Susannah Richardson of IFS discusses the future of Artificial Intelligence (AI) within the contact centre industry.
AI has the potential to transform the contact centre industry. Much of the conversation has centred on chatbots or virtual assistants that respond to text and speech, but this is just one aspect of the wide-ranging, permanent effect that machine learning combined with process automation will have on customer service. Machine learning algorithms learn from successes and mistakes to attain programmed goals.
Applied to AI within the contact centre, machine learning can improve the understanding of customer behaviour to the point where issues can be predicted long before they arise. This predictive mechanism can be made possible by analysing customer interactions at a macro level and deploying successful customer strategies that build on continual learning and optimisation.
Machine learning algorithms like these grow in influence and scope, and eventually may dictate the way service is delivered at all operational levels. When AI can predict how to produce customer satisfaction in the long term better than a human agent could ever hope to, delegating more decision-making power will begin to make greater sense.
“Think of AI as a member of staff”
Thinking about implementing AI within the contact centre in terms of machine learning reminds you that it’s not a case of “drop, deploy and forget”. You should come to think of your AI as a member of staff, who will learn and develop as your business does. New processes and requirements will be introduced slowly until the algorithm becomes more proficient than human agents.
Most importantly, to build up the most accurate picture of customer behaviour over time, contact centre AIs will have to be omnichannel and exposed to multiple customer channels. They will also need to integrate with back-office systems throughout the organisation, including field management solutions and ERPs. To learn to the best of its ability, the software will need to understand every piece of the puzzle.
In the medium term, the contact centre will see itself becoming a hub for higher-quality customer interactions. More human agents will deal mainly with complex problem-solving and relationship management and maintaining those relationships for longer, particularly with high-involved products and services. Eventually, we might see AI deployments within customer service converge with the AIs of operational marketing. After all, they are essentially working toward the same goal, namely fostering customer loyalty and maintaining high perceptions of brand, which they do through optimising customer interactions and producing long-term engagement. This will close the circle on brand promise and customer experience.
Looking much further ahead, mature AI deployments with years of experience of interacting with customers may develop more rigid patterns of behaviour. They might find it harder to cope with unpredictable, transformative changes, such as a sudden change in the economic climate or an incoming generation of paying consumers with different expectations and behaviours. Prudent service organisations might find it necessary to develop and maintain a portfolio of AIs that they can cycle out and phase in when appropriate to maintain a dynamic customer service.