AI is crucial in enhancing customer service over any other industry: Alan Masarek, CEO, Avaya


Emerging technologies like AI has taken over the world transforming not only businesses but governments and even the people. AI has been pivotal in multiple areas including generating data-driven insights for effective decision making, improving customer experience, chatbots, automating processes, and much more. In an exclusive conversation with CRN India, Alan Masarek, CEO, Avaya opens up on how AI has been a gamechanger in enhancing the customer service space.

The dynamics in the Indian market are a bit different. People here are more cost-conscious, especially in the MSME sector. Considering this, how is Avaya managing to cater to the major chunk of the Indian market?

We have been selling across global markets, around 172 countries. As far as our experience goes, many markets are cost-centric like Africa, Latin America, and more. Therefore, we are accustomed to selling our products in such markets. However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and hence one is always trying to find the correct product market fit for the related market. An example could be a product that checkmarks all 10 of 10 features and comes with all sorts of support models. Such a product cannot be sold at a low cost. Hence, considering the market requirements and costs involved a product is tailored to ensure we deliver the best in that cost bracket and make money as well. 

The Indian market is important, not just because it’s an outsource market for the rest of the world but it is a big destination market. As of now, we are growing at quite a good pace in India, addressing the right product market fit.

How are you leveraging emerging technologies to improve the overall customer experience and deliver the best-in-class business services?

Avaya is incorporating Artificial Intelligence (AI) in virtually everything that it does. Now, we have been using AI for many years, natural language understanding, machine learning, and now embracing the new elements of generative AI in a big way. The impact of AI plays probably a greater role in the customer experience market than any other industry. Therefore, if you just look at the standard example of an inbound query into a contact center agent, the biggest cost of the contact center is the people. Also, organisations want a seasoned employee to be the first face that the customer interacts with, opposed to somebody who’s new in the system and does not understand much about the products. Hence, look at how AI impacts our market. So it’s about call deflection. 

We need to look at prospects like, can I take the routinised queries and have them answered through some chatbot framework? So AI, in this case, is listening to the call on doing things like sentiment analysis, and figure out an appropriate response or if the call should be forwarded to a supervisor. Now, the best part about Gen AI is that it profoundly improves the agent experience and helps improving the overall customer experience. 

Just the previous week, we were in Dubai at an expo demonstrating a variety of AI utilities. An exemplary use case of Gen AI was witnessed there. In this case, a customer agent provides a customer with a gift certificate/ voucher. So, the customer asked, “I’m traveling to France next week. Will this be valid there?”. Now, in this situation, a human agent would put the client on hold, refer to the database for rules and conditions, take approval from his/her supervisor, and then inform the customer about the voucher’s validity. However, a Gen Ai-powered bot, in this case, will listen to customer’s query and scane through the database simultaneously. Then it takes an informed decision based on the data and inform the customer almost immediately that the voucher will be valid in France. 

Therefore, the case is evident enough to portray the value-added contribution of Gen AI in enhancing customer experience.

In my personal experience, chatbots have not been that helpful. There are times when a customer is upset and trying to inform the bot about a query, but the bot throws certain pre-fed options that might not be relevant to the customer’s query. Also, it doesn’t route the customer to a human customer agent. How do you see this issue? Do you think AI is the answer to this?

What’s interesting about deploying AI, it is all about the data you feed it. Therefore, what it learns is what matters. Another interesting thing is that we are the largest contact center company in the world. One out of every three agents on the planet uses Avaya. So just imagine the quantity of data coming into us. This enables us to better inform the language model and then provide better results. So everybody can use the same ChatGPT platform, it’s how you inform it to make the best of it. And we have got more data than anybody else. Therefore, we are able to put it or deploy it in much effective ways and deliver better results.

If we look at the industry dynamics, companies have shown great interest in Edge computing. Also, edge data centers can play a crucial role in improving customer experience. Considering this trend, do you see people drifting towards Edge leaving the Cloud behind or will both have their own space and importance in the market?

I foresee that it will be a mixed state, a hybrid between Edge data centers and the public cloud. If we look at industries that deal with sensitive data like healthcare, government sector, military, or highly regulated in industries like banking, finance, insurance, securities, etc. cannot afford to risk their data. They will definitely deploy on-prem infrastructure and on-prem data centers as well. However, to optimise operations, especially in remote areas, Edge can play a significant role.

Another example of hybrid is, a critical care Hospital is going to be on some sort of data center because they have to have control, it cannot go down. While physicians are in ambulatory environments, blood labs, the rehab centers, these can be on the Cloud accessing public cloud.

Please shed some light on Avaya’s training programs in India and how Indian techies are coding the future of AI-powered customer experience and unified communication solutions for organisations.

To begin with, the Indian market is highly important to us. We have about 1500 employees here and five offices. Also, three of our Centers of Excellence and Development Centers are here in Pune, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. We are aggressively recruiting and bringing in the talent of the future which is AI-capable microservice architectures, agile development, full-stack teams, and all sorts of contemporary development initiatives. We are doing it actively on college campuses. Also, we have internship programs that help get the best ones of the lot. 

Recently, in Pune, I met a group of 20 Avaya employees who had just started this summer, because they interviewed for the internship with us. We offer internships while candidates are still in college and they are offered a full-time position post-graduation. I had the opportunity to meet with 20 of them. We are expanding these programs and the number of universities because AI is being built into everything. Again, in the customer experience marketplace. AI has more implications or importance than virtually any other industry.

What are your plans and strategies for expansion in the Indian market?

We have already grown a lot. Apart from the three Centers of Excellence and development centers in Pune, Bangalore, and Hyderabad, we also have offices in Gurgaon and Mumbai. In one of the interviews, early this year, I anticipated about 20m percent growth in employees in Israel and India. Today, we have around 1500 employees from 1200 back then, when I made the statement. Therefore, in just a few months, we saw a growth of over 20 percent. We further expect a growth of another 20 percent over the next year. 

The biggest set of employees we have is product and engineering. Then we have other teams in place, it’s a fully integrated business unit. We sell into the BPO market and we serve virtually all of the large BPOs here in the market. We serve the government, smart cities initiatives, Aadhaar, and emergency services throughout the country. Then we serve a big enterprise or commercial market that goes from SMB to enterprise. The Indian market is seeing almost a 10 percent GDP growth. We are continuing to invest in the market because it’s a terrific market and is getting better. Our focus in India is both as an end market and also as a core Center of Excellence for multiple functional areas.


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