Speaking at the third annual Digital Workforce Summit in New York City, Gonzalo Gomez Cid, Global Contact Center Director at Telefónica, discussed his company’s journey from IVR-based contact centers to AI-driven operations driven by digital labor.
Telefónica is a Spanish multinational telecommunications company headquartered in Madrid. It has a presence in 15 countries across Europe and Latin America. In the telco space, it ranks seventh in revenues, sixth in market capitalization and fifth in number of subscribers.
Gomez Cid told DWS attendees that Telefónica describes itself as a “company of platforms,” including physical assets, networks and IT, and products and services. In 2017, Telefónica sought to introduce digital voice agents in its call centers with several objectives: To drive customer experience, to optimize costs, and to make use of all the valuable data customers provide during interactions with the call center.
In September 2018, the company began to develop its fourth platform: Technology layered on top of the company’s existing systems in order to make use of AI and business data. To begin this process, the company hired IPsoft with an initial focus on Telefónica Peru.
“We discovered that the main catalyst for our digital transformation would be to focus on customer-facing processes,” said Gomez Cid. “We wanted to be 24/7, anytime, anywhere, transparent and personalized.”
Telefónica Peru pursued a way to limit the number of calls transferred within the contact center to reduce costs and improve consumer experiences. To accomplish this task, Telefónica implemented Amelia as voice-based customer service agent for its Peruvian contact centers.
“Our priority was to address the volume of handled calls, to capture customer impact and benefits, and to [positively] impact call center infrastructure and CRM systems,” Gomez Cid said. Amelia had to master several conversational skills in order to be deployed for customer use. “Is my agent understanding what the customer wants? Is it having good response times?” he said.
Other critical skills included a human personality, machine learning capabilities for mastering new use cases, an expansive memory (contextual, episodic, and emotional), and the ability to switch contexts during a call. Gomez Cid said the process was similar to hiring a human worker.
“Let’s think [about a] human,” said Gomez Cid. “What do I need to do to have a human engage our customers? When I have a new agent there are some basics: Can he speak and can he understand? What’s next? I need to train him in understanding our business and products and services. I give him a workplace, a desk, chair, phone, screen, keyboard and mouse to be able to interact with customers and systems.”
Delivering Business Benefits
After several months of training and refinement, Telefónica deployed Amelia as a real-time live voice-based customer service rep. “We put our digital workforce in front of our customers,” he explained. “Our customers pick up the phone and call a hotline and [are welcomed by a digital agent]. We wanted to make it feel like a normal hotline experience.”
Amelia will handle roughly 250,000 calls per day, or more than 6 million calls per month, entirely replacing the previous IVR-based customer service system. During her interactions, Amelia recognized customer intent correctly on 83% of calls. Due in part to Amelia, Telefónica Peru reduced the overall number of calls handled from 45 million in 2016 to 38 million calls handled in 2018. Internal transfers decreased from 25% to 22% of calls during that time period. Amelia was able to respond to initial queries in only three seconds.
Amelia’s success has inspired Telefónica to make digital labor a “global strategic transformation project for the entire company,” said Gomez Cid. This year, Amelia is being implemented in Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Chile and other countries. Telefónica is also building new use cases and roles for Amelia, including field support, telesales, B2B business enablement and RPA integrations.
Reflecting on his experience working with IPsoft on the project, Gomez Cid said the process was positive. “The people were committed. They were very talented people. I would like to thank them for all the effort.”