This post is excerpted from Xconomy : Your Call Is Important: AI-Based Analytics Come to the Call Center by Angela Shaw
Houston and Dallas—Call centers proliferated as the Internet age took hold of the global economy.
But, despite that connection, in many ways, call centers themselves haven’t kept up with innovations to make their operations as efficient as possible. That’s the view, at least, of two bootstrapped Texas software companies—AmplifAI and EthosIQ—that aim to bring new technological tools like real-time data analytics to those operations.
A typical call center run by a multinational company can consist of hundreds, if not thousands, of employees, each fielding as many as 200 calls a day. It’s a repetitive, and potentially monotonous, workday, and the only training many workers receive is brief at the start of employment.
Tech entrepreneurs, including the founders of these Texas companies, are looking for opportunities to use AI innovations to custom tailor that training and offer it on-demand.
For example, Boston-based Cogito closed on a $20 million Series B round last fall to further develop software that it says can analyze a customer call and account for pitch, tone of voice, pace of speech, and other characteristics in order to score the quality of the conversation and also provide a pop-up alert that would inform the agent they are coming across as too rude or terse.
Here is a closer look at AmplifAI and EthosIQ:
— AmplifAI has developed software that uses machine learning algorithms to understand behaviors used by top-performing employees in order to create training programs that can be used by employees across the payroll. In the past, “developmental training and coaching data wasn’t stored, and definitely wasn’t available to draw any additional analytics from,” says Robert Cowlishaw, who works in marketing and design for the company.
Managers access a dashboard that he says helps them oversee, say, a roster of call center agents, who are ranked by performance against certain metrics in real time. An employee-designated version of that dashboard offers them details on their ranking and tailored coaching focused on certain goals, a process that managers can track and evaluate.
This kind of close monitoring can address what Cowlishaw says is a call center’s number one pain point: turnover. Better managed employees are not only happier, they are more productive, Cowlishaw adds.
“When you are working with huge amounts of people, the individual is left out a lot of the time developmentally,” he says. “If we can lower attrition by even 5 percent, [the software] is paying for itself easily.”
Among AmplifAI’s customers are Sonic Automotive (NASDAQ: SAH), UPS (NYSE: UPS), and Dell. The company was founded in 2014 by Sean Minter, a telecom veteran who sold his last company, Reallinx, to GTT last September. Cowlishaw says the idea for AmplifAI came to Minter during work he did for an outsourcing company with 10,000 employees across the globe. “Money was poured into the hiring of outside consultants to rush on scene and put out fires for low-performing sites,” Cowlishaw says. That work, however, would “waste away” because those practices weren’t embedded as part of managerial responsibilities.
Cowlishaw says Minter has bootstrapped the company so far, but may look to outside funding once the company decides to expand into other markets like healthcare—in particular, nursing. “All we really need is a large amount of employees with very measurable day-to-day business processes,” he says.
—Scott Walker, founder and CEO of EthosIQ in Houston, says he first began to see the gap in this market while working in sales for call center software developer Genesysin the early 2000s. Call centers use different technologies—software for e-mail, chat, time clocks, voice calls, backend processes, and others—and each of them didn’t talk to each other. “There was a gap because the manufacturers refused to communicate with each other,” he says.That meant valuable insights were being lost, Walker adds.
So, he says he moved to Houston and in 2009 started EthosIQ in his garage, developing software that can bridge these siloed technologies. EthosIQ also presents its data in a dashboard that can be customized by the user’s needs. “We take big data and slice it up so it’s digestible and manageable so you can gain quick insight,” Walker says.
Even the seemingly smallest insights can result in significant productivity gains, he explains. He cites a customer that ran a call center with 1,900 agents. A review of Kronos—software that records when employees clock in (and out) for work—and a different software through which they log into their computers showed it took employees an average of 27 minutes before they were taking calls.
“They were able to change their HR policy within 30 days once they discovered how much leakage they had,” Walker says.
EthosIQs’ call center customers are in a variety of industries such as telecom, local government, and streaming media. Each one receives a customized dashboard through which myriad metrics can be viewed and analyzed as desired. EthosIQ charges $500 per data source plus $1.25 per call agent per month; Walker says the typical contract is for three years.
Walker says EthosIQ is profitable and that he also decided to bootstrap his business and has not taken any outside venture money.
“We provide the data that enables decisions in minutes, not days or weeks,” Walker says.