Smart talk: why conversational AI is central to contact center evolution

The disruptions of the past year have changed consumer behavior dramatically. According to research, customer calls to contact centers increased by as much as 600% as physical locations stayed closed. This leap in call volume prompts a rethink about how traditional contact centers will operate moving forward, and conversational artificial intelligence (AI) will have a big role in that transformation.

More consumers than ever are engaging with companies virtually, and at the same time, customer expectation levels have continued to increase. According to PwC, 86% of consumers are prepared to pay more for a great customer experience (CX), while 67% of them prefer self-service to speaking to a human agent. Conversational AI voice and chatbots give consumers what they want: faster, more efficient service and a better CX. Gartner has reported that in 2019, 25% of all customer interactions were automated through AI and machine learning. This number is expected to grow to 40% by 2023.

The evolution to conversational AI

Contact centers have gone through a steady transformation over time. Original engagements were human-to-human, customers calling an agent and discussing what they needed. Then came interactive voice response (IVR) technology, whereby customers interact with a computer-operated phone system via voice and tone input on their phone keypad. IVR was often unpopular with consumers, who cited making them listen to irrelevant options and repeat things too many times as common complaints. It wasn’t a tool that delivered good CX.

Chatbots were the next iteration of contact center engagement, and they did a good job, making a big leap forward from IVR. Over time however, enterprises have found that chatbots are best used as a complement to human agents. Chatbots are limited in what they can understand and have no capability for empathy with a caller. So it is important that enterprises avoid the trap of simply developing IVR 2.0 and miss the opportunity to deliver the CX customers want. Enter conversational AI as the fourth evolution of contact center technology.

How conversational AI will help

To start with, consumers are already used to conversational AI because they carry it around in their pockets in the form of Apple’s Siri or Google’s Assistant. Or alternatively, it’s there in the home, with Amazon’s Alexa giving you answers to questions while you cook dinner. People are already comfortable with it, so there is no learning curve with the technology when they call a contact center for help.

Conversational AI-enabled chatbots are a big leap forward from scripted chatbots. Some traditional scripted chatbots were marketed as having conversational capabilities, but they didn’t really; they operated from scripts and dialogs written by humans. They had to be told what to say in response to customer queries based on exact keywords, which could frustrate customers and cause them to hang up. Put simply, they could not learn.

Conversational AI has machine learning (ML) capabilities built-in, and that, allied with natural language processing (NLP) technology, creates a powerful tool. It can imitate human interactions, recognize speech and text inputs and translate their meanings. Conversational AI can also work in any language. ML allows the conversational AI bot to learn continuously, improving its skill level all the time, enabling it to assist customers better.

Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) can be a key part of this evolution. IVAs are automated versions of customer service agents, are capable of carrying out intelligent conversations with customers, and can give customers faster and easier access to the right data at the right time. IVAs have been shown to eliminate waiting time for callers, reduce call abandonment rates, shorten average handling time (AHT), increase accuracy of responses and, overall, enhance CX. Gartner research has found that organizations that deploy IVAs see a reduction of up to 70% in call, chat and/or email volume. On top of that, companies also report an increase in customer satisfaction and save 33% per voice engagement.

Essential to the next competitive battleground

CX has been predicted to be the next competitive battleground, and conversational AI could be the next essential tool in giving your company an advantage. There’s always a need to reduce costs and possibly headcount, too, but at the same time call volumes are increasing, customer issues seem to grow increasingly complex, and CX expectation levels are higher.

Giving customers a high-quality, consistent engagement has never been more important. According to Salesforce, 84% of consumers say that the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. Improve your customer service with conversational AI, and you will improve customer satisfaction and loyalty as a result. Gartner has forecast that 20% of customer service interactions will be handled by conversational AI agents by 2022. It’s time to make the transition if you want to stay ahead of the competition.

Find out more about enhancing your customers’ experience and increasing loyalty.

Stephane Minana
Stephane Minana

Stephane is a Unified Communications Solution Director covering solution positioning, business development and go-to-market strategies for the European theater. He has extensive knowledge of many facets of the IT industry through his experience working for consulting firms, vendors and IT and telecom service providers.

Stephane has been with Orange Business in Amsterdam since 2008 and has engaged in several service incubation and business development programs for security, consulting, enterprise application management, and in the last three years, unified communications.