AI system to pick up more calls. Sometimes customers are just looking for additional channels of communication.”

Andrei Papancea

Andrei is our CEO and swiss-army knife for all things natural language-related.

He built the Natural Language Understanding platform for American Express, processing millions of conversations across AmEx’s main servicing channels.

As Director of Engineering, he deployed AWS across the business units of Argo Group, a publicly traded US company, and successfully passed the implementation through a technical audit (30+ AWS accounts managed).

He teaches graduate lectures on Cloud Computing and Big Data at Columbia University.

He holds a M.S. in Computer Science from Columbia University.