Emotional Intelligence

Reading time
2 min read
Cogito app screenshot

Nobody wants to sound like a robot over the phone. But maybe a computer can help you bring more humanity to your phone manner.

What’s happening: Cogito makes deep-learning software that coaches customer service representatives through phone calls in real time. The Boston-based startup has raised more than $70 million and sold its technology to at least three dozen call centers across the U.S., according to an article in Time.

Automating empathy: Cogito's software was trained on vocal signals beyond the strictly verbal content of conversation: things like tone, pitch, talking speed, rambling, interruption frequency, and relative length of time spent talking.

  • If the software senses a conversation going awry, it offers corrective suggestions on how to communicate more clearly, empathetically, and successfully.
  • If a rep is talking too fast and too much, the program prompts them to slow down, finish their thought, and then ask an open-ended question to pass the floor back to the caller.
  • The algorithm also detects customer frustration and asks the representative to sympathize and offer advice on how to sound more caring.

Behind the news: In the early 2000s, MIT’s Sandy Pentland began collecting a database of non-linguistic speech features by tapping the cell phones of 100 students and faculty — with their consent, of course. He co-founded Cogito in 2007 and the following year wrote a book, Honest Signals, arguing that nonverbal cues can predict the outcome of a social interaction, perhaps even better than the words themselves. The company built a medical app before pivoting to its current product.

Why it matters: More than a third of call-center employees move on within a year, according to an industry group. That attrition incurs hiring costs. It also affects customers whose problems are handled by inexperienced or burned-out operators. AI-driven coaching can help on both ends, Cogito claims, by training green representatives and mitigating burnout.

Takeaway: AI is developing the capacity to recognize and respond to human emotions. That bodes well in contexts where humans and computers must collaborate under stressful conditions — not just in customer-service scenarios but, say, high-stakes emergency situations.


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