AI Impacts the Contact Center

This post is the second in a series about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on various industries. For each, we asked a GLG Council Member to share insight from their unique perspective. Here, Scott Sachs, President SJS Solutions, LLC, writes about the how AI is changing the way the contact center operates.

Today’s call centers are no longer vast workplaces with rows of agents answering questions and taking orders via phone. They have evolved into complete contact centers that use the latest technological advances including mobile, email, chat, and SMS, to be as customer-friendly and cost-effective as possible.

This evolution includes the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), where technology systems demonstrate human-intelligence behaviors such as learning, problem-solving and planning. It continually provides multiple channels of communication without necessarily needing human beings present so organizations are looking for AI to provide several benefits.

Benefits of AI to Contact Centers
First, AI should drive cost reductions in the contact center due to increased self-service. Second, there should be an improved customer experience as a result of customers being able to communicate using their channel of choice any hour of the day or night.

On the other side, organizations must be aware that the role of a contact center agent will become more challenging. Automation remains most effective with interactions that involve simpler tasks and that does not pull in a lot of different pieces. Here, the human touch is not that critical, and AI can provide straightforward information to customers overnight, during holidays and other times when it can be costly to staff a contact center. This means that agents will receive a larger percentage of calls, which are more complicated and challenging.

When customers need information about a specific problem, recovery from a mistake or a more detailed solution that is too complicated for automation, there is a significant need for a human agent. Here, human interaction is necessary to help relieve frustrations and provide correct responses with the appropriate empathy and emotions (which, at times, is more difficult than just navigating a system). Regardless, if callers receive the wrong information, whether it’s from an automated system or an agent, it is a tremendous blow to loyalty and trust in the company.

Two Paths for Contact Centers and AI

1) Use AI to assist agents.
While an agent listens to a customer during a phone call, AI can run parallel and do some of the heavy lifting of searching a knowledge base for answers while allowing the agent to focus on the customer interaction. Once the information is presented to the agent, they can review the results in real-time, decide what will work best in each situation, and communicate the response to the customer.

AI also works better if information is coming in from the customer via the written word and/or images in the form of an email or chat session. This removes accents, translations, and other questionable input so that automated processes can easily understand the data and then respond to those interactions. In either case, once AI is providing accurate information in a consistent manner, the technology can interact directly with customers via a bot.

2) Use AI to run analytics the background.
First, predictive contact routing analyzes key pieces information such as whether the caller is a high spender, what kind of products they buy, their sales history, projected future behavior, and other key factors to route calls to the agent who has the best set of skills to successfully work with the customer.

Second, contact centers can use speech analytics technology to analyze recorded calls with customers (post-call analytics). After listening to a call, AI can identify when a voice inflection goes above a specific threshold level and discover when and why customers get angry and potentially churn.

Speech analytics technology can also be used on a real-time basis to analyze the tone and inflections of a caller to indicate when they appear frustrated, show anger, and need intervention from a higher skilled agent/supervisor. This is a more expensive use of AI in contact centers, but it can provide an opportunity to avoid a negative interaction, making customers happier and increasing company loyalty.

AI Can Reduce Costs, But Is It Right for Every Contact Center?
There will always be a percentage of calls that will be fully automated contacts using a form of AI, and there is a place for it in most every contact center.

If an automated system works well, customers may even reach out more frequently to get their answers quickly and easily. This will reduce waiting in queue, eliminate the time involved for a human response, and drive down overall costs. However, on the flip side, agents will need to be better trained and require higher skills, to deal with the more complicated and sensitive calls that can’t be handled through automation which will offset some of the savings.

At this point, businesses with large budgets can test various AI processes to see what works and what doesn’t. But smaller contact centers really need to look at the time and costs involved before implementing any kind of AI system. To take this step, it is important to ensure that the basic blocking and tackling, like effective training and coaching, workforce management, and other technologies, are already in place. Customer satisfaction should be a top priority.

The Future of AI
The potential power of AI is tremendous. When implemented correctly, it is a complementary technology to the human contact center. If not, it’s merely a decision tree similar to what has been around for years that may be difficult to navigate and not provide the response that the customer is looking for (think voice response).

As time goes on, AI will provide an opportunity for contact centers to reduce expenses and improve the customer experience, but the human element of live agents will always be a requirement for a successful contact center operation.

About Scott Sachs

Scott Sachs is a highly accomplished, well-respected business executive who provides specialized consulting solutions in the areas of customer service and contact/call center operations. He consistently and successfully transforms and grows world-class customer service organizations. Scott’s background includes significant experience leading and growing multi-site contact center operations in highly regulated industries including insurance/warranty, wireless communications, and financial services.

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