AI: Turning the Contact Centre into a Revenue Engine – Paul Lasserre, VP, Product Management, Artificial Intelligence, Genesys
Digital channels have completely flipped the script on customer engagement. But businesses have to do more than add digital channels if they want to build relevant, meaningful connections with today’s always-on audience. Smart businesses are looking to artificial intelligence (AI) to respond faster, make more informed decisions and deliver an all-new level of personalisation to digital-first customers.
To truly understand just how big an impact AI can have, we must first dig into the very real challenges businesses face when it comes to customer care. Not only are customers and prospects coming at businesses through websites, SMS, chat, email and social media, they increasingly expect to use messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat. These popular platforms each claimed to have more than 1 billion users last year – so businesses can bet their customers expect to be able to reach them there too.
And the number of messaging platforms is ever-expanding. Instagram Direct, for example, has hundreds of millions of users and is introducing voice messages like its larger rivals. Meanwhile, the number of individuals installing and using smart speakers shot past 50 million in the middle of last year. Businesses need to quickly determine how they can tie into the likes of Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple Homepod, etc., so they can support consumers who want to use these new devices for customer support.
This explosion in channels has created a whole new set of consumer expectations that requires companies to rethink their approach to customer interaction. And that’s not about to slow down. In fact, leading industry analysts predict volumes of interactions across new channels will increase between three and four-fold over the next three-to-five years.
In addition to handling a lot more customer touchpoints, that also means companies have to determine how to manage – and intelligently use – the enormous amounts of data these new channels produce. Factor in the added pressure of also delivering bottom line business value and the challenge can feel insurmountable.
Some organisations will almost certainly address this by increasing the number of contact centre staff – and change nothing else. But smarter companies will pursue a much more effective alternative. They’ll transform the performance of their existing workforces across every channel by implementing cloud-based AI solutions to leverage the treasure trove of data sitting within the contact centre. And from there, they can convert the customer care function from a cost centre into a revenue engine.
AI orchestrates business success
AI applications using machine learning, a vast amount of data and speech analytics, are bringing a new level of efficiency and predictive power to all types of interactions. The intelligent technology is an absolute game changer when it comes to achieving targeted business outcomes. Whereas conventional computer science made it very difficult to write software that was perfectly in sync with a business’s objectives, AI makes that a reality.
Let’s take routing as an example. In a nutshell, routing steers each inquiry to the best-qualified and available resource. Finding the right agent used to be the result of several IF, THEN, ELSE rules that made up a company’s routing strategy. These rules, while as thoughtfully created as possible, did not directly relate to most business outcomes. Consider a rules-based routing system used by a cable company, for instance. Inquiries related to discontinuing cable service would be routed to a pool of the most qualified contact centre agents. AI-fueled routing, in contrast, directly optimizes for customer retention, a target business outcome. The AI learns from interactions that successfully achieve the business goals, as well as those that fall short, and uses thousands of characteristics to match customers to the right contact centre resource.
Another way the intelligent technology is already transforming customer experience is by helping employees work more efficiently. Today, AI-powered chatbots and voicebots are relieving many businesses’ contact centre staff of the more mundane, every-day inquiries that flood in, allowing them to focus on higher value work or more complex customer interactions. But the technology also hugely augments the performance of employees. The predictive capabilities of machine learning, for example, can automate manual tasks on the back end or recommend the next best action to delight a customer while also meeting key business objectives. For instance, when a contact centre employee is interacting with a customer, AI applications can provide the agent with prompts about the right tactics to use and facilitate super-fast access to the information they need.
The technology has changed, the objectives have not
The point here is that while AI is a revolutionary technology, its applications are built to fulfil business objectives. Although the landscape in which contact centres operate has changed, the metrics by which they are judged and the business outcomes they are expected to deliver have not. Contact centres will continue to be evaluated on the basis of customer satisfaction and retention, Net Promoter Scores and whether they are selling more or marketing better. Senior executives will still look at how long it takes and how much it costs to complete these tasks.
The difference is traditional computer science based on rules, could not bridge the gap between contact centre orchestration and top-level business metrics. Instead, service levels and other proxy were used to fine tune routing, agent shift scheduling and other contact centre algorithms. AI now allows businesses to directly connect operations with business outcomes and enable companies to hit these targets much faster and more cost-effectively.
AI delivers on objectives – but it can’t replace the human touch
We’ve overcome the skepticism generated by AI’s earlier hype – and there’s no denying today that it has earned its stripes as a transformative technology. Decision-makers appreciate how AI can help them achieve their customer experience and broader business goals far more efficiently.
But businesses also need to understand that in customer experience, AI alone will not enable them to address everything. Yes, AI is immensely powerful technology that enables companies to excel at meeting many customer experience challenges in the digital age. But at the end of the day, sometimes people just want the one thing AI cannot deliver – the human touch.
Paul Lasserre is VP, Product Management, Artificial Intelligence at Genesys
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