Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming customer service, and it's just getting started. Modernized contact centers are using AI to elevate customer experiences (CX), increase agent engagement and effectiveness, and squeeze costs out of their operating models.
Contact center AI has been infused into many channels and core technologies. Customers can self-serve using AI-powered virtual agents or chatbots, agents can receive real-time guidance about how to handle interactions based on customer sentiment, and forecasters can receive help identifying the best algorithm to use for their call center's specific characteristics.
With so many capabilities and so much promise, contact center leaders might feel like a kid in a candy shop who's unsure of what to try first. Maximizing the benefits of contact center AI requires a thoughtful approach. Not everything will benefit from AI, but when applied to certain use cases AI can yield powerful results.
To help you think through your contact center AI strategy, we've provided answers to eight key questions. Read on for information that can jumpstart the development of your AI road map.
1. What is contact center AI and why should my organization use it?
Artificial intelligence is a branch of technology that tries to make computers act smart (like humans) so they can make decisions, recognize speech, plan, adapt to circumstances, make predictions, and solve problems. One form of AI, machine learning, even makes applications smarter with time and use.
Like most technology, as artificial intelligence has advanced, adoption has increased. You now find AI in many call center applications, such as:
- Workforce management (WFM) - for smarter forecasting
- Automatic contact distributors (ACDs) – for AI -driven predictive behavioral routing
- Interactive voice response (IVR) systems - to allow customers to interact with conversational voice bots on the IVR
- Interaction analytics - for analyzing every contact in order to identify trends, contact drivers, customer sentiment, and call center quality
- Agent desktops - to provide guidance and task automation
- Interaction channels - to provide enhanced self-service and cost efficiency through tools like virtual agents
This isn't even a complete list, but you can see how widespread the use of AI and automation is becoming in contact centers.
As for the "why," contact center AI can make processes smarter and more accurate, improve customer and agent experiences, reduce costs, and provide organizations with actionable insights. But ultimately the "why" is up to you and your business.
Contact center AI isn't a vanity toy that organizations use just because they can. AI needs to be applied to situations where it will be successful in driving business outcomes. To determine your specific "why," ask yourself:
- What’s the outcome you want to drive?
- How will AI help you to achieve your goals?
2. Why is AI relevant to the contact center now more than ever?
Organizations were put to the test this past year. According to our latest survey of contact center decision makers, 92% of contact centers experienced volume increases of all interaction types. And they had to handle it with reduced resources and while shifting to a remote agent model.
The businesses who were successful in weathering the storm provided customers and employees with reassurance, stability, and easily accessible information. Modernized contact centers that use flexible technology were able to accommodate increased customer demands by leveraging artificial intelligence and automation. For example, many organizations quickly deployed bots on their websites or in their IVRs to increase use of self-service and provide relief to full phone and chat queues.
Perhaps the most important lesson we learned in the last twelve months is that although we can't always control or even predict business disruptions, we can control how prepared we are to handle the unexpected. AI can give call centers the agility they need to react to anything. In other words, AI is relevant to contact centers "now more than ever" because it may just be the key to remaining viable in an unpredictable world.
3. What aspects of contact center AI should customer service leaders be investing in now, and why?
We suggest investing in AI bots that improve self-service and capabilities that increase remote agent effectiveness and engagement. But first, you need the right technology platform.
A cloud platform will help ensure contact center AI success
If your contact center is using outdated technology, you should first consider upgrading to a cloud platform in order to maximize the performance of your artificial intelligence solutions. Cloud technology is a critical enabler of AI because of its ability to process large volumes of data on demand. Our research revealed that 66% of contact centers who are not using cloud today are planning to accelerate their move to the cloud as a result of the pandemic. These organizations will be well-positioned to take advantage of AI.
Use AI bots to improve customer self-service results
Bots are a wise AI investment. Consumers are getting used to bots and, when designed right, bots can provide effective self-service 24/7. Additionally, bots can be used to gather customer and issue information at the front end of agent interactions, which can significantly decrease handle times. AI bots are becoming widely adopted among call centers - our research shows 40% plan to invest in bots in the coming year.
Anything that improves your self-service capabilities (like bots) will be a valuable addition to your toolkit. Bots can help connect your customers with timely and valuable information, which they will appreciate in both normal times and during disruptions. Additionally, during volume spikes smarter and highly scalable self-service helps customers avoid long phone and chat queues, which will help alleviate stress and frustration.
Leverage contact center AI to help your work from home agents
As a result of lockdowns, so many contact centers had to send their agents home to work remotely. It turns out that businesses and agents like the new at-home model and as a result 70% of businesses plan to continue to allow agents to work from home in the future. To successfully make this shift to "the new normal,” contact centers should take advantage of AI-infused tools that provide agents with real-time feedback on every interaction. Additionally, predictive behavioral routing can make interactions more satisfying and quality management analytics can keep tabs on agent quality. It's important to make remote agents still feel connected to their teams while also developing them and monitoring their performance. Contact center AI can help with all those areas.
