Analysis

Man vs Machine: How Technology is Changing Brokers’ Call Centers

Chatbots, automation and voice-to-text solutions are having a huge impact on the way retail trading firms do business

Call centers aren’t renowned for being the funnest, happiest, most joyful places in the world. Nonetheless, they lie at the heart of many businesses’ operations.

Nowhere is this truer than in the retail trading world. Employees working over the phone could fall under the auspices of a broker’s compliance, sales, marketing or customer support teams.

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But, though developments in technology have had a huge impact on the way brokers do business over the past two decades, call centers have largely remained the same. A call to a prospective client, for instance, looks pretty much the same as it did twenty or even thirty years ago.

That is unlikely to change immediately but there are signs that the ceaselessly spinning wheels of technological progress are grinding their way into the humble call center. One prominent example of this came to the public’s attention last year when internet giant Google released a demo of Duplex – a system that can make hyper-realistic automated phone calls on your behalf.

Robot sales

Similar technology can already be found in the retail brokerage world. Firms such as ImpacTech, for example, have been making solutions that can automate sales calls for brokers.

Most brokers will probably find these sorts of technological developments, as opposed to compliance or customer relationship management tools, more exciting. That’s because, and this may come as a shock to the people over at the European Securities and Markets Authority, firms do prefer making money to spending hours meeting compliance requirements.

Automated calls are one of the solutions that are available to broker’s sales teams. But it’s the technology being used behind the scenes that is really bolstering firms’ sales efforts.

“Right now, most sales teams spend 80% of their time chasing sales leads,” said Anthony Papaevagorou, Head of Sales at

Anthony ‎Papaevagorou
Anthony ‎Papaevagorou, Head of Sales, ImpacTech

ImpacTech. “They get their list and work their way through it [until] the end of the day. Their success rate is highly dependent on how qualified those leads are.”

New technologies are making the process of sorting through those leads much easier. By analysing a variety of data points, sales teams can now scrap dead leads and focus solely on those that are likely to make them money.

“Automation and artificial intelligence can now be applied to define the quality of a lead,” continued Papaevagorou. “Ensemble learning in combination with machine learning and continuous learning can reveal the ‘hottest’ leads by processing the demographic, firmographic, and technographic factors collected about the lead. Our technology can predict, with 86.7 percent accuracy, what the best leads are.”

Speech analysis

More interesting – at least on a technological level – are sentiment analysis tools that can analyze speech and emotion during a phone call. A combination of improved speech-to-text solutions and better textual analysis means firms can record calls with customers and see how their sales teams’ language drives client behaviour.

“Speech analysis tools today allow brokers to analyze, in great detail, calls for positive keywords and emotions,” said VoiceSpin CEO, Rommy El Ami. “This can increase efficiency and results, plus it acts as a learning tool to improve the skills of [sales] agents.”

This means that if certain words or phrases put off a previously enthusiastic customer, sales teams can try not using them in the future. Conversely, if certain phrases bring more clients onboard, sales teams can start using them more often.

A deeper analysis means that things can get even more complex than this. For instance, sophisticated speech analysis tools can look at, not just the words a person has used, but the intonation or level of excitement in a their voice when they uttered those words.

“[Sentiment analysis] essentially gives you the ability to understand what your best-performing sales person does to achieve their results,” Papaevagorou told Finance Magnates. “AI processes the data generated by successful sales calls and finds patterns which are presented as predictive analytics which can guide the entire sales team and help to lift performance.”

Scrapping boring compliance jobs

Speech analysis is useful for sales teams but it is arguably more important for compliance teams. Brokers are now prohibited in what they can say to prospective clients and also – because of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation – have to be very careful about what sort of customer data they can hold on to.

Adhering to regulations in the past was an irksome process. Compliance agents would have to listen to hours of phone calls and determine whether or not any regulatory structures had been breached.

