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Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 2: Supporting Contact Centre Agents

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the immense pressure organisations are under to deliver quality service and support over digital channels during this period of coronavirus-related quarantines, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. We took a look at some of the benefits of using AI-enhanced chatbots and virtual agents to offer customer self-service. In Part 2, let’s explore how this technology can be deployed as an Agent Assist tool to support your contact centre agents.

No matter where you are in the world or the nature of your business, your contact centre is now dealing with a new reality. For some, this may mean supporting agents working from home. For others, it may be working out the logistics of social distancing and new policies to keep employees safe while in the office. Many organisations are also dealing with an increased number of calls, emails and live chats coming into their contact centres. Despite these disruptions and a bigger workload, agents still must deliver a positive experience to your customers.

Providing contact centre agents with desktop conversational AI as a knowledge source gives them an extra edge in providing customers with quick, competent service. Agents have access to a virtual agent that understands questions asked in natural language. This means agents can type in queries using the same language as the customer they are assisting, instead of having to remember the relevant keywords or phrases to find the information they need. The virtual agent can also be set up to understand internal abbreviations and acronyms commonly used by agents to make it even easier to access the right content quickly. The tool acts a virtual supervisor, giving agents instant access to information and step-by-step guidance through procedures and processes that is current and up to date.

Here are a few benefits of having an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents in the current uncertain situation:

  • Reduce average handing times and improve first contact resolution – Average handling time (AHT) and first contact resolution are always important metrics for contact centres. However, they are more important than ever during high volume periods, and it’s essential that they be addressed hand-in-hand. Reducing AHT but not solving those customers’ issues benefits no one. It leaves customers frustrated and dissatisfied and usually results in them reaching out to your contact centre again. An Agent Assist virtual agent gets your agents to the correct, complete information they need quickly, thus cutting back on length of calls and improving the quality of resolution.
  • Provide agents with alerts and instant access to updated, time-sensitive information – As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, things are changing rapidly in many parts of the world with new government directives and updated company policies being issued all the time. The Agent Assist desktop can be configured to provide agents with real-time alerts about important updates and announcements, so they are always in the loop even if they are working remotely. With the ability to update the virtual agent content quickly, organisations can also ensure agents have consistent access to time-sensitive information and the most recent versions of procedures and policies. This helps you improve consistency and compliance across the contact centre as well as the customer experience.
  • Reduce training time for agents – Some businesses are dealing with the increased pressure on their contact centre by reassigning employees from other areas to field customer questions or taking on new agents. This creates an additional challenge of training those people quickly and efficiently. Using a virtual agent in your contact centre reduces training time because it gives all agents the information they need right at their fingertips. The tool is easy to use, doesn’t require agents to remember specific keywords or abbreviations, and can provide step-by-step guidance through procedures, applications, etc. New agents, and seasoned team members, don’t need to worry about retaining the content because they can easily access it as they are interacting with customers. This enables you to focus training more on the best ways to have those interactions and deliver compassionate, emotionally intelligent engagements – which is more important than ever right now.

A great resource for organisations thinking about using conversational AI to support agents is the whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre. It provides tips for selecting and implementing a conversational platform that fits with the needs of your organisation as well as best practices for deploying and maintaining an Agent Assist tool. Also included are contact centre specific questions to ask when evaluating different virtual agent offerings.

Coming up in Part 3 of this series on self-service, we’ll take a look at how virtual agent and chatbot technology can alleviate some of the stress of supporting a remote workforce. I will also share my top recommendations for getting new virtual agent projects deployed quickly and upgrading existing tools that aren’t performing well.

Ready to get started on your Agent Assist project? As always, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your contact centre goals – request a personalised demo here.

Preparing Contact Centres for the Impact of AI

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

It’s that time of year when shopping centres are transforming into Christmas Wonderlands, children start to worry about being on the Naughty List, and industry analysts make their predictions for the impending new year. It’s only natural to want to know what the future holds – whether it be what you’ll find in your stocking on Christmas morning or what challenges and changes your business will face in the coming year.

There have been lots of predictions over the past several years about the impact artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbot technologies will have on customer service. In particular, there has been a fear that automated self-service tools like chatbots and virtual agents would completely replace the contact centre and eliminate the need for human agents. Those with a real understanding of the capabilities of these technologies and the needs of customers know those predictions are far-fetched and not going to be a reality any time soon.

However, AI-powered chatbots and virtual agents are changing the role of contact centres and human customer service agents. The analysts at Forrester talk about some of these changes in their Predictions 2020: Customer Service. One trend they mention that will have a growing impact on contact centres is the need for more highly skilled customer service agents because of improvements in AI and automated self-service tools. This will impact contact centre locations, budgets and agent experience.

Organisations that have well-established virtual agents and chatbots available to their customers have already been seeing this shift in their contact centres. As more and more customers self-serve for simple questions and easy tasks, contact centre agents are freed up to deal with more complex issues that need human assistance. This means agents no longer have to deal with the monotony of repeatedly answering basic questions all day long. However, it also means that contact centres need to be staffed with agents that are highly skilled and trained to deal with complicated and more sensitive situations.

New research from CCA, The Future of Work and Automation in CX, found that 85% of executives feel future agents will need to be skilled in handling multi-channel interactions and 83% think that problem-solving skills will be more important due to this shift of simple requests to automation. Responses to this survey also highlighted the importance of agent training to equip them with the skills necessary to show empathy and have emotional intelligence in order to deal with a wide range of demographics.

Contact centre leaders are realising that the AI chatbot technology being used to deliver a quality, 24/7 customer self-service experience can also be deployed to support their live agents. When used as a tool to assist agents, a chatbot or virtual agent gives them instant access to information at their fingertips, so their focus moves from trying to retain knowledge to building better relationships with customers. This is especially important as agents transition to dealing with those more complex issues customers can’t solve by self-serving.

As contact centres put together their Wish List for the coming year, they need to take a hard look at these industry predictions and trends. If they aren’t proactive now in preparations for the changing role of the contact centre and customer service agents, they will face a difficult struggle to catch up. When you add to the mix Frost & Sullivan’s prediction that 2020 will be the point when customer experience will overtake product and price as the top way companies will differentiate themselves, ignoring the impact of AI on the contact centre sounds even more foolish – and will likely put you on Santa’s Naughty List.