4. What are the steps we need to take to use contact center AI? Where would be the best place to start?
Deploying a self-service bot is a great place to start, but don't use just any old bot. Ensure the bot is designed for your business needs. There are many options to choose from, ranging from DIY bots to ones that are heavily customized and integrated. To make sure you're getting the bot you need:
- Understand your contact center. How will the bot fit in with your other channels? Can you support a seamless bot to agent transition when customers decide to switch channels? How will your agents react? Having a firm and honest grasp of capabilities and culture is step one.
- Understand your data. Chatbots will be more successful with simple, predictable, and non-emotional transactions. Understanding your data will ensure you choose the right contact types for the bot to handle.
- Understand the customer journey. Placing AI self-service at the right point in the customer journey will ensure customers use it and it helps them accomplish their objectives.
- Find the right partner. It's likely you won't be building and integrating your new bot, so you'll need to find a technology partner to help with design and implementation. Be choosy and look for a vendor that will place you and your customers at the center of their design.
- Develop use cases. Remember, using contact center AI is all about driving business results. Develop use cases to ensure you're applying AI to the right interactions and functions. And be sure to include all stakeholders when creating use cases to make them as accurate as possible and to gain organizational buy-in.
5. How can contact center AI best be used for a quick win? Where can ROI be found?
AI bots that can handle a high volume of repetitive tasks - like answering questions, scheduling appointments, providing order status, and resetting passwords - will provide quick and economically substantial wins. Begin with an AI self-service pilot that focuses on narrow, high volume use cases. Even if you can improve self-service containment by 5%, that will yield a substantial benefit that just might fund your next phase. Phase 2 should use the pilot results to refine the bot and expand the number of use cases it can handle.
To avoid a "quick loss," design your bot with a sharp awareness of its limitations. Bots need to become much smarter before they can handle complex interactions, so only use them for simple, narrow contact types.
6. How can AI help with remote working?
AI can help with many aspects of managing, motivating, and developing agents, and those capabilities extend to agents who work remotely. In addition to what was discussed in #3 (above), contact center AI can:
- Improve the accuracy of forecasting and provide automation that eliminates spreadsheets. Better forecasts lead to better schedules for on-site and at-home agents.
- Identify blind spots and emerging problems, including issues with agent sentiment and quality.
- Enable agents to avoid burn out by offloading mundane transactions. This can also increase engagement because agents will spend more of their time on value-added tasks.
- Assist agents with knowledge base suggestions and process automation.
Because contact center AI isn't confined to a physical facility, its capabilities can benefit agents and supervisors regardless of where they work.
7. Does AI only really make sense for large contact centers?
No. Contact centers of all sizes can use and benefit from artificial intelligence. AI thrives on a large diet of varied, fast moving data, the kind that can be found in abundance in every call center. It's highly competent at sifting through loads of data and identifying patterns and insights. Because contact centers produce some of the most valuable data in the company, organizations need to tap into it with AI-powered analytics.
While these analytics tools can provide insights about customers, customer-facing AI capabilities, like bots and virtual agents, can deliver convenient and satisfying self-service experiences. Any organization of any size that wants to boost customer satisfaction, decrease costs, improve agent productivity and performance, and know their customers better should have an AI strategy in place.
And thanks to the cloud contact center software pricing model, artificial intelligence is within reach of even small call centers. Cloud-based software is typically cheaper than on-premises solutions and you only pay for what you use. Plus, it's flexible enough that you can easily add or remove AI capabilities, and open APIs make it easy to integrate with other technology, like bots and virtual agents.
8. Is there anything that successful contact center AI implementations / projects have in common? Any pitfalls to avoid?
Think of the current adoption of AI self-service in the context of the early days of IVRs. There were so many bad IVR designs that left callers adrift in a sea of endless menu options that, to this day, IVRs still have a bad reputation. To not repeat that tragic piece of call center history, design your bot thoughtfully and within the context of the end-to-end customer journey. If you do that, you'll increase customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.
Your customer-centric design should include an easy way for customers to self-transfer to agents. Our research shows that half of customers who begin in self-service will transfer to an agent, so make sure your bot provides a seamless path to agents where customers don't have to repeat the information they just provided in your self-service service solution.
Final thoughts about contact center AI
Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform the way your contact center operates and delivers customer experiences. That's why so many businesses are investing in bots, advanced analytics and AI-infused call center applications. But contact center AI shouldn't be used just for the sake of it - organizations should use it for very specific purposes to drive business results. The secret to AI success isn't in the adoption of AI, it's in how you use it.
If you're thinking about investing in AI for your contact center, develop a road map that takes you from initial design through implementation of follow-on phases. This will help ensure your AI project stays on track to deliver expected business results.
To get started on your path to a successful contact center AI implementation, download Best Practices for Applying AI in the Contact Center: 7 Steps to Maximize AI Benefits.