CX Insight Magazine

April 2021

Becoming A Cognitive Enterprise

By: Execs In The Know

“The goal of the Cognitive Contact Center is to produce a better agent experience and, ultimately, a more personalized experience for customers.”

In a contributed article featured in the January 2021 issue of CX Insights, one of the emerging trends identified for 2021 was “The Cognitive Contact Center Movement.” As explained in the piece, COVID-19 was a catalyst in accelerating the movement toward the Cognitive Contact Center, and for many reasons. Customers and contact center agents were both affected by the pandemic, forcing companies to adjust things like their channel strategies, workflows, customer journey designs, self-service offerings, automation, and the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), just to name a few. It was further explained that the Cognitive Contact Center is indeed forcing the customer experience (CX) industry to re-imagine the journey, all with the goal of producing a better agent experience and, ultimately, a more “personalized” experience for customers. With the increased adoption of AI, natural language processing (NLP), machine learning, and sentiment analysis, all signs point to this movement as the start of a trend.

Also explained in the article, the Cognitive Contact Center starts with designing effortless agent and customer experiences by moving contact center telephony to the cloud, integrating systems, leading with self-service and automation, enabling universal agents, delivering insights, and continuously optimizing to help contact center operations get smarter with every engagement.

“The Cognitive Contact Center starts with designing effortless experiences for agents and customers by using technology and improved processes to get smarter with every engagement.”

Indeed, we are seeing and hearing of these initiatives and expect to see even more organizations go in this direction with their contact centers. Considering the pace of change, we thought we would take a step back and look at this from an even broader lens than the contact center. In this article, we will expand on this growing trend by providing food for thought about how this movement toward a Cognitive Contact Center should be considered across the entire organization.

Laying the Foundation: Cognitive Computing and AI

Before we talk about the cognitive transformation and its implications, let’s first review what “cognitive” really means and how it differs from AI.

IBM Fellow, Dharmendra Modha, explains, “Cognitive computing goes well beyond artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction as we know it – it explores the concepts of perception, memory, attention, language, intelligence, and consciousness. Typically, in AI, one creates an algorithm to solve a particular problem. Cognitive computing seeks a universal algorithm for the brain. This algorithm would be able to solve a vast array of problems.”

In other words, cognitive computing not only uses data to solve problems more quickly, but it also goes a step further by learning from every interaction to replicate human thought processes and emotions. Leveraging AI, machine learning, NLP, sentiment analysis, data mining, and pattern recognition, cognitive computing gets closer to replicating how the human brain works to deliver more personal, relevant, and empathetic experiences. External, internal, structured, and unstructured data is mined in real-time from all channels and sources to deliver a cognitive experience in the contact center but can also be used throughout the organization to drive enhanced customer loyalty.

“Cognitive computing goes well beyond artificial intelligence […] it explores the concepts of perception, memory, attention, language, intelligence, and consciousness.”

Customers are increasingly using more than one channel to interact with brands and solve problems. They are turning to self-service for more routine issues, and by the time they get to agents, they have likely already attempted to resolve their issue in another channel. More personalized and relevant experiences in self-service channels will be expected and customers will expect more from their one-on-one interactions with agents as well. The ability for brands to truly deliver a more cognitive experience, not only in the contact center but across the organization, will be a differentiator for those who embrace it.

A Cognitive Enterprise

Achieving a Cognitive Contact Center requires forward-thinking leaders that are customer obsessed across the entire organization, with a focus and commitment to technology breakthroughs that truly exceed customer needs and expectations. Let’s face it — 2020 was challenging for everyone. It would be tempting to go back to business as usual after the pandemic, but those who look to the future and embrace transformation will now find themselves at the forefront of this trend and, more importantly, stand out amongst their competitors.

The pandemic shined a bright light on companies’ ability to pivot quickly, accelerating many of their strategic initiatives — including digital transformation. In fact, in the Customer Experience Management Benchmark (CXMB) Series 2020 Corporate Edition report, 50% of those surveyed said their strategic initiatives were accelerated because of COVID-19. The momentum is there, but the question is: “Where are organizations going to go from here to continue to innovate and transformation?”

Consumer behavior and expectations likely changed forever in 2020. Some of these shifts were certainly underway prior to the pandemic, though many are now here to stay, and even accelerating in their pace. Think about behaviors and expectations. The way people shop and entertain themselves has changed dramatically, and many now expect almost 24/7 service for any and every type of issue that may arise.

A Cognitive Contact Center is only one component required to achieve the transformation that will address rapidly changing customer expectations. Meaningful transformation involves the entire organization moving in the same direction with the same objective. This a Cognitive Enterprise. So, what does that mean for the broader organization?

Below are seven “Must Have” elements for becoming a Cognitive Enterprise.


Achieving a Cognitive Enterprise starts in the boardroom and cascades to all levels of the organization. Most companies talk about CX as a priority, but to transform and stand out among competitors, “customer obsession” must permeate throughout the organization. It cannot just be a slogan or a poster on the wall, but must be evident in decision-making, strategies, planning, investment, and execution. This goes beyond creating good experiences at every touchpoint, or even delivering a seamless experience when navigating between channels. Those things will become expected, and the cognitive contact center will be the result of that. But it goes beyond the contact center and can only be achieved if the idea of “customer obsession” is woven into the fabric of the organization.

“Meaningful transformation involves the entire organization moving in the same direction with the same objective.”


