Yesterday, my wife mentioned to me that she had ordered an item from Amazon and that it had curiously not arrived. She asked me to look at our order history to see if I could find the status, as I grumbled, I let her know that Amazon had said it was delivered. Picking up on my cues that I wasn’t interested in investigating the mystery of the missing item because I was preoccupied with the Cleveland Browns game (go Browns!); she mercifully took on the investigation. It took 45 seconds. She jumped on the Amazon app, opened up a chat (with a bot); the bot asked what she was inquiring about. My wife entered “I did not receive my package,” the bot quickly replied, asking “which of the following items did you not receive?” My wife selected the item, the bot replied, “we are shipping you a new one.” Case closed. In 45 seconds. Without speaking to a human being or being placed on hold. There are several lessons to be learned in this story, let’s explore.
Lesson 1: The BIG Lesson - Customers want to solve the issues themselves when it makes sense
And they don’t necessarily want to engage with a person. It’s part of the reason why most people that are reaching out to a contact center, have done so after they’ve exhausted avenues for solving the issue themselves. So, giving customers the ability to self-manage an issue, while it seems counter-intuitive in some cases, results in stronger customer satisfaction ratings. In NICE annual Consumer Experience Transformation Benchmark study, the last year has been a quantum leap for self-help, with more than 20% growth of consumers leveraging self-help over the prior year (67% in 2020 vs 46% in 2019.) What’s more, first-call resolution (FCR) beat agent-assisted calls for the first time, with 62% FCR in self-help and 55% FCR for agent assist. The adoption of self-help and user preferences for working with a bot are real. The trick is striking the right balance on self-help vs agent-assist. Over-rotating on self-help can hurt your CSAT scores. Identifying the use cases where a bot can be successful in the context of your business is a must. What do you want the bot to do? What don’t you want the bot to do? In this case, the engagement was largely a transactional one. The item was a $7 bottle of shampoo and so the bot was clearly instructed to replace it. Had it been a 2000-dollar flat screen tv, the bot would have had a different course of action to take. But in this case, solving the issue for a customer quickly with a simple replacement was the right course of action. After the engagement was over, my wife noted how impressed she was that Amazon made it so easy. This teaches us something as well. Keep in mind, Amazon did in fact make a mistake and that mistake impacted customer experience. However, the corrective steps they took to make it right – both easy and fast, left us talking more about how easy it was to troubleshoot the missing item versus Amazon botching our shipment.
Lesson 2: The Need for Speed - Used correctly, chatbots can greatly accelerate routine engagements
In the Amazon story, the issue was resolved in 45 seconds. It’s true that in this instance, the algorithm, rule or applied AI to the bot gave it the logic to determine the course of action but it’s more than a machine thinking quickly. In this case, Amazon knew precisely where and when to apply the bot and made it easy for my wife to engage. Placement and promotion of your bot is as important as understanding what you want the bot to solve. In my example, Amazon quickly realized that a bot would resolve this particular issue more quickly than an agent would be able to and placed the invitation to chat with a bot on the order status itself – no hunting for help.
Lesson 3: The lesson that is hidden from customers
Freeing agents up to not chase down $7 bottles of shampoo seems like an obvious “no duh” moment. If an average agent is making $60k a year (roughly 30 dollars an hour), a 5 to 10 minute engagement starts to become more expensive than the item itself, not to mention the cost to CSAT. For agents, repeating the same inquiry over and over quickly becomes a hamster wheel, which quickly becomes a disinterested agent. Up leveling agent skills to work on truly complex issues brings a new sense of value to the organization and to the customer. In a 2019 Gallup survey on US employee engagement, only 35% of workers were “highly involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace, and 52% were considered not engaged and doing minimal work while looking for other jobs.” The global pandemic has given opportunity for contact center leaders to evaluate all facets of their contact center and determine the best ways of improving employee satisfaction, I will contend that the lowest hanging fruit is removing the tedious repetitive calls.
