Shoaib Hussain at Business Systems explores how AI has impacted the call centre.
In the early 2000s when automation first started gaining momentum, call centres businesses saw it as an opportunity to reduce costs and improve agent efficiency and less about improving customer experience.
However, this business logic has changed over the years as businesses now deem customer experience as the most important reason for investing in call centre automation. The change of mindset has been a result of two megatrends that have reshaped the business world for good.
Firstly the widespread adoption of social media, smartphones and consumer-friendly tech has changed the consumer mindset. Consumers today are no longer prepared to endure endless hold times and dull service agents.
In today’s interconnected world, one bad customer experience is all it takes to completely tarnish the credibility of any brand, no matter how big or small the organisation is – one bad comment, status or review can do lasting damage.
The second trend is the rise of widely available cloud services and machine-learning tools, all of which have introduced a whole new array of AI capabilities to call centres, helping to improve customer service, customer loyalty, and retention, which ultimately will impact the bottom line.
The shifting power dynamic between businesses and customers and the advancement of technology is reshaping the call centre and the roles of call centre agents. Here’s a look into how these changes are affecting call centres and their agents:
The Rise of AI-Powered Customer Assistants
We’ve all been victim to traditional IVR systems where as customers we’ve been frustrated to a point where we’ve constantly punched “0” in the hope of speaking to a human agent.
Fortunately, thanks to conversational AI, Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning, simple tasks such as “what is my account balance” can easily be solved without involving a live agent or having to navigate through various layers of menus. As a result, live agents can therefore use their time more effectively solving more complex issues.
As much as some of us may prefer the traditional method of picking up the phone in order to get our queries solved, advancements in new communication technologies are changing the way consumers deal with customer service queries.
With the vast array of communication channels now available and a new generation of adults that are native users to these platforms, automation tools have helped businesses adapt to manage these communication channels as well as routing customers to live agents in the case of complex queries.
Traditional rule-based chatbots have been adopted by many call centres, but similar to IVR (Interactive Voice Response), they can also lead to frustration and aren’t always effective when it comes to efficient conversational interaction. AI-powered chatbots, on the other hand, help reduce wait times, provide better assistance to human agents and improve the overall customer experience.
Agents Now Need to Focus on Developing Omnichannel Communication Skills
Strong communication skills have always been a central part of a contact centre agent’s role. Through the years as businesses continue to add multichannel options to their contact centres, including chat, SMS and social media, agents are being split into ‘typers’ and ‘talkers’, managing their assigned channels exclusively to help resolve issues quickly.
The problem with this approach is that agents working in separate silos don’t have access to a historical view of customer interactions and therefore aren’t able to deliver seamless customer experiences.
A call centre can only become truly omnichannel when all customer interactions and touchpoints are integrated across channels, with customer information available to agents at every stage of the engagement process.
It’s important that organisations don’t confuse multichannel with omnichannel, something we’ve seen a lot of in the past. Some organisations think that the whole process of creating this seamless omnichannel approach means that they may have to rebuild their entire infrastructure to accommodate this communications strategy.
This is not the case, and luckily there’s a way to avoid complex organisational restructuring projects by moving from the contact centre to the cloud.
The key benefits of a cloud contact centre are that businesses can easily manage data from applications across all service channels and co-ordinate them with various customer service teams as well as other departments as well as the more obvious ones around long term cost savings, business continuity and disaster recovery
As more and more brands embrace an omnichannel approach to best meet modern-day consumer needs, agents will need to focus on developing their communications skills to be comfortable using multiple channels of communication at any given time.
AI Is Helping Organisations Manage and Deal With Data More Effectively
As contact centre agent roles are changing where simpler queries are being managed by bots, there’s a need for contact centre agents to become ‘Super Agents’ and be more skilled and knowledgeable to handle more difficult and complex issues.
Thanks to advances in machine learning, contextual information about a customer can easily be passed on to an agent even before the call, reducing the need for customers to repeat themselves.
Through central knowledge bases and the ability to receive information from live interactions, today’s agents can be more proactive and efficient in helping their customers.
What’s more, during conversations, AI systems can track the progress of a conversation, picking up various keywords or markers that indicate a new customer query or need. AI can also track sentiment analysis, so for instance, if the bot notices that a conversation is going poorly, it can send a message to a supervisor, who can step in on the back end to help.
AI helps organisations to improve cross-collaboration and build strong customer service with a data-led approach.
With bots having the ability to quickly handle big data, this leaves more time for call centre managers to analyse that data to understand how they can improve customer service and utilise that information for workforce optimisation.
Technology and Humans, Working Together
Lastly, this point speaks for itself, so if you have heard debates around whether bots will replace customer service agents, the answer is no.
But we need to get on board with the massive changes that the contact centre world is currently facing, so agents and businesses alike need to make sure they move with the times so they don’t get left behind.
Agents today need to be active and knowledgeable on multiple communications channels at once, and therefore it’s increasingly important for humans and AI to work seamlessly together.
Agents roles are being totally redefined, and the dominance of AI means that the ideal modern-day call centre agent is a problem solver, comfortable with using data to make more informed decisions and is a specialist in omnichannel communication.