Conversational Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Centre

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Susannah Richardson, of IFS | mplsystems, introduces us to Conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it can be implemented in the contact centre. 

What happens when your contact centre is ready to stop talking about chatbots or conversational AI and wants to move something into action?

The potential for AI and virtual assistance is vast and inspiring to executives and service leaders but knowing where to begin and how to develop an effective strategy is illusive and paralysing to most. To understand how to best deploy these technologies in the contact centre, we’re going to explore three fundamental elements to include in the development and implementation of an AI-inclusive contact centre strategy:

  1. Contacts in traditional channels will increase in significance and strategic value.
  2. Artificial intelligence can, and should, be utilised in both the simple and complex parts of the customer experience.
  3. Live agents and machine intelligence must work together in seamless concert to minimise abandonment rates, increase channel adoption, and drive customer and employee satisfaction.

It is through these fundamental elements that organisations will find success in delivering the future of customer experiences.

Don’t Start Making Humans Redundant

A common misconception around some circles is that conversational artificial intelligence will enable organisations to significantly reduce the need for live agents in the contact centre. And, if this is one of the predominant drivers for making an investment in chatbots or a similar AI, it is most certain to backfire. In researching the adoption and usage of AI and other channels in the contact centre, there is no indication that phone (or, more specifically, the fundamental human need to experience real sentiment and emotion) is going away.  What’s true is that channels where someone can speak with a live agent (phone, video, etc.) are increasingly receiving the highest value interactions. Whether it’s the complex, difficult, or otherwise ambiguous – there are just some contacts that require the human touch.

What this means for contact centre leaders is that their intentions, training, and processes for live agents should be focused on elevating their skillsets, which includes ensuring that they’re equipped to handle cross-channel interactions. Long gone are the days when the contact centre can (or should) have agents handle entry-level contacts in a singular channel. The future is complex contacts that span multiple channels. This also means that agent facing technologies should be intuitive, with a simple user interface, and an ability to see across customer interactions regardless of the channel.

Furthermore, your agents and their knowledge of both the simple and complex customer interactions should play an important role in shaping when and where conversational AI is deployed in the customer journey. By engaging them early on, they’ll be more responsive and bought-in to your organisation’s digital transformation plan and may expose opportunities that aren’t seen or felt at executive levels. So, the first place to begin is realising that agents are an integral part of any successful AI strategy.

AI Shouldn’t (Just) Be Rule-Bound

Contact centre leaders have infinite choices when it comes to deciding where and how to leverage AI. There are thousands of examples of bots and automation in the contact centre, but most are far from being truly ‘intelligent’. Virtually everything that’s in the market today is based on a series of rules; if-then formulas that can be finicky and limiting; processes that are really nothing new. But, what if, there was so much more that could be done with them?

Could interactions between humans and machines be truly conversational? Yes!

While this is not yet leveraged as a mainstream capability, the best designed AI interfaces don’t feel like robots at all. Yes, many sit at touchpoints where self-service is ideal, interactions are highly predictable, and outcomes are finite. But, more could sit throughout the customer journey, augmenting an agent’s ability to deliver exceptional service, and delivering moments of unexpected delight along the way. This should be the preferred future for artificial intelligence applications: integrated in both the simple and complex.

One of the most operative ways to ensure that these applications are effective is by conducting customer journey mapping sessions. This type of exercise should include the perspectives of frontline agents, contact centre leadership, and even customers, if possible. Customer journey mapping considers all touchpoints of an experience and enables contact centre leaders to inspect and anticipate the best spots to deploy intelligent, conversational technology, while avoiding some of the frequent AI mistakes. Just assuming where chatbots, or virtual assistants, should be used as a self-service function, and where to utilise live agents, is one of the common mistakes made when organisations do their implementation. The most effective organisations leverage journey mapping to make intentional pre-decisions about how customers will interact with technology versus live humans.  This also ensures that the entire experience is seamlessly blended together.

The Future of the Customer Experience is a Well-Blended One

The braid between humans and technology is only to grow more intricate as the years forge ahead and it would be misplace to believe that organisations could develop strategies that include one, but not the other. Yes, customers expect that conversational AI will be part of the service experience, but they also expect that humans will be, too. And even though this is something that customers are expecting, or even desiring, it doesn’t mean that it will be without its challenges.

According to Forrester research, “customer satisfaction levels will drop as companies drive more traffic to chatbots, self-service, and chat that are not fully optimised to engage customers effectively.” In other words, if companies lack a well thought out strategy, and neglect to deploy effectively integrated technologies, and don’t balance the roles of humans and AI in service, they’re going to experience negative results.

This has significant implications over the next five years.

Susannah Richardson

In research by Gartner, it’s predicted that by 2022, 70% of customer interactions will involve an emerging technology such as machine learning applications, chatbots or mobile messaging, up from 15% in 2018. Contact centre leaders simply cannot risk being unprepared for this next era of service.  They must prepare today by leveraging live agents and traditional channels in strategic ways, deploying conversational AI technologies that work in the simple and complex interactions, and leveraging a platform that pulls it all together for a seamless agent experience.

Author: Robyn Coppell

Published On: 11th Sep 2018 - Last modified: 26th Oct 2018
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