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In bizarre twist AI gets a job coaching call center staff compassion and empathy



AI might not have compassion or empathy, but it can still coach people to improve theirs.


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Most computers and Artificial Intelligence (AI) lack compassion and empathy, even though they’re increasingly able to mimic it, with the only possible exception being the emergence of the first conscious robots – and you heard that right. But as any good coach knows not being able to do something doesn’t mean you can’t teach others about it. Trust me, I lost count a long time ago of the number of sales trainers who thought they were good enough to teach people how to sell but couldn’t actually sell heaters to Eskimos even if their lives depended on it … but that’s another story. BTW join our community it’s awesome, maybe some of the training rubbed off on me after all, who knew!?


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“You are speaking faster than usual,” reads an alert on a computer screen as a call center agent who’s talking to a customer watches a speedometer icon flick backwards and forwards. The conversation with the customer continues, as does the AI’s real time feedback.

“Think about how the customer is feeling. Try to relate,” says the Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered tool. The agent receives other notifications, from “extended silence” to “empathy cues,” which suggests the worker is not showing enough empathy.

For about 1,700 agents at the call center of Humana Pharmacy, the software called Cogito is becoming part of their work lives. It listens to most of their phone calls with customers nationwide and guides the agents on how to better communicate with their customers by analyzing vocal cues in conversations such as pitch, tone, and rhythm of voices.


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In recent years, global industries have seen considerable transformation brought by automation in the workplace. One-third of activities in about 60 percent of occupations worldwide could be automatable, according to a 2017 report by management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

From a workplace perspective, as the technology develops, it’s so far shown itself capable of doing everything from coach E-Sports pros to be better gamers, train classical violinists, and even take over company firing, hiring, and management, tasks. All of which is just for starters as it sets its sights on taking over the CEO’s job.

The increasing prevalence of AI in the workplace has no doubt boosted efficiency and reduced costs for companies but has also drawn concerns about job losses and hidden discrimination. Reuters last year unveiled that Amazon abandoned an AI recruiting tool in development, as the tech giant cannot fix its bias against women. Uber’s facial recognition technology reportedly didn’t process and recognize transgender drivers. And a study published by New York University’s AI Now Institute showed how many AI systems favor white people and males.


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Talking about such concerns around AI, Joshua Feast, Cogito co-founder and CEO said its software doesn’t mean to replace anybody, which is a standard company line these days as everyone knows that in the long run it will.

“We’re a coach,” he said. “We’re sort of proud as a company that we’re helping workers do well on the job, helping customers have better experiences on the phone and helping our clients keep those customers.”

The company, which works with call centers of large insurance companies, including MetLife and Humana, retail banks and credit card issuers, says it has more than 25,000 users.

It helps to minimize bias that Cogito’s algorithm analyzes biological signalling mechanism, which is largely independent on language and culture, Feast said. The company has also deployed a secondary algorithm and a human annotation team to check for bias, he added.

AI comes into play when humans get tired sometimes and suffer from “compassion fatigue,” according to Feast.


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“What the AI is really doing is helping somebody be more consistent in the course of the day.” The software also provides tools for supervisors to track the performance of team members and guide workers accordingly, though Feast said Cogito doesn’t function as “a performance management system.”

A customer agent at Humana handles 30 to 40 calls a day on average, according to Mark Morse, vice president of Humana Pharmacy’s service operations.

“When you’re tired or on any given day, what happens at home and frustrations in life can come into the contact center,” he said. But showing empathy is always important as the customers of life insurance companies are usually “in the midst of some of the most challenging moments of their lives, from going on disability to the loss of a loved one,” said Kristine Poznanski, head of global customer solutions at MetLife.

Using Cogito is not compulsory at Humana, but the company is now considering integrating Cogito’s assessment into its bonus mechanism to promote the software’s usage, said Morse.


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When asked if human customer agents would one day disappear, Feast said he doesn’t think so, even though numerous studies disagree, though the trend of automation has been growing – the share of customer service interactions completely handled by AI will reach 15 percent by 2021, according to research company Gartner. That’s a 400 percent increase from 2017.

“I don’t think they [human customer agents] will be completely replaced [by AI],” Feast said. “Humans will always want to talk to other humans,” Feast said. “The reason is that only other humans really understand us.”

And he’s right – for now at least, but as AI gets better at generating human-like voices and its capabilities improve one day you will be having a conversation with an AI, like with these ones, without knowing you’re talking to an AI. But again, that’s another story for another article. For now you can just bask in the irony of being taught compassion and empathy by an AI, stupid AI.

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