Cognitive Collaboration, Artificial Intelligence and Music Nerds

Cognitive (adjective)
1: of, relating to, being, or involving conscious intellectual activity (such as thinking, reasoning or remembering)
—Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Paul Stockford
Paul Stockford is Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers & customer service.

Cognition is the way by which we, as humans, acquire knowledge through thought, experience and the senses. Cognitive learning, which typically involves all of our human senses, is entirely different from machine learning. Machine learning evolved from the study of pattern recognition and learns through the adoption of new data without human interference. Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence (AI), which seems to be all the rage in the contact center industry today. The two terms are often used interchangeably.

Just about every vendor in the contact center industry today has already jumped on the AI bandwagon. The implication seems to be that the more artificial intelligence you can introduce into your contact center, the better. I believe there is certainly a place for AI in the contact center, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the cognitive aspects of customer care.

Cognition is what allows us to function as people. Through cognition we are able to better understand the complexities of communication, evaluate and make judgments, reason our way through problems, and formulate appreciation for such abstract complexities as the composition and performance of music.

Regular readers of this column already know that I am the consummate music nerd. I play several instruments and I have a genuine appreciation of all genres of music. My brain is a repository of musical minutiae, most of which is useless and unappreciated by members of the general population. That’s why I always enjoy my conversations with Zack Taylor.

Zack is Director of Strategic Communications for the Contact Center Business Unit at Cisco. I met Zack many years ago and, using my cognitive powers, I recognized that Zack is probably as nerdy as I am when it comes to music. When Zack told me about his encounter with Joe Walsh at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and when he sent me a picture of himself with Karla Bonoff, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. Now, when I talk to Zack on the phone, even on a business call, the first question is usually, “Have you seen any good musical acts lately?”

That was also the first question Zack asked during our most recent conversation, but the reason I was calling him this time was to discuss a term that had captured my attention from the first time I heard it. It originates with Cisco’s Customer Collaboration business unit and the term is “Cognitive Collaboration.”

What fascinated me about the whole Cognitive Collaboration idea was the implied recognition of the continually important role of human interaction in the customer experience. While the industry seems to be hurtling toward AI in every application, Cisco is taking a different approach.

Not that there isn’t a healthy dose of AI in Cisco’s Cognitive Collaboration release, but it seems to be tempered by an acknowledgment of a form of intelligence that isn’t replicable. That was the impetus behind my call to Zack, a part of which is transcribed here.

Stockford: What do you consider the most important differentiator between Cognitive Collaboration and the way others in the industry are approaching customer care?

Taylor: Paul, we see it as the application of contextual intelligence throughout both the customer and agent experience. It’s important to realize that the agent experience is as important as the customer experience—you can’t have a good one without the other!

Stockford: No contact center industry discussion would be complete without mention of the cloud. How does Cognitive Collaboration intersect with the cloud contact center?

Taylor: Cloud capabilities are key to delivering a cognitive and collaborative experience in that they enable large amounts of data to be analyzed in the moment to produce the insights that can turn into action. With the advent of faster processors and improved algorithms, applying these to massive amounts of data can deliver the contextual insights required to improve service.

Stockford: So, how exactly is Cognitive Collaboration delivered to the contact center? How will customer service professionals interact with the platform? Anything different?

Taylor: In various ways, some apparent and some not so apparent. The two main beneficiaries are the customer and agent, although not always together. The use of contextual data will allow for improved self-service processes where no live assistance is involved. In other use cases a far more intelligent handoff between automated channels and live assistance will occur—you’ll know this when you aren’t asked to repeat yourself when “opting in” to an agent from self-service. In some ways, they may interact with their tools less in that there will be tasks that will be augmented for them by intelligent assistants.

Stockford: Let’s talk about how AI fits with the Cognitive Collaboration concept. What’s the role of machine learning versus cognitive learning in the Cognitive Collaboration scenario?

Taylor: It’s understandable that on occasion these terms get lumped together. They are actually subsets and dependent on each other. Conceptually, AI was suggested by English mathematician Alan Turing around 1950 when he documented ideas for a machine that could approximate basic human thought. Machine learning emerged to accelerate AI’s progress in the 1980s. Cognitive learning takes its inspiration from science and combined multiple disciplines, including machine learning, in order to better “think” like a human.

Stockford: Where do you see Cognitive Collaboration going over the next five years? What’s the strategic vision for this unique concept?

Taylor: Our vision is to literally to change the world’s customer and agent experiences—the next five years will be a time of tremendous progress and change in how customers are served and the experiences they have. Customer experience scores have been stagnant for a number of years and I see them beginning to climb steadily as the 18 million contact center agents in the world become more enabled with intelligence and context. Initially, the big focus was on replacing resources but the real action will be in agent augmentation, where technology and humans work hand-in-hand to deliver better experiences.

Stockford: Before we wrap up, I want to get back to your first question. I saw Jeff Dayton at the theater at the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale a couple of weeks ago. I originally had tickets to see Pokey LaFarge, but he backed out at the last minute and the MIM booked Dayton instead. Glad I kept the tickets because it turned out to be a great show, especially with the impeccable acoustics of the MIM theater. How about you?

Taylor: I recently saw guitarist Phil Keaggy play with Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta. They recorded a new album as a trio called “Bucket List.” Levin has been one of the most prolific bass players for years, and Marotta is the brother of Rick Marotta, known for his session work. Keaggy never ceases to amaze me—maybe the 10th time I’ve seen him! Another recent treat was seeing Matt Thiessen, who founded the band Relient K, do a small solo set in Nashville. I was able to meet him, which has been something I’ve always wanted to do.

Legend has it that Jimmy Hendrix once called Phil Keaggy the world’s greatest guitar player. That legend turned out to be untrue, but I owe Zack a debt of gratitude for turning me on to Phil Keaggy’s music, and for getting us all up to speed on cognitive collaboration in the contact center.

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