Uniphore call center survey: People prefer people over tech

Artificial chat technologies are hugely unpopular when used in call centers as the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically raised people's need for information from many businesses and government agencies.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Customer service centers are struggling with 50 per cent higher hold times since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns and artificial chat technologies are widely disliked with 76 percent of callers expecting a live person. The findings are from a survey commissioned by Silicon Valley startup Uniphore

The explosion in call center volume is due to people needing critical information due to effects of COVID lockdowns of businesses and government offices. It is expected to rise further as vaccines begin to roll out and travel and work restrictions change.

Uniphore provides AI-based conversational automation technologies designed to understand speech and aid staff in providing the right responses for each caller. 

The company's philosophy is to use technology to augment the skills of call center staff rather than replace them.

Umesh Sachdev, CEO and co-founder of Uniphore, says he is not surprised by the failure of chatbots to please consumers because humans have a significant advantage over any machine. 

"Humans have the ability to express empathy -- a machine cannot. It can say the right words but it cannot fake authenticity," says Sachdev. Humans also have emotional intelligence which machine intelligence will likely never have.

Uniphore says that the survey reveals the importance of call centers for future business prosperity with six out of ten people likely to recommend a company if they had a positive experience.

A positive experience for the majority (76 percent) means speaking with a live human. Only 8 percent responded that they would prefer not to talk with a person. And only one in four said they had a positive experience with a chatbot or voice assistant.

Sachdev says its AI technology is able to take care of many caller issues in real-time in the background. For example, if someone calls and says they want to cancel a credit card the system can understand the request and near-instantly perform the action.

 And as soon as the caller has finished speaking the live agent can say, "It's done. We just cancelled your credit card."

Similarly, the Uniphore system can furnish a live agent with the necessary information on their screen to answer a caller's query -- in real-time. This can help with another top complaint: 53% of callers spend more than 30 minutes on hold 

"A key advantage is that call center staff don't need to go through a three-month training course, they become productive much faster," says Sachdev.

Uniphore can understand 100 languages. Its security is based on a database of voice-prints which are unique signatures and can quickly verify identities of callers -- and also verify the live agents' identity. 

The survey was completed in the third week of November from a random sampling of 1,078 US adults.

The distaste for artificial chat technologies could be generational. A survey published by BankMyCell, a retailer of used gadgets, found that 75% of millennials hate making phone calls and 81% would prefer a chatbot than a human. 

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