The secret agent: AI is coming to the contact center

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming traditional contact center operations, making them more efficient hubs and freeing up human agents to do more value-add tasks and activities.

Customer experience (CX) is forecast to become the leading brand differentiator for companies and is central to improving the bottom line. According to research by Temkin Group, just a moderate improvement in CX can boost the revenue of a typical $1 billion company by an average of $775 million over three years. CX is a crucial way of gaining competitive advantage and retaining customers, and AI is showing itself to be a major strategy in helping deliver that.

Consequently, AI is set to grow increasingly influential in the customer service world. According to Gartner, by 2021, 15% of all customer service interactions will be completely handled by AI, an increase of 400% on 2017, while McKinsey forecasts that by 2030, 70% of companies will have adopted some form of AI, with the majority using a full range of AI technology.

AI investment in contact centers

Virtual agents in the contact center

Contact centers are a key area for AI optimization in customer experience. They collect and process masses of customer data and information, and AI can help organizations gather, analyze and utilize that data to their own and their customers’ benefit. AI is being used as a bridge between data points and in how companies interact with customers. AI-based virtual agents are an example of a commercial use case that is taking off: the contact center has progressed from basic chatbots and IVR to natural language processing (NLP)-enabled AI agents that are hard to distinguish from a real human being.

Google announced last year that it is working with Genesys among others on AI tech called “Contact Center AI.” These are essentially virtual agents that will be the frontline in answering customer queries by phone in customers’ contact centers. At its GoogleNext 2018 conference, Google also staged demonstrations of people ordering pizza through virtual agents.

Understanding dissatisfaction

AI has a major role to play at several steps along the customer data journey. For example, conversational AI-enabled agents can take voice data from their customer interactions and input it into speech analytics software to help a company identify trends in conversations or uncover root or common causes of dissatisfaction. As a result, you can identify best practices and develop tailored training for agents based on their profiles and performance reviews.

This type of analysis using AI can also help with predicting customer behavior, and the same data can be used to identify market trends, which in turn can help you anticipate customer needs and increase customer retention. Another example of quantifiable AI use in the contact center is identifying and switching interactions through smarter routing. AI determines what an interaction might be about, qualifies it and can then subsequently pass it to a different channel, for example to a human customer service agent or a chatbot.

How AI can make human agents more effective

AI can’t replace human agents altogether – but it can make them better. So it is perhaps beneficial to think that the most practical use for AI in the contact center is to improve agent efficiency and, through that, the customer experience.

AI can make agents smarter and more effective by introducing the technology into every conversation, often without the customer needing to know about it. For example, a customer calls to make a complaint about something, and immediately an AI agent can offer three or four possible responses. If none are to the customer’s liking, the human agent is informed about the customer’s query and the interaction is seamlessly handed on to a live agent who has full context across channels. Adding machine learning (ML) to the bot makes it better equipped for handling queries and complex issues and enables a better response, with the AI agent’s suggestions having done no harm to the customer interaction.

Similarly, when a customer calls the contact center, an AI tool can aggregate all current and historical information about that customer, analyze and evaluate it, and tell the human agent the most likely reason that customer is getting in touch. Most human agents typically have no idea why a customer might be calling, but an AI system can do the groundwork and make human agents appear smarter and better informed.

Proactivity delivers benefits, makes human agents more effective and creates an enriched experience for the customer. Proactivity also pays: over the course of a year, proactive customer service can reduce contact center calls by as much as 30%, reducing contact center operating costs by as much as 25%.

AI is making contact centers smarter and more efficient, delivering enhanced customer experiences and even helping companies reduce the costs associated with customer service operations. It’s set to grow further, with Forrester predicting AI will be a megatrend that will transform customer service operations and that 64% of companies will increase their AI in the contact center investment by mid-2020.

Furthermore, according to Gartner, AI is expected to create $2.9 trillion of business value by the year 2030. So in addition to enhancing customer experience and helping agents work smarter, AI has the potential to make your business more successful. For any company with a contact center, AI has become a business imperative.

To help navigate the increasingly complex customer experience landscape, download the Gartner Service Technology Bullseye.