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September 5, 2019

To help employees be more empathetic, Humana is deploying… robots?

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    At the Humana Pharmacy call center, employees receive coaching in empathy from an unlikely source: an artificial intelligence (AI) software called Cogito, Frances Yue reports for USA Today.

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    Employees face 'compassion fatigue'

    Joshua Feast, Cogito co-founder and CEO, described the software as a "coach" to help customer service employees with their conversations.

    Namely, the software helps when employees start experiencing "compassion fatigue," Feast explains. Even though employees may know how to display empathy to their customers, they may subconsciously grow less empathetic during a call or as the day goes on.

    According to Mark Morse, VP of Humana Pharmacy's service operations, an agent in his call center fields 30 to 40 calls daily. "When you're tired or on any given day, what happens at home and frustrations in life can come into the contact center," Morse added.

    How Cogito works

    At the Humana Pharmacy call center, which has 1,700 agents, the software listens to most of the agents' customer calls and monitors the pitch, tone, and rhythm of the employee's voice.

    Throughout the call, the software provides real-time feedback via prompts that display on the employees computer screen. For instance, the software can generate a prompt that reads, "Think about how the customer is feeling. Try to relate." In addition, the software can give the employee other notifications, such as "extended silence" or "empathy cue."

    The software can also tell the employee if they're speaking too fast. The call center employee can view a speedometer of the pace of the conversation, and if they're speeding up, the software will tell them, "You are speaking faster than usual."

    The tool allows supervisors to track how team members are doing and guide them, though it doesn't work as "a performance management system," Feast said.

    While the system can help employees do their jobs better, Feast doesn't anticipate AI replacing human agents. "I don't think they (human customer agents) will be completely replaced," Feast said. "The reason is that only other humans really understand us" (Yue, USA Today, 8/23).

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