Zia, AI, and Predictive Routing

by Dave Michels

I love this quote from Benedict Evans: “As soon as we say ‘AI’, it’s as though the black monolith from the beginning of 2001 has appeared, and we all become apes screaming at it and shaking our fists.”

AI and ML are the new buzzwords that everyone is talking about but not actually saying much. We know that AI is going to change things dramatically – from self-driving cars to natural language interfaces. Most of these conversations are about the future, kind of like someday AI will enable pigs to fly. There are tons of AI-enabled use cases today, but they they tend to offer only incremental benefits. Like the recommendation engine in Netflix is slightly better than it used to be.

Sure enough, on the keynote stage at Avaya Engage Mexico City, it didn’t take long to hear the term AI. After-all, it’s a basic requirement in any tech keynote these days. Though this time it was different – it was guaranteed.

Last month, Avaya struck a strategic partnership with Afiniti. This company, founded by Zia Chishti, is specialized in AI-enhanced call center routing. Afiniti offers a specialized product/service for contact centers that works with most vendors. The Avaya partnership offers the benefit of a tight integration and a no-low risk financial model.

Many people think AI will enable our Amazon Echo devices to become HAL. That’s just not realistic anytime soon. The key to AI is specialization — focusing on discreet tasks. That’s what I like about Afiniti – it’s sexy because it offers a new approach to one of the most mature and boring aspects of the contact center (skills-based routing).

Rule number one in a contact center is to avoid answering the call. Here we get various forms of self-service and go-away messages such as “our best prices are on the web.”

Rule #2 is to route the call to the agent using various forms of decades-old technology such as FIFO (“calls are serviced in the order they are received”), or skills (“press one if you are flying international”). A big part of a contact center magic is use of these routing tools. They can get very sophisticated, but generally don’t attempt to actually match a specific customer to a specific agent.

Admittedly, interpersonal matching is a difficult thing to do – exhibit A is computer dating. However, Afiniti isn’t attempting to find long-term relationships. Instead it’s focused on near-term outcomes. Personally, I find it hard to believe, but that’s the best part. Afiniti uses data to do its service, and wants its customers to use data to determine its effectiveness.

Customers use the service in on/off samples and compare outcomes. If the service offers a benefit (including an ROI), then pay for it. This is where the Avaya partnership kicks it – with a simple integration – so there’s practically no cost to implement a trial. The business model is as revolutionary as the service.

Afiniti offers what’s called predictive routing. It matches customers to agents with an AI-powered algorithm. The idea is that a better match offers better outcomes.

I had the chance to meet Zia Chishti at the recent Avaya Engage conference. I really admire his focus. It’s the mundane breakthroughs that often offer the biggest benefits. While everyone else in AI is chasing HAL, Afiniti is offering real benefits today.

Unfortunately, my camera was upside down so the right/left functions were backwards. A little too much pan-tilt as they say – oh well. Maybe next time I will use the AI-enhanced subject tracking feature.