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Not only is this incredibly boring for brokers’ compliance teams, it also means their efforts at monitoring phone calls are subject to human error. Moreover, it simply isn’t feasible for firms to listen to every phone call their sales teams make, meaning that only a small percentage of those calls are actually checked for any compliance failings.

“AI can alert and highlight potential issues by spotting problematic keywords or negative emotions automatically in near to real time and therefore resolve issues before they can become a problem or harm the license of the company,” said El Ami.

“Compliance officers can also identify quicker problematic agents or desks and correct issues. Voice to text also makes cross-border compliance easier. For instance, a French conversation can be converted to text, immediately translated to English and handed to a compliance officer.”

Human or chatbot?

Adhering to regulatory requirements is also being made easier by other automated customer relationship management systems. Most notable amongst these is the chatbot.

Many brokers – including some of those with sub-par technology – now have chatbots that can handle client problems. Some of these, it must be said, are pretty useless. With only a small set of pre-set responses, you usually end up being passed on to a human customer service agent.

Nonetheless, the underlying technology is improving rapidly. Like Google’s Duplex, some chatbots are becoming more and more sophisticated. And, even if a chatbot fails, the speed with which a customer can then be connected to a live agent is increasing.

“Chatbots are going to have an enormous impact on business,” said Papaevagorou. “The technology has developed to the point where it is difficult for a person to determine they are interacting with a bot.

“Within the next 5 years 95% of all customer interactions will be through channels supported by AI with intelligent chatbots. Apart from the obvious benefit of reducing call center costs and 24/7 availability they also use conversational AI to produce more efficient lead acquisition and increase retention.”

Retail trading Luddites

All of this may sound wonderful to senior executives at brokerages. But for the compliance professional, sales executive or customer support agent, the thought of so many day-to-day tasks being automated may induce some Luddite-esc fears of the machine taking over.

No one that Finance Magnates spoke for the purposes of this article, however, believed that robots are going to be swarming through brokerage houses, throwing out sales staff and calling up prospective clients to entice them with 1000:1 leverage.

“In my experience, there will always be clients that would prefer the reassurance of human contact,” said Oded Shefer, the CEO of

oded shefer cpattern
Oded Shefer, Founder & CEO, CPattern

CPattern. “So making sales positions 100 percent redundant is a distant dream. I think the challenge is how to convert the majority of the leads ‘hands free’ and knowing on which leads to assign a human sales agent.”

Clients may prefer speaking to a human as opposed to a robot, but it is also not certain that those robots will be able to do everything that people can. Even if they could, there is ample evidence to suggest that, with mundane tasks automated, workers will be able to focus solely on productive, interesting work.

“For years there’s been a misconception about automation taking jobs when the research clearly demonstrates quite the opposite,” said Soteris Charalambous, Head of Content at ImpacTech. “Over the next 15 years automation will undoubtedly lead to the displacement of jobs, but far more jobs will be created because of the new opportunities and efficiencies created.”

Man and machine – best of friends

In the late 2000s, Kevin Rodgers, formerly Deutsche Bank’s global head of FX, was giving a tour of the bank’s trading floor to several foreign dignitaries. Failing to realise that voice brokers had largely been replaced by machines, and expecting a 1980s-style, Wolf of Wall Street screaming fest, one of the dignitaries asked – “why aren’t they shouting?”

Things are unlikely to be that extreme at brokers’ offices. Customer support agents and salespeople will still need to be on the phone but their approach to those calls will be very different.

Salespeople are already able to make better, targeted calls – they are not simply trawling through an excel spreadsheet, hoping that they’ll get a “yes” at the end of their next conversation.

Similarly, conversations that reach customer support agents are going to be much more narrow in their scope. With chatbots able to handle simple requests or redirect customers to web pages that can provide them with an answer, only those customers who have a more complex request will reach a human support agent.

That will mean, not that everything is automated, but that robot and human will work hand-in-hand, with the skills of one complementing the other.

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