As we continue to adapt globally to the effects of COVID-19, we are seeing its impact in real time, across sectors. The past two years have been a time of extraordinary unknowns for businesses and customers alike, but as 2021 draws to a close, one thing is clear: It is also an unprecedented process of digital transformation and transformation. smart vision, especially for contact centers.
About the Author
Adam is Director of Strategic Partners (EMEA and AUS) at Vonage.
2020 was a watershed moment for the industry – people were urged to stay home, which means calls to customer service centers have skyrocketed. According to a survey, inbound traffic to automated call assistants increased by 40% in the two months between February and April 2020 alone.
The integration of new technologies to improve service and operations has been central to the success of contact centers for decades, from call routing solutions to interactive voice response. This trend must now continue, as call centers urgently need to embrace AI and digitization.
The benefits of digitization and AI
The move away from in-person service means virtual assistance needs to be more complex, to better handle requests for service changes, from billing to complaints. AI is no longer just a way to sort out customer service – it’s now used to help human agents gain insightful information, leading to more personalized and efficient customer interactions. In fact, a recent global study by the IBM Institute for Business Value found that 97% of communication service providers (CSPs) using virtual agent technology for customer service reported a positive impact on customer satisfaction.
There are many qualities inherent in AI that make it beneficial for contact centers. On the one hand, AI agents can be available 24/7, meaning callers are not bound by human agent working hours. If your customer needs help at 3 a.m., they don’t want to wait – they’ll expect self-help centers, FAQ sections, and online support. Digital contact centers can be robust, offering a variety of ways to solve problems, while still being available every day, around the clock to meet customer needs.
Beyond that, AI systems accumulate knowledge over time. They don’t need as much attention or training as their human counterparts, and can be trusted to remember all the information they receive. It also means that with AI systems that manage parts of the process, employee training time – and costs – can be reduced. Instead of training your staff to handle basic inquiries, you can spend more time honing more specific and specialized skills, such as handling emotional calls or solving unique problems.
Using AI also means streamlining processes and reducing the time human agents spend analyzing data and calls.
Why customers demand it
Ultimately, it is customer demand that will drive this transformation for contact centers. Customers are increasingly behaving in an omnichannel fashion, but often have to settle for multi-channel support. The rapid growth of new inbound, outbound, and self-service channels means there is a risk of lost opportunities and customers falling through the cracks between communication channels.
Or they have to start all over again, at the back of the queue, repeating themselves every time they switch from one channel to another. In a digital world, there has to be consistency across all channels. This is simply not possible for contact centers without the implementation of digital tools. While this approach may seem like a luxury to some today, it will soon be necessary to build customer loyalty.
Another important aspect is time. Even before COVID, the industry was reaching a tipping point, with more and more customers looking for digital touchpoints rather than voice calls. There is a very simple reason for this – speed. It’s not that customers prefer not to speak to a live agent – it’s that they think it will take less time if they do it digitally. And they’re right: when they’re on the phone, live agents can only serve one customer at a time. Numerically this is not the case, where natural pauses and gaps in conversation mean they can chat with 3-4 clients at a time. By working alongside robust AI, even more customers can be served.
In a digital contact center, software and AI can detect a customer’s problem by recognizing keywords and immediately route them to the right agent to handle their problem or simply link them to an online resource. Reducing friction with customers is the shortcut to improving the customer experience, and many customers prefer to figure out how to solve their problems on their own. Reducing the steps for customers to access the right information for their needs also means empowering those customers to help themselves.
Why it’s better for the workplace
Customers being empowered to help themselves also leads to happier agents. This reduces the number of repetitive tasks that people need to be responsible for, such as making appointments, taking orders, or repeatedly answering the same questions. Because of this, they may be more involved in interactions that really require human intervention. Contact center digitization means businesses can find the right balance, empowering their employees to tackle higher value, more complex, and more rewarding tasks while letting their digital systems take care of everything. the rest.
Yet AI won’t replace human agents anytime soon. First, AI systems cannot sustain themselves. And while AI can be used to solve problems, it can’t replicate empathy or levity – two things that can be very important when it comes to dealing with unhappy customers. Also, keep in mind that when a customer is speaking to a live agent, they are also speaking to a brand ambassador – someone who can represent your brand on a human level. AI cannot – and may never – be able to substitute for this, and as such, will never be able to represent your brand’s personality.
Rather than as a way to replace human agents, contact centers should view AI and digitization as a way to increase their workforce and offerings, becoming more productive by helping their live agents do their jobs better and more efficiently.
Meanwhile, customers will see their needs more met from a distance, limiting direct contact, to the benefit of all as the pandemic is not quite over yet. Going digital means improving processes and saving money, providing reliable ways to help your employees better meet the needs of your customers.
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