From hype to reality: AI in the contact centre

Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru, explores how AI applications like Natural Language Processing and image recognition are already revolutionising the delivery of customer service…

Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t a new concept, but conversation around AI is more mature than its actual application. However, key advances in recent years have opened the door for AI to become mainstream, and as a consequence, we are at the tipping point. AI is going to become commonplace, particularly within the contact centre industry.

Advances in big data, machine learning and cloud communications have made AI systems an affordable reality for many organisations around the globe. For these early adopters, making the shift towards AI-based support services across multiple channels means they are now storming ahead with improving Customer Engagement and Experience. Plus, they are reaping the rewards of enhanced productivity through the automation of routine interactions that enable their human agents to focus on more pressing tasks.

These companies have the right idea: businesses scoring in the top quartile of CSAT scores experience 77% less churn from employees and are 44% more profitable in comparison to those in the bottom quartile.

With future enhancements in AI and machine learning technologies set to boost adoption by mainstream industries, the pressure is on to stay ahead of the curve and deploy this technology to optimise contact centre operations.

Omni-channel consumers expect instant responses

Today’s digitally-connected, always-on consumers expect 24/7 customer service and accurate answers to their queries. AI can play a big role in optimising response times across channels in two ways: utilising personality and behavioural analysis to quickly route callers to the right human agent; and directly responding to commonly asked questions.

Companies of all kinds are now using artificially intelligent chatbots to answer queries, undertake customer authentication, recognise images, or identify whether a caller is happy, annoyed or frustrated. Supplementing trained human agents, these chatbots help out with routine queries and ‘how to’ calls; are on hand to cope with unexpected surges in demand; and provide updates on delivery or service delays.

With Gartner predicting that by 2020 up to 80% of customer service interactions will be handled at least partly by AI, organisations that want to stay competitive and relevant will need to future-proof their communications estate fast – or risk being left behind.

Keeping it human

By bringing AI into the contact centre, companies can initiate omni-channel interactions and generate an improved customer experience alongside operational efficiencies. But does taking advantage of new technologies mean organisations risk de-humanising their contact centres?

Rather than replacing agents with automated systems, organisations should instead look to supplement contact centre employees with AI tools that empower them to perform better in their roles. For example, Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology can parse meaning from spoken language and provide on-screen prompts to help agents deliver a faster, more accurate and personalised experience for customers.

Complementing human interactions, NLP ‘listens’ in the background and enhances an agent’s performance by delivering up the data they need to engage in better conversations. At the end of each call, NLP technology automatically provides a wrap summary, which both reduces the reporting burden on agents and enables them to move quickly onto the next call.

So, while AI has a role to play in improving contact centre productivity by automating routine repeated interactions, enabling self-service channels, and optimising response times, it doesn’t take the place of human agents. Complex scenarios or frustrated customers need to be handled by trained representatives of an organisation.

Exploring the possibilities

Using AI to augment human interactions and elevate the customer experience is just part of the story. Organisations are also using tools like NLP to boost the job satisfaction and engagement of their contact centre employees.

High agent churn and absenteeism rates are the bane of call centres everywhere, and replacing talent is expensive. According to the CIPD, the average cost impact of call centre staff turnover is over £6K, rising to £9K for senior positions.

Research shows that the number one source of agent dissatisfaction is workload. Content Guru has successfully used NLP to enable one of our public sector customers to address its 60% contact centre churn. Using intelligent automation to eliminate drudgery for employees, it’s also augmented the ability of teams to seamlessly handle calls. Plus, the use of AI and machine learning now captures and delivers the data insights that reduce employee effort, leading to a reduction in training costs.

Clearly, having AI and human intelligence working hand-in-hand is a win-win scenario.

Improving the customer journey – and keeping people in work

Helping consumers to find a customer service assistant, delivering fast answers to simple questions, and providing personalised product recommendations, are just some of the ways AI is revolutionising how brands engage and serve customers.

But contact centre employees benefit from AI just as much as customers do. Eliminating mind-numbing repetitive tasks means agents are able to focus on more fulfilling and critical work that requires their unique human capacity to be creative and caring. Rather than eliminating jobs, AI is leading to an evolution of roles that will see agents working alongside and training their bots so that customers always get the most helpful and up-to-date responses.