The ongoing advance of artificial intelligence (AI) represents a real opportunity for organisations to offer enhanced customer service levels without increasing business cost. There are a raft of ways in which AI can be used today to drive benefits for organisations and the customers they engage with.
We are already seeing much greater use of robot agents at the front end of customer service, particularly when dealing with the simpler, more routine tasks in the contact centre. Chatbots are great at answering routine questions quickly. Their fast processing speed means they can rapidly provide answers to standard enquiries.
Unlike their human counterparts, they are always available. Moreover, they excel at triaging customers; interfacing with self-service applications and intelligently searching for information to help resolve queries quickly. They are empowering digital self-service but they empower the human agent also, freeing up their time to do the value-added, non-routine tasks, dealing with exceptions and offering empathy to high-value customers.
There are a wide range of other AI applications in use in the contact centre today. AI can be working in the background of a customer interaction to gather relevant information and present it to the agent to help resolve the customer’s query quickly and efficiently. Real Time Speech Analytics can be used to effectively perform the role of the personal assistant to the agent. The solution analyses agent and customer speech to provide live feedback to agents, team leaders and quality assurance teams about what is being said and how it is being said. It monitors script adherence, speech clarity and even stress levels, all while the call is in progress.
We also expect to see off-the-shelf bots being used increasingly over time, to automate very specific tasks, such as password changes. In this vein, industry specialists will develop bots specific to and for their vertical – developing specific solutions to match the needs of the housing sector or for financial services applications, for example.
Sounding a Note of Caution
The capability of the kind of technology we have referenced above is advancing all the time and, in line with that, there is a growing recognition that AI can add great value to an organisation’s customer service efforts. but it can never be the whole answer across the customer service industry generally. A low cost airline may want to automate almost all of its processes but a retailer offering a high level of premium service will certainly want to continue to use human service as a key part of its value proposition and differentiation.
There are a wide range of considerations businesses also need to take account of if they want to ensure they get their AI implementation right. First and foremost, they need to take their staff with them as they move to more advanced automation. Before any organisation deploys AI, it is worth considering that one of the biggest risk factors in any IT implementation, system upgrade or system change are the human users of that system.
If the business does not communicate in an open, honest, transparent way how this technology is going to benefit them, it will find resistance. It needs to get people involved in the process: ensure it can test out the technology in a safe, sandbox environment and make sure certain people are comfortable with it, before it even starts rolling the technology out. It is critical also that any AI tool brought into the contact centre has a defined business goal. Automation should never be implemented for its own sake. In light of this, it is important to give bots a job description. Humans work far better, when they have clear targets and defined goals. AI is the same.
Businesses need to give their AI-driven technology a defined goal. They also need to measure the performance of their robots on delivering against these targets and focus on making improvements. In short, businesses need to start treating their automation systems and chatbots like human agents; train and support them and regularly monitor their progress to drive continuous improvement.
It is also important to note here that good knowledge management is key to good AI. Just like a human, a robot needs to have access to relevant knowledge and information to do their best job. Businesses need to ensure that when a question is answered in the contact centre, that knowledge is captured and delivered into the Knowledge Management System (KMS) to allow bots and human agents to feed off it.
After all, how can AI be used to make decisions when it does not actually know anything? It can learn but it needs relevant data to do that. That is why it is so important for businesses to have processes and procedures in place that enable them to feed accurate data and intelligence into the KMS.
Striking the Right Balance
Today, it is clear that the use of advanced automation and AI technologies in the contact centre is growing all the time – and there are a wide range of ways in which these tools can be used to enhance customer service.
It is, however, also encouraging to note that even among organisations, we are also seeing growing awareness that these technologies can never form the basis of a one-size-fits-all or plug-and-play scenario. Businesses are becoming more aware that thought and effort needs to go in to ensure these technologies can proactively support enhanced customer engagement and drive a better customer experience for organisations today.