Why Artificial Intelligence Is Taking Over Contact Centers

Why Artificial Intelligence Is Taking Over Contact Centers

Customer experience is now the top brand differentiator in many industries, outweighing price, product quality and all other factors. For example, 54 percent of consumers (and 57 percent of millennials) told OnePoll researchers that they would consider dropping a brand after a single bad experience. With contact center agents overwhelmed, customers are experiencing long hold times.

Conversational AI can offload many of the high-frequency, low-complexity inquiries though the use of smart bots that enable fast and accurate self-service. A recent survey from cloud contact center provider Five9 makes this point. Its 2022 Customer Service Index found that 94 percent of respondents said AI can enhance customer service.

AI is making the role of agents s­ignificantly more important, not less. Customers can begin an interaction with a brand using a smart bot or virtual agent, but when the interaction becomes complex, the customer will almost certainly seek the attention of a live agent. At that moment, the agent plays a critical role in serving the customer quickly and accurately to ensure the interaction remains a positive one. Human agents will not be needed for all interactions, but when they are called upon, they must provide best-in-class service.

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Customers expect agents to have the right answers to their inquiries 100 percent of the time, but getting that answer often requires the agent to put the customer on hold to search for information in other systems. AI engines can aggregate information from multiple systems and prompt agents with recommended responses.

For example, many of the largest contact center vendors, including Cisco, Five9 and 8x8, have features that provide automated assistance, contextual recommendations and recommendations for actions to take during live interactions. This is a critical initiative for contact centers today. In one survey, 48 percent of contact center professionals cited agent productivity as a reason for plans to increase AI investment.

One of the most persistent myths of AI is that it must be 100 percent accurate the moment it is deployed. In actuality, the accuracy of AI needs merely to be better than that of humans to have a positive impact on the organization.

It’s important to understand that as AI engines push recommendations to agents, incorrect data is fed back into the machine learning algorithms to refine them. Conversational AI has had a slow start, but developers have greatly advanced this field by converging traditional voice AI with emotion and sentiment response, improving the accuracy of intent. AI isn’t perfect, but one of its best attributes is that the output gets better over time. That means the earlier business leaders get started with the technology, the better off they will be. Waiting for perfection will just put your company at a competitive disadvantage.

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At one time, the barrier to get AI into the contact center was indeed high, as companies had to hire data scientists and create their own machine learning algorithms. Today, contact center providers have done much of the heavy lifting, integrating AI directly into their platforms and removing any burden from the customer.

At the same time, many conventional contact center capabilities have been infused with AI to improve functionality that requires no intervention from the business at all. For example, modern call routing algorithms use some level of AI, which helps them get better at sending customers to the right places. Chatbots now interpret natural language, enabling customers to type requests instead of having to pick from a menu of responses.

The biggest advancement in the rollout of AI is the cloud. Older, on-premises contact center platforms had monolithic software stacks that required large updates to bring in just a handful of improvements. Because of this, companies tended to upgrade only on a periodic basis.

With the cloud, contact center providers can move to a continuous innovation model and add capabilities daily if they choose to. That means customers have access to new features immediately, without businesses having to go through tedious, and often risky, software upgrades.

AI is here and the technology is advancing quickly in contact centers. Businesses should expect to see an acceleration of features moving forward.

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