“Okay boomer” takes on new meaning
While we are all likely suffering from “Pandemic Fatigue,” it’s important that we consider the fact that contact centers have grown in significance to organizations. This reality didn’t start with the pandemic, it really started with the Experience Economy, where businesses differentiate themselves not on product but on customer experience. The pandemic has put investment in delivering exceptional experiences into hyper-drive. As consumers, we are all leveraging and considering new ways to conduct business, where previously some generational demographics were hesitant. In a commentary on their recent study on consumer behavior, LaserShip’s Chief Commercial Officer, Josh Dineen noted that “Baby Boomers are embracing e-commerce. Baby Boomers, historically more hesitant to shop online, were forced to adapt their behaviors when COVID-19 hit because they weren’t comfortable shopping in stores. The study found this behavior will continue, with nearly half (47%) of Baby Boomers planning to increase their online shopping after the pandemic.” That is a significant statistic, it essentially translates to the idea that now, we ALL are online consumers. It’s true that GenZ and Millennial may be more technology fluent and that fluency drops in GenX and Baby Boomers but the increase in digital spending and digital engagements will continue to accelerate even after the pandemic has passed.
Chatbots and Agents: The gorilla in the room -- will robots take agent jobs?
At scale, self-service is a game changer. It provides customers the options for solving issues themselves. Think of the self-service checkout aisle at the grocery store. You typically would go through self-service checkout if you had a small handful of items that you could scan and pay for quickly. We turn to cashiers at the grocery store when we have a larger load or one that needs product and SKU lookups. These quicker self-service lanes did not replace cashiers or even slow down the hiring of new cashiers, it simply provided an option for grocery shoppers with small easy loads to do it themselves. According to Canam Research, 78% of contact centers in the U.S. report plans to deploy artificial intelligence in their contact center in the next 3 years, with an overwhelming number (97%) of survey respondents planning to use artificial intelligence to support agents as opposed to 7% who plan to use AI to replace some or all of their current call center staff. Top uses of artificial intelligence include bots, self-service, and AI for quality management. When it comes to AI, the reality is, Human Agents will never be replaced, although their jobs will change.
On a recent webinar that I attended, noted industry analyst, Sheila McGee Smith drew comparisons between AI in the contact center and ATM’s in the banking sector. At the time of their deployment and broad acceptance, there was a concern that bank tellers would soon be out of a job. Fast forward 3-5 years and the trend data showed that more tellers were being hired in retail banking. Why? Because their jobs had evolved and changed. They attracted new talent and allowed existing resources to learn new roles.
In the contact center, this same scenario is playing out with AI. Will AI replace humans? Absolutely not. There is something uniquely human about contact centers. As consumers, when we speak with an agent that we have a good experience with, our brand perception is elevated. As I noted earlier, there are also use cases that bots are simply not good for and that typically leans towards more complex issues that require a human touch. Re-skilling agents to handle these more complex issues with greater speed and efficiency while bots do the heavy lifting on routine tasks has an amplified effect for your customers. Yes the bots handle the routine transactional engagements quicker -BUT- now the agents are handling complex issues with greater speed and efficiency.
It’s important to keep in mind that in many instances a customer may start their journey with a bot and end it speaking with an agent. Knowing what the bot’s limitations are is paramount when you decide to leverage them. Remember, earlier in this article I noted that you need to decide what a bot can do and what it shouldn’t do. When a bot uncovers a use case that they shouldn’t be engaged on, it needs to know that it should be passed to an agent. Hereto, however is a benefit of a successfully deployed bot, the bot will have already collected key data on the customer so that when the agent joins the call, they are already up to speed on the customer need. In some instances, the bot may have already verified the person’s identity and account information, eliminating the need for the customer to have to repeat personal information a second time. This seamless handoff is an important spoke on the wheel of a seamless and exceptional journey. NICE helps businesses of all sizes tap into AI and Chatbots, allowing you to Bring Your own Bot (BYOB), or deploy pre-built bots powered by NLP (Natural Language processing) to handle more customer interactions.
