Contrary to some science fiction movies, artificial intelligence (AI) hasn't subjected humans to robotic overlords. And contrary to some current opinions, contact center AI isn't all about replacing customer service agents with armies of bots.
In fact, in most cases, humans aren't competing with artificial intelligence at all. Rather, AI helps transform employee and customer experiences, making people more effective at their jobs. When used in contact centers, AI can make forecasts more accurate, provide leaders with insights that enable quick and informed decisions, elevate CX, and improve the agent experience.
That last point, improving the agent experience, is particularly important right now. During the last twelve months, most contact centers moved to a complete or partial remote agent model. With that transition came some challenges, including making agents still feel supported and part of a team despite physical separation.
Artificial intelligence can help keep these at-home agents connected and performing well. Let's take a closer look at how artificial intelligence is transforming contact centers and how AI supports a work-from-home (WFH) model.
Remote work is here to stay, AI can take it from good to great
Rapidly transitioning to an at-home agent model at the beginning of the lock downs produced many examples of operational heroics. In normal conditions, contact centers without remote agents may have tested the waters with a months-long pilot, followed by analysis, program refinement, and a phased roll-out.
The urgency of the lock downs eliminated the luxury of designing a well thought out remote agent strategy. Instead, call centers had to throw together solutions that would address the near-term needs of taking care of customers and citizens. Some of these solutions may not have been pretty, but in a crisis "good enough" often becomes a standard.
Fast forward twelve months: Who would have predicted the chaos of the lock downs would have a silver lining for contact centers? The accelerated transition to a work-from-home model plowed right through any lingering hesitancies organizations had about remote agents. Both agents and call centers have now experienced the benefits of an at-home agent model, and as a result 70% of businesses plan to continue to allow agents to work from home in the future.
This means call centers who put together their WFH solutions with duct tape and baling wire now need to implement technology built for the long term. But, really, even organizations with the best remote call center platforms can benefit from up-levelling what they use to manage, support, develop and engage their at-home agents.
AI can help create better experiences for customers and maximize agent performance and productivity. It's also good for the bottom line. For example, an Aberdeen study commissioned by NICE inContact found that best-in-class contact centers are heavier users of AI and drive significantly higher year-over-year increases in agent productivity than other contact centers.
Best-in-class contact centers recognize the power of AI and use it to transform their operations. These artificial intelligence capabilities are available to all contact centers right now and can be leveraged to support remote agents in creative ways, such as:
- Real-time guidance during each interaction to help agents make every customer a satisfied customer
- Smarter schedules that give agents more flexibility to manage work and remote life responsibilities
- Matching agents with interactions where they will bring the most value
Let's now look at each of these uses in more detail.
1. Real-time guidance during each interaction to help agents make every customer a satisfied customer
Imagine a coach-less college basketball game in which players don't receive feedback about their performance until a couple of days after the game. That would be really ineffective, not to mention difficult to watch. There's a reason why basketball coaches pace the sideline and shout feedback to players during games. Coaches often see what players cannot, and the coach's timely instructions can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
What if agents could receive guidance during interactions from an AI-powered coach? Just as during a basketball game, coaching while interactions are unfolding could mean the difference between a CX win or loss. And, especially in the absence of a physically present supervisor, AI coaching can provide remote agents with timely, relevant feedback that can develop them and make them more successful.
Real-time interaction guidance can be the coach that helps every agent deliver varsity-level CX that turns every customer into a satisfied customer. Interaction guidance is smart about the factors that contribute to satisfying experiences because it has learned by analyzing billions of interactions. It uses this knowledge to guide agents in real time about appropriate soft skills to use with each customer and each situation.
As an example, AI-powered interaction guidance can detect both customer and agent sentiment and knows what soft skills agents should be using based on customer emotions. If an interaction becomes tense and the agent begins interrupting the caller, the interaction guidance software will alert the agent to this behavior. Just like players in the heat of a basketball game, agents may not even know they're letting their emotions get the best of them. But the AI coach can see it and help get the agent back on track.
Ultimately, real-time coaching makes everyone a winner. Agents are more successful, customers are more satisfied, and the bottom line is healthier.
2. Smarter schedules that give agents more flexibility to manage work and remote life responsibilities
One thing agents love about working from home is the improvement in work-life balance. No more commutes and they can start a load of laundry or stick something in the slow cooker on their breaks. Since they value work-life balance, why not give them more?
Workforce management software that uses machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, can produce agent schedules that get smarter with every run. Intelligent scheduling considers agent skills and business needs to build schedules that have the right number of qualified agents working at the right times. Equally important, it can accommodate agent preferences and requested time off.
All agents can benefit from having their preferences baked into their schedules. It allows them to have more predictable home lives where they know they'll be able to pick up their kids from school, attend evening classes, or schedule a weekly coffee break with friends.
Contact centers are plagued by high agent turnover. In large call centers, annual turnover can be as high as 44%. Not only do departing agents take valuable knowledge out the door, but it costs about $12k to replace them. There's a very tangible business reason to reduce agent churn and call centers that want to move the needle need to implement practices that make them the employer of choice. Smart, AI-infused scheduling that accommodates agent preferences is a low-cost perk that can pack a lot of punch and create more loyal agents.
3. Matching agents with interactions where they will bring the most value
It can be a little scary working from home without your teammates and supervisor by your side. What happens if you get an issue you can't solve or a customer you can't appease? Working remotely can have its drawbacks.
These types of issues can be alleviated by smart interaction routing that considers agent skills and customer personalities and communication preferences. To make remote agents more successful, call centers should use predictive behavioral routing that improves the customer / agent matching process.
Predictive behavioral routing is AI-powered technology that uses science and data to make better connections. This is artificial intelligence doing what it does best - sifting through massive quantities of data to identify patterns and, ultimately, develop customer and agent profiles.
Here's an example of predictive behavioral routing in action: Marco calls the contact center about an issue he's having. The system identifies Marco as a "Connector" personality type who has had his most satisfying call center interactions delivered by agents who are "Organizers." Having determined this, the system will next look at the pool of agents that are qualified to handle Marco's issue and route the call to an "Organizer" within that pool. This way, Marco is matched to a qualified agent that he is likely to "click" with. This is personalization at its best.
It's easy to see how predictive behavioral routing is good for CX, but what's in it for agents? That's also easy to identify if you put yourself in an agent's shoes. Smarter, AI-powered routing enables agents to be more successful at helping people, which is why many agents chose this career. And by matching on personality, they're likely to have many more enjoyable conversations that will improve their work experience.
Final thoughts about using contact center AI to support remote agents
There's so much more to contact center AI than bots. Foundational call center applications are being infused with artificial intelligence, enabling fundamental changes to core processes. Savvy organizations will figure out how to use AI capabilities to support operational goals, such as supporting and engaging remote agents. Which of your contact center priorities would benefit from artificial intelligence?
Now that you've seen some examples of how artificial intelligence is transforming contact centers, you may want to learn even more. Read Solving for the Human-side of AI in the Contact Center: How AI Impacts Business Transformation. Then download Effortless Service, Happier Customers: Using smarter service to accelerate the speed of full resolution to learn how to apply AI like an expert.