Justin Robbins of Talkdesk discusses how you can create a plan to integrate artificial intelligence into your contact centre.
If you were to ask customer service and contact centre executives for their opinion on artificial intelligence (AI), you’re certain to get a mixed response. Some believe that AI will inevitably make live agents redundant, while others strongly oppose such technology, believing it ineffective at understanding basic human emotion.
What if, however, the reality of maximising AI existed somewhere in the middle? A place where process efficiency blends seamlessly with complex omnichannel interactions, and experiences are designed to minimise customer effort, optimise human resources and deliver happy customers as a result. It sounds like an ideal scenario, but what are the practical steps that organisations can take today to achieve positive results tomorrow?
The best first step is to create a plan for integrating your AI initiative into the omnichannel experience that you’ve already developed. It doesn’t mean that you need to change everything about the customer experience just because you’re implementing new capabilities.
In fact, implementing AI should be more about making enhancements to your existing strategy – not designing a new one. But one of the most common mistakes made in AI implementations is placing the technology apart from the existing customer journey. In these instances, interactions occur in silos, data is disconnected, and – most critically – the transition points along each customer’s experience are noticeably fractured.
Intelligence and automation should become part of your existing customer experience strategy
No matter what the maturity level of your organisation, there are a few simple questions that will aid the integration of AI into your existing strategy:
- What are the primary goals and objectives of our customer experience strategy?
- Why do we offer our current customer service channels and how well do they integrate together?
- Why should we implement AI?
- Do we know if our existing customer experience strategy is meeting customer and contact centre needs and demands?
- What evidence do we have?
- How would the addition of AI or robotics improve our deficiencies?
- How can the contact centre collaborate with other departments to ensure that any AI initiatives are in alignment with organisational objectives?
This exercise is, in many ways, the foundation for enhancing your channel access strategy and customer journey maps. Organisations shouldn’t necessarily implement AI everywhere they can, just because they can.
Companies with the best deployments of AI assisting the service experience intentionally place it in spots across the customer’s journey that are most conducive to the customer already wanting to help themselves. Furthermore, they design them in such a way that the customer can easily connect with a live agent, should the need arise.
- Appear in the channels and locations where the end users are naturally and intuitively going to be.
- Understand where the user is coming from and the best recommendation for where they’ll need to go next.
- Provide context on why the provided response is the best fit.
- Identify when AI-assisted service isn’t the best solution and proactively suggest the ideal path to a resolution.
In other words, apply AI to situations that can be easily predicted and designed with a precise awareness of its own shortcomings and inabilities. Determining which situations are easily predicted, and how they fit into the full customer journey, however, can’t be a decision that’s made by a single department.
The best customer journeys are designed through cross-functional cooperation
Customers desire ease and simplicity in their experiences, and they want to trust the people responsible for responding to their questions or concerns. When it’s noticeable that a machine is providing service, and it then becomes complicated to chat with a human, customers will (and have already) grow in their distrust of AI.
For organisations to implement artificial intelligence well, it means integrating their AI and automation into their existing customer journey in such a way that the tech-assisted experiences happen alongside the human-assisted ones. Each organisation must consider the unique needs of the business, the customers and the employees when designing their intelligence systems.
Furthermore, they should evaluate each step of the customer journey and the nuances of those experiences that are best suited for AI. This should include representation from marketing, sales, product development, executive leadership, contact centre and brick-and-mortar customer service teams.
From your customers’ perspective, their fundamental expectation is that they will receive service in their channel of choice, at the time they want it, and that it will be worry and error-free once they receive it. While this may sound like a simple concept, many contact centres lack the insights necessary to determine their blend of offerings and, as a result, make their choices by guesswork.
This type of haphazard approach often contributes to unnecessary costs and complexities. Without conducting an exercise such cross-functional customer journey mapping that uncovers the specifics of customer expectations across their many touchpoints, contact centre leaders will often struggle to find the right mix of channels for their unique client base.
Mapping the touchpoints of the customer journey isn’t just for the customer’s benefit – it also enables companies to ensure that they’re delivering on employee and organisational expectations, as well.
For most organisations, their primary expectation for service is that it will be cost efficient and maximise revenue. In terms of how this drives AI, a well-represented cross-segment of leaders can identify the relative value of interactions throughout the customer journey and leverage self- or agent assisted-service to control the cost of service and demands placed on live agents. One such example is that an organisation can decide to immediately route the highest-value customers to a live agent – circumventing AI systems entirely.
Alternatively, entire industries whose business is based on predominately low-value interactions may choose to heavily leverage automated systems at their front line. (For example, consider the increasing number of self-service kiosks in shops.) While there is no definitive guide to customer value and when to apply AI, or not, businesses should strongly consider the balance of cost efficiency and opportunities to maximise revenue, while also recognising the importance and need for the human touch throughout the customer journey.
Ensuring that the human touch is delivered well requires an understanding of your agents’ expectations.
AI-assisted service works best when seamlessly blended with live agent interactions
At the most basic level, agents want clearly defined expectations that make sense and aren’t designed to burn them out. They also want to have the tools, resources and training to perform their job to expectations. This means two fundamental things in relation to artificial intelligence.
Agents want AI systems to handle the repetitive tasks that may otherwise burn them out. They also need to know that they can always trust the brain behind the systems to have the most accurate, up-to-date information.
Agents need context and visibility into the customer’s journey. Additionally, they genuinely want to help their customers, but can’t do it if their systems are disconnected and inefficient. If customers can’t seamlessly move from bot to assisted service, it’s the agents who face the adversity and angst of overcoming technological and process shortcomings. That just further drives their frustration, dissatisfaction and lack of engagement.
Additionally, as contact centres address the increasing number of digital natives who are now consumers, they must find a way to provide an experience that meets customers wherever they may be. Even more importantly, they must find a solution that enables them to do so without increasing the cost of service.
With its cost efficiency and ability to deploy across platforms and channels, AI and automation can be the remedy to this problem for an increasing number of organisations. The question then becomes, “Which interactions are best left for AI, and what should be addressed by live agents?”
While there is not one correct answer, the highly repetitive or predictable types of interactions are universally appealing for automation or bots. It’s those interactions that often demotivate and bore agents when they have to complete them on a regular basis. By utilising technology strategically, contact centre employees are better able to focus on the more complicated and complex interactions. In these best-case scenarios, the customer service team delivers a strategic advantage through elevated levels of both customer and employee satisfaction.
Despite having no cookie-cutter approach to leveraging AI, organisations who thoughtfully consider the needs of their customers and employees across the various touchpoints of the customer journey, and are willing to refine and finesse as they move along, will find themselves getting closer and closer to the best blend for their unique situation.
Organisations intend to invest heavily in AI in the coming year. Customers are showing increased interest in using tools that enable them to help themselves. Agents indicate excitement and enthusiasm toward the benefits and advantages provided by automation.
The momentum is building for AI in the contact centre and the stakes are too high to implement the wrong systems. Utilising AI well in a complex omnichannel environment requires technology that provides full context at the agent level. The best systems are seamlessly integrated, ensuring that customers and agents alike can interact naturally throughout the customer journey as situations dictate the need for automated or assisted service.
Through the careful design of their omnichannel strategy and the implementation of a tool that considers customer context and seamlessly integrates channels, contact centres can create a service experience that is a competitive differentiator. By blending the right mix of AI and assisted service, and utilising the latest technologies, customer insights and best-practice techniques, contact centres will achieve success with their customers, their employees and their shareholders.