How about a little help for the boss?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned speaking to contact center leaders, reporting on KPI’s to senior management can be a painful act, even when the contact center is performing well. Why? Because in many instances data is kept in spreadsheets or antiquated systems that make pulling the narrative of performance together an absolute migraine in a bottle. It gets worse when that contact center leader may have to report bad news but have limited options for how to improve. The quote that always rings with me was from a contact center leader in the state and local government space who noted that there was simply not time in the day to “think outside the box,” on contact center improvements. Each day, contact center leaders are dealing wit the here and now, reacting to call volumes, escalations, reporting needs, agent scheduling – the list is a long one. Since this is largely a blog about AI and automation, I know you’ll be shocked when I tell you – AI CAN HELP!
AI helps contact center leaders understand ebbs and flows of the contact center, it can easily automate staff scheduling, it can help manage remote workers reporting on key agent KPI’s and it can run those painful performance reports with speed and accuracy. NICE CXone Reporting and Dashboards guide smarter, more informed decisions with fully integrated, real-time and historical insights on key business metrics and trends. Get immediate value from out of the box reports and ready access to the full range of data elements, to track call center reporting metrics such as agent status, service level and skill performance. Share actionable information throughout your business with ease and security, including external business intelligence systems, so you always know when action is needed. Choose from over 90 pre-built reports or create your own to maximize the value of your call center metrics.
Digital channel choice
Now more than ever, digital channels have become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. We share family pictures of the dog with family and friends on Facebook, share ideas and exchange messages with friends on Twitter and connect with colleagues on LinkedIn and connect with businesses, friends and family securely using platforms like WhatsApp. The list is a growing and fluid and like these blue chip social media platforms, others are increasingly emerging. Your customers are living their lives digitally, so meeting them where they live makes it easier for them to communicate with you. On platforms that they use and are familiar with, it goes a long way to driving an exceptional CX. Agents can engage with customers on these digital channels but so can bots, using the same rules you’re applying to a chat on your website. You can even leverage these channels to proactively collect valuable information on new products, wish a customer a happy birthday or send them a promotional offer.
Consider this; Facebook has 1.86 BILLION monthly active users, Linkedin, 121 million use the site daily and as of 2021, Twitter is made up 340 million tweeters, with one in five adults actively using Twitter daily. Keep those numbers in mind and think about how many of your customers are on some or all those channels. Giving bots or agents access to those channels delivers REAMS of data on the customer which can deliver insights to your organization to help you build stronger customer profiles and deliver a tailored, personalized white glove service to customers when they engage with your business on the phone, on social media, with a human agent or a chat bot. NICE CXone Interaction Channels provide over 30 options to connect with customers in their channel of choice – including chat, messaging options like WhatsApp and SMS as well as voice. Offer a consistent journey across all the channels your customers want and quickly add new channels to stay ahead of the competition.
2021 means a fresh beginning and a new reality
We’ve all heard it and read it, we will emerge from the global pandemic but it also will be a new reality. More and more over the last year, we’ve seen digital adoption accelerate tremendously. Generational groups that had long been hesitant to conduct business in the digital world had their hands forced. And guess what? They started realizing that there is a real benefit and a real convenience to doing things in the digital world that we spend our lives in. That new reality for businesses is going to be felt most acutely in the contact center. In 2020, the tectonic pivot for contact center leaders was largely in moving what had been historically a centralized team to full time remote workers. It meant investing in technology to manage remote workers, it meant recalibrating expectations for workers that were dealing with the pandemic as well as customers, cross-functional teams and oh yeah – kids that are now homeschooling. The good news is, contact center leaders and the agents themselves rose to that challenge. In 2021, contact center leaders now need to focus on and reimagine the impact that the contact center has on the business and on the relationship with customers. Gartner predicts that by 2025, customer service organizations that have adopted AI would elevate operational efficiency by 25%! Considering that, contact center leaders that embrace AI will be in an exceptional position to deliver meaningful value to the business.
Make no mistake, 2021 is the year to focus on how to ready your contact center to handle larger call volumes on multiple channels. But its an opportunity to up your game in the employee experience department by giving agents the tools and help they need so that they can advance, most importantly it gives you an opportunity to continue pushing your organization to deliver meaningful and enjoyable customer engagements that build lasting relationships.