How Carter’s OshKosh B’gosh is using call center voice AI for differentiation

December 7, 2023


We were thrilled to be joined by Mike Hansen, Director of Contact Center Operations at Carter’s | OshKosh B’gosh for PolyAI VOX 2023 to discuss using call center voice AI for competitive differentiation. This blog post is a summary of the key points Mike shared at the event.

In his role as Director of Contact Center Operations at Carter’s OshKosh B’gosh, Mike is responsible for differentiating the company through the quality of service his team provides.

“Ease of conversation for our customers and empowerment of our agents is crucial,” says Mike. “Implementing AI in our call center has allowed us to remain true to our value of ‘Inspire Innovation’ while remaining cost-effective during challenging economic times.”

On using call center voice AI to handle seasonal peaks

Mike is proud of his agents, who work hard to drive customer satisfaction and loyalty through customer care.

“But we see huge peaks in call volume for the holiday season,” Mike says. “We hire up to 200 seasonal workers to help handle that call volume.”

But temp hires are often unable to provide the same level of service, consistently, as Mike’s permanent team.

“By implementing AI, we’re able to make sure that the customers that do use our self-service offerings get the same experience every single time. It’s consistent and fast and enables us to deliver on our promise of delivering world-class customer service, even in peak times.”

Mike says that before introducing the PolyAI voice assistant, his team were hiring six people, just to keep one.

“Putting in the voice assistant has enabled us to reduce seasonal hiring by over 100 people,” says Mike. That’s a 50% reduction in seasonal hiring! “It has truly helped us to provide consistency for our customers in a time where hiring is unpredictable at best.”

On choosing to use call center voice AI

Mike, like most other call center leaders, was driven to explore call center voice AI in the aftermath of COVID, when it became harder than ever to hire and retain agents.

While the voice assistant has reduced seasonal hiring by 50%, Mike also saw the capability of AI to increase time-to-value for temporary agents.

“I wanted to be able to shorten the seven-week learning curve that I don’t have to hire people in July to start taking calls in November.”

On delivering competitive customer experiences with call center voice AI

“The voice assistant has allowed us to increase all of our performance metrics,” says Mike. “It doesn’t take 7 weeks to train. Our average handle time in the voice assistant is about 63 seconds, which is about five minutes less than with a live agent.

“We still need our live agents,” Mike emphasizes. “They do an amazing job with more difficult calls and customer engagement. But to be completely honest, most customers don’t even realize they’ve been talking to a voice assistant until they’re asked to participate in a survey at the end of the call.”

Of course, Mike had concerns about customer experience before implementing the voice assistant.

“I was that guy shouting AGENT, AGENT down the phone to an IVA,” Mike says. “I’d tried all of these IVAs I hated where I just couldn’t get out of them! So when we were designing the voice assistant with PolyAI, it was very important that customers didn’t feel locked in.

“If customers ask to speak to a person, we ask them why, and if they need to speak to someone, we put them through. But what we find is that customers often will engage if you provide value off the bat.

“So some customers say they want to speak to an agent because they want to track an order. The voice assistant responds by saying, ‘I’ve found your order, would you like me to text you the information?’ and the customer is satisfied with this. So if the caller sees that the voice assistant is capable, they’re usually willing to stick with it.”

On offering a more competitive customer experience in the future

For Mike, the value of the voice assistant doesn’t stop at solving customer problems.

“The goal is to build the APIs to enable Maria to do things like sales. With our chatbot, if you say, ‘My daughter likes pink dresses,’ then we throw pink dresses up on the screen. So how can we deliver a similar experience over the phone, perhaps by texting or emailing callers links to things they might like based on the conversations we’ve had with them. The opportunities are endless.”

Advice for others considering call center voice AI

When asked what advice he’d give someone else in a similar role to his, Mike says, “Be open-minded. Find the solution that fits your company culturally. I did not try to solve customer service with the voice assistant. I looked to decrease the easiest, most commonly asked tasks that I could.

“The PolyAI team has shown me that they’re innovative enough to build pretty much what I can think of,” says Mike. “I need to be able to build APIs on the back end. So I recommend investing in the back end to enable your voice assistant to do more.”

On an IVR vs a PolyAI voice assistant

“I’m learning that the customers are enjoying speaking to the voice assistant,” Mike says. “My adoption rate for self-service used to be 2% in the IVR. We are deflecting 40% of my total call volume right now and customers love it.”

Thank you so much to Mike for joining us at PolyAI VOX! You can watch all the talks on-demand now here.

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