Although technology, data, and processes get the lion’s share of attention in delivering a cognitive experience, it is critical to remember that this is all about people. It is about the customers. It is about the agents. The kind of transformation we are talking about cannot happen without technology, but it certainly cannot happen without people. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that human interactions and connections matter. An organization cannot deliver empathetic experiences using technology if they are not connected with their people and customers. From both an agent and customer perspective, more automation and self-help options mean more complex issues will be handled by agents. This requires more humanity and empathy, not less. So, agents must have the skills and training to handle these interactions delicately, which often means a different hiring profile and, most certainly, different training. And with more remote workers, it is critical to ensure employee engagement is prioritized to maintain a connection with your people. With more self-help options and the increased use of cognitive technology
(both agent- and customer-facing), the human element should be front and center. A care organization should not simply be trying to solve customer issues, but also put a human touch on those interactions. As an organization designs these journeys and implements technologies, it should ensure their customers have a seat at the table. With every journey design effort, improvement initiative, and technology implementation, an organization should ask itself if the customer is represented, what they may be experiencing, and, most importantly, what feelings does that experience inspire?


What outcome are customers expecting? Do we really know? Data and research indicate that customers are expecting personalization, whether through self-service or human channels. But more than that, they want humanization. They want the best of both worlds – fast, around the clock service, and also the human aspect of talking to a live person. They want and expect empathy, meaning they expect that their feelings will be recognized and understood. But every company
is different, and customers may expect something different when interacting with one brand versus another. Therefore, brands must consistently have a pulse on what their customers want and what their customers are currently experiencing. This involves a nimble approach to collecting customer feedback, customer journey mapping, and the ability to adapt quickly based on the data.


Related to number three above, market research, customer segmentation, and the like all provide valuable insights, but it is often outdated by the time it is operationalized. Furthermore, these insights often lack the nuances of emotion, something that truly drives the decisions and experiences of customers. As explained in this article by Accenture, becoming a listening organization means “picking up on signals through data and research to understand what people are saying and how they’re behaving (knowing the two aren’t always the same).” This involves new ways, approaches, and data mining technology to integrate qualitative and quantitative data to make sense of it, allowing organizations the ability to predict what customers will do and why. This can help organization bypass extensive and long-term segmentation studies or lengthy customer journey mapping projects. Getting information quickly and leveraging it through all parts of the organization will ensure the ability to stay in front of the ever-changing expectations of the customer, facilitating quick decisions that drive customer loyalty.


Over recent years, many organizations have had initiatives focused on optimizing specific touchpoints or improving consistency across touchpoints. These are important and necessary for improving the journey. For example, initiatives aimed at optimizing a self-help channel, which has been a particularly well-worn path in the past year. While necessary, this one initiative is not likely to be a game-changer for the organization or its customers. Leaders must think broader. What is going to provide the most value to customers? What will make the experience with a company stand out amongst others? A brand needs to walk in its customer’s shoes from the time the customer begins engaging with its brand in the areas of shopping, purchasing, and seeking support. Only then is it possible to find moments in the journey where greater value can be added. For example, what would make large online purchase experience stand out among the competition? Perhaps offering the ability (during the purchase process) to schedule a follow-up support call for remote product setup. Imagine a customer, receiving their new computer at home, and the day it is delivered they receive a proactive call from a support agent to help with final set up. Or in lieu of a live agent, upon delivery, provide the customer an SMS text with links to a virtual assistant or online tutorials based on information known about the customer’s technical abilities, needs, and specific products purchased. This sort of thinking creates an interconnected brand experience, generating a positive brand impression and improved loyalty.


Underlying a Cognitive Enterprise transformation is technology. Legacy systems and outdated technology are often a barrier, but those who are investing in the migration toward more agile and flexible platforms and architecture will be able to achieve this transformation more quickly. Data needs to be readily available, but also able to be integrated, consumed, analyzed, actioned, and leveraged in real-time. This involves the move toward a cloud infrastructure as the foundation with data powered by AI. A technology strategy should not be developed in a vacuum, isolated from the CX strategy. In fact, the best path to creating an effective technology strategy is to base it off of overarching CX objectives.


Just as an organization’s technology infrastructure needs to be agile, so does the organization. For many, this means a shift to flatter hierarchies for more agile and empowered teams, as described in this article from IBM. Even training and learning may be approached differently, with more peer-to-peer learning. This not only provides more opportunities for staff to add value and feel their worth, but creates more collaboration among team members, especially in a world that is becoming more physically distant with remote working. Required minimum skills will also see a shift, both in the contact center as well as in the wider organization. For agents, a cognitive contact center means that more relevant information will be more readily available and more easily served up to agents. Product training may not be as extensive, but the skills required for an agent will be much more focused on problem solving and interpersonal skills given the nature of the issues they will be solving for customers. For the rest of the organization, this means more personal accountability and a focus by leadership on ensuring teams are organized most effectively based on skills and desired outcomes.


Every leader in the CX community is focused on the customer journey, and where to go from here while navigating toward the other side of the pandemic. While the past year may have accelerated customer expectations and related strategic initiatives to address those expectations, the truth is that many organizations would have gotten to this spot regardless of the pandemic. It just may have taken a little longer. CX leaders now have the opportunity to be a part of a meaningful and lasting transformation. The contact center is a vital part of that transformation, but it is bigger than that. We know what customers want and expect – a personalized, relevant, and meaningful experience. This involves every part of an organization, starting in the boardroom. The status quo, which has all too often been a siloed approach, will no longer meet those expectations. It will take the entire organization from the top down to drive significant change and to become a Cognitive Enterprise that is customer obsessed. Those who accept the challenge will be recognized and embraced by customers now, and well into the future.


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