AI is bringing Zen to First Horizon’s call centers.

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“At the end of the day, the mental health of our associates is key to the success of the customer experience,” says Jason O’Dell, vice president of voice services at First Horizon Bank.

Elia Novelage/Bloomberg

Call center agents who have to deal with angry or upset customers all day have stress levels through the roof and, consequently, high turnover rates. According to CMP Research’s 2023-2024 Customer Contact Executive Benchmarking Report, nearly 53% of U.S. contact center agents who rate their stress levels at work as high say they are likely to leave their organization within the next six months. will

Some believe this is a problem that artificial intelligence can fix. A well-designed algorithm can detect signs that a call center rep is losing it and do something about it, such as showing the rep a relaxing video of family photos set to music. Send the montage.

First Horizon is using artificial intelligence and video “resets” like this one to provide calm and well-being for people who talk to customers on the phone all day. Down the road, it also plans to use a larger language model Summarize calls automatically.a use case Alley Bank And Bank of is adopted.

“When Cisco Webex approached us about being a part of this wellness program, we were all in,” said Jason O’Dell, vice president of voice services at First Horizon Bank. is the president “That’s exactly what we need to get our agents into a situation where they feel like we’re involved in making sure they’re satisfied and happy with their work environment.”

Achieving Zen in Call Centers

At Memphis-based First Horizon, which has $80 billion in assets, executives don’t like to use the word “burnout.” They prefer “agent welfare”.

“At the end of the day, the mental health of our associates is key to the success of the customer experience,” said O’Dell. “So the agent experience and the agent’s well-being is really key.”

First Horizon has three contact centers that handle approximately one million calls per year. The bank upgraded its call centers in 2021, reducing systems as a result of the merger. O’Dell said the bank chose Cisco’s Webex Contact Center for its ability to scale and handle tasks its current software couldn’t handle, and hopes it will improve the agent experience as well as the customer experience. can also improve the experience of

In October, Cisco launched a real-time media model that uses generative AI to predict customer satisfaction. It also trained the model to analyze agent behavior for signs of stress, taking into account survey data, time spent waiting in queues, time spent in an interactive voice response system and Number of customer recalls. (Cisco doesn’t retain any of that data, the company said.) It comes with a stress score for the agent.

Call center agents in all industries work nine- to ten-hour shifts. Sometimes they are driven by frustrated customers.

Aruna Ravichandran, Cisco’s senior vice president and chief marketing and customer officer, said it’s possible to get an agent’s stress level based on what they use in their calls and chats.

“Their accent is a little harsh,” she said. “The voice gets louder. We have the ability to predict their stress level, because we have a baseline and different people basically break at different breakpoints.”

Research has shown that music can calm agents, he said.

That’s where Thrive Resets come in. When the model determines that an agent’s stress score is higher than what that particular agent can handle (based on that agent’s history), the system will automatically route the call to another agent or terminate the agent. will give. Reset, a montage of vacation and family photos set to music, with inspirational quotes floating above and breathing bubbles below telling the agent to breathe in and out.

These videos are produced by Arianna Huffington’s company Thrive Global. Thrive also offers resets focused on stretching, gratitude, mindfulness and nature.

At First Horizon, agents choose their photos and songs for their resets.

“I want to listen to grunge rock or I want to listen to a country song, but having the ability to customize, I’m excited about that part,” O’Dell said.

First Horizon began with a small pilot with 28 agents and two supervisors using AI-prompted resets for nine weeks. He ran A/B tests – one week an agent would be on the system, the next week it would be off. The bank saw a 13% reduction in burnout levels, a four-fold improvement in handle times and a 2% improvement in customer satisfaction scores based on agent surveys. O’Dell acknowledged that a 2% improvement may seem small, but the bottom line is higher customer satisfaction scores. The bank declined to share the raw numbers.

In the second trial, 160 agents and 14 supervisors used the system for six weeks. This time, the bank saw a 20% reduction in burnout levels, an improvement in average call handle time of 36 seconds and a customer satisfaction score that rose from 4.8 to 4.9 on a scale of one to five.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Ryan Buick, a tech advisor at C3 Technology Advisors, who is not affiliated with the project. He said the videos remind people why they are working. “I have pictures of my family in my office and on my desk,” he said. Such technologies can reduce agent stress and turnover with positive real-life relationships with supervisors, managers, and co-workers.

In March, the bank plans to roll it out to all 3,000 customer service agents.

“They’ll get this one-minute break whenever we feel like the stress level is above the threshold,” O’Dell said.

Synchrony Bank in Stamford, which last year piloted Thrive resets integrated into the Intradiem workforce management system, has also seen promising results.

A survey of its agents found that 92% feel more effective on calls after receiving a Thrive Reset and 78% would rather receive a 60-second Thrive Reset. A Synchrony spokesperson said the bank plans to roll out Thrive Resets to all of its customer service associates in the coming months.

Future plans for call center AI

The future of customer service in banks will likely not involve as many human agents and will probably be even more AI-enabled. Even now, banks often direct customers to self-service options when they dial a call center.

Today, about 85% to 95% of customer calls that First Horizon fields are handled in a self-service manner in an interactive voice response, O’Dell said.

First Horizon plans to roll out a conversational interactive voice response system by the end of the year. Consumers won’t need to press a button on their phone, he said, and will get what they need faster.

The bank is also interested in the AI ​​models that Cisco is developing to generate call summaries.

“It’s great for helping agents speed up so they can do less work and have more information at their fingertips,” O’Dell said.

First Horizon Bank has a committee of several businesses looking at artificial intelligence products.

“Like most organizations, everyone is looking at the legality of everything and where the data is, what the data is being used for, what happens to the models themselves,” O’Dell said. “We’re emphasizing our agent experience and customer experience because that virtual banker might be the only banking person they ever talk to because they don’t go to a branch. So you have to build a relationship somehow. It has to be done.”

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