Expand without Expanding

By Scot Whigham, Director of Global IT at IHG and serving for Function-AI, a startup firm

Scot Whigham, Director of Global IT at IHG and serving for Function-AI, a startup firm

In November 2015, I was sitting in my office at IHG headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, confronting an ugly state of affairs. As the new Director of IHG Global IT Services and Support, I had recently finished an organizational assessment on how IHG delivers IT support to our corporate and hotel colleagues, and the results, to put it mildly, were not encouraging. We faced challenges with poor customer satisfaction, non-existent self-help, limited resources to meet demand, poor staff morale, poor vendor performance and financial inefficiencies. With our call center agents hot-seating in cubes, we had no room to expand staff capacity, train consistently, or document and deliver standard procedures to meet the demand for Service Desk (Level 1) or Level 2 issues. The problem came down to a succinct challenge: We must expand our availability, capacity and capability without expanding. However, without more staff applied to the proper areas, this challenge seemed insurmountable.

Our service delivery process review resulted in a “current state” model that we called “The Spaghetti Diagram.” With 13 different service management tools, our process was a mishmash of contact points, escalation paths, disconnected workflow tools, knowledge databases, and an array of varying service level standards that changed from vendor to vendor, and support group to support group. A service delivery transformation was desperately needed and the starting point was creating a single point of contact workflow on a unified tool set that was designed to shift solution delivery closer to the customer. Using ITIL-based methodologies, we began to unravel the Spaghetti Diagram by attacking three major areas: Case Management tool remediation, Self-Help Capability improvement, and Service Management skill development.

"Personal relationships are a cornerstone of our culture"

In theory, the plan was simple. In practice, while remediating workflow tools and leveraging ITIL methodologies was standard fare, we still needed to solve the larger problem of expanding our Service Desk capacity without expanding resources. In a large IT organization, a Level 1 Service Desk typically delivers 70 percent to 80percent of all services demanded by an organization. Whether it’s sales, customer service, technical support, or back-office services, ramping up and massively scaling Service Desk capacity to meet current and future demand, while driving quality into the delivery experience, is no small task.

The solution quickly became obvious. We needed virtual cognitive agents to solve my capacity and expansion problems. A typical chatbot wouldn’t do. We needed a true virtual agent, with artificial intelligence and an ability to interact across channels.

We are in the hospitality business. Personal relationships are a cornerstone of our culture. My customers’ preferred communication channel with my team is voice, and that preference is changing as our customer base evolves. The younger my customer, the more likely they prefer to interact via chat or text message. I needed to provide an omni-channel experience to communicate with customers in a natural conversational way, understand and adapt to their demands, and execute accurately on a large variety of tasks such as FAQs, form processing, password resets, and others.

Over the next series of articles, I will walk through how we investigated and selected the best cognitive virtual technology for our goals, how we targeted tasks for improvement, how we deployed our ecosystem, and how we handled cultural challenges to ensure that our use of cognitive virtual agents was an unqualified success.

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