From successful Seattle restaurateur to Accolade’s Sr. Director of AI and Automation, Ardie Sameti has seen it all—and draws on his varied experience to inform his approach to contact center transformation.
Ardie shares his journey and outlook on forthcoming contact center trends in this wide-ranging Agent of Change Spotlight.
Observe.AI: What were you doing before you joined Accolade?
Ardie Sameti: Prior to Accolade, I spent a good portion of my professional career as a restaurateur. I was everything from owner, operator to general manager to director of operations, and I fell in love with the business side of it.
Observe.AI: How did that experience translate to what you do now?
Sameti: It's highly competitive and you have to have real operational rigor. In a restaurant, it's a game of pennies. Margins are so tight that you can't make errors. You start out the day with zero sales. So you’ve got to be very offensive and defensive, meaning you have to go get the sales and you have to execute flawlessly. Word of mouth moves the business, so you have to be customer obsessed and really understand where we could drive the best product and experience.
There's a sequence of service. There's a way to personalize the experience. There's a way to upsell along the way or get your business objectives done efficiently in terms of guidance and workflow.
Observe.AI: So tell us a little bit about your role now at Accolade.
Sameti: Given my background and strength in scaling businesses and operations, this was a natural fit to have me play an important role spearheading transformation and innovation to look at how we need to implement the right tools, technology and people and processes so that we could build something really special to keep it very white glove and high touch, but do it at scale.
It's all around next gen contact center capabilities, automation and scale. The foundation of it comes from my experience running restaurants.
Observe.AI: For someone whose role is transformation, what are you focusing on today?
Sameti: Our secret sauce sauce is our people. We're in the personalized healthcare space. These aren't transactional conversations. We are assisting our members with complex questions and need to do so with empathy. Our Front Line Care Team are highly skilled folks, like clinicians, specialty physicians, nurses, and social workers.
So we want to build tools and technology that elevate our service and double down on them. Anything that's mundane administrative work, we’re trying to save them from that. Let's get them off of taking notes. Let's remove manual efforts and strive to automate their workflow to take the cognitive burden off of our team.
Observe.AI: There are obvious benefits for your workforce here, but how are you measuring benefits back to the business for these kinds of investments?
Sameti: It’s really about helping our Front Line Care Team be engaged with the members because they’re worrying less about manual tasks and more present on supporting and assisting our members. If we can give our members a great experience every time because our Front Line Care Team is on top of their game, then we’re doing our job. Automation elevates the service and it scales our business.
Your auto-summarization product is exactly one of those things that help with workflow. Right after the call, our Front Line Care Team get a summary of what just happened. During implementation, we’re able to tell it what we want our notes to look like with all of the actual entities and values that are really important to us, as well as the next steps.
Observe.AI: Does your team ever have concerns about the level of automation you’re using?
Sameti: We don’t see automation as a cost containment or cost cutting function. We're using it to double down on our people and build it around the individual who is engaging with our members so they can do their job better and not have to worry about the mundane tasks as much. At the core, we are a human powered service with AI and technology to augment and supplement our people to deliver the best experience possible.
Observe.AI: How do you prioritize where to implement automation first?
Sameti: We analyze why people call or message us and identify where the opportunities are within our interactions and the touch points to drive a consistent world class experience for our members.
Observe.AI: What’s the process for rolling out some of these tools?
Sameti: That’s actually the most important question. You've got to make sure that you have support from leadership and across the business. The whole company needs to embrace the fact that we need to be OK with change and it’s to support the growth of our business. You have to have a muscle for experimentation and a bias for action.
Observe.AI: What is your process for communicating new technology initiatives internally?
Sameti: You first need to sell it throughout the business with your stakeholders so the business case and value is clear to why this is worth pursuing. Talk about what business metrics it’s going to affect, whether it’s net dollar retention or new sales or margin.
Observe.AI: Who do you recommend being involved in these rollouts?
Sameti: Organization structure is really important here. I always recommend to build a team to fund change management. These are actual change agents who can bring a strong culture of ideating, designing, and piloting.
Observe.AI: Tell us your philosophy on piloting.
Sameti: We need to have this mentality of “Hey, we're gonna ship early often and iterate like, nothing is ever going to be perfect.” If we waited for “perfect”, then we messed up somewhere, because that means we waited too long to implement it or didn’t get the appropriate feedback from our users/stakeholders to build a solution that best fits their needs because fine tuning is essential along the way. Pilot groups that constantly give feedback are critical, we call them the PIT crew (Product Innovation Team) and this elevates and improves the product so we can fully optimize & realize its value to the business. Important to note that some things will fail, we need to have a fail fast and learn philosophy to continue our learnings and eye on progress. If you’re not a little nervous about it, you’re not pushing it.
Observe.AI: Who are the other teams involved in a successful rollout?
Sameti: We have a team dedicated to execution tied to release and launch management. This group is focused on delivering things end to end from starting out what it is to establishing success criteria and KPIs and the metrics you want to move. Then you gotta go sit down with the stakeholders and really get buy-in so you can run together towards the same goals.
Observe.AI: For organizations that may not be able to dedicate an entire team to these sorts of initiatives, what do you recommend?
Sameti: Start small with an internal tiger team or small group. It probably won’t be their entire job, they’ll probably have to do double duty for a little bit. But that’s how you make sure it’s driving value for the business and over time you can justify the cost of standing up a dedicated team.
Observe.AI: Where do you start with emerging technologies?
Sameti: You first need to figure out what business objectives and problems you're trying to solve for or where there may be gaps or improvement areas within your business then you can pair up new emerging tech to real use cases and business opportunities. How is customer service changing and how will it impact how you operate? With these new Generative AI and LLM foundational capabilities, it’s pretty clear there are two areas that will be impacted: Contact centers/customer support, and healthcare. So we’re definitely working hard to figure out what it means for us long term.
If you're ignoring it, you're not looking out for your business. I also don’t advocate going all in without questioning or being skeptical and educated on compliance, risk, reliability and accuracy. The ones who will do well are those that adopt but are always trying to learn what it means for them. It’s OK to be a little skeptical, but you have to embrace change.
Observe.AI: What would you say is the general sentiment around Generative AI among contact center leaders?
Sameti: People are starting to seriously think about these things. Talking to CEOs and other execs within different industries it's clear that this is top of mind for them and coming up in board meetings. Even if they haven’t really looked into it, they're paying attention. It’s going to be a forcing function for leaders to realize they’ll need to understand what it means to their business, the kind of talent or new roles they’ll need, embracing a culture of experimentation.
Ardie is in charge of driving the implementation and adoption of Generative AI at Accolade and harnessing Observe.AI's proprietary LLM to power their contact center operations.
Read more about our Agent of Changes here.