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Out with the Old and in with AI for a Better Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

On the wall of my parents’ kitchen hangs my mother’s beloved rotary phone, referred to by the family as simply The Rotary. Fans of Stranger Things will have watched Joyce receiving her first contact with Will from the Upside Down on a near replica of The Rotary – right down to the amazing mustard yellow colour – that was hanging on her wall, too.

The Rotary, now only functioning to answer incoming calls to the landline, is an oddity in today’s world of smartphones. For the grandkids it’s one of those weird things you only see at your grandparents’ house because they’re old. For my siblings and me, it’s the source of a long-running family joke and a little bit of nostalgia.

The trends and preferences in our personal communications and the technology we use to stay connected have changed drastically over the lifetime of The Rotary. The same is true for how companies engage with and support us as customers. Newer channels, such as messaging apps, have entered the mix and preferences are shifting more and more towards digital self-service as a first choice. Yet even with these changes, customers still sometimes want or need to reach out to a human agent in the contact centre.

In the 2020 edition of The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service (available for download in a UK version and in a US version), ContactBabel surveyed business leaders about their current and planned customer service offerings and investments. One survey question focused on the role they saw artificial intelligence (AI) playing in their contact centre. Among respondents from the UK, 94% agreed or strongly agreed that AI would be used to support human agents. There was an agreement that this helps to speed up responses and provide customers with higher quality resolutions.

No one taking part in the UK survey viewed AI as unimportant to their contact centre, and only 24% agreed or strongly agreed that AI would replace human agents. Respondents from large contact centres with 200+ seats were more likely to think that agents would be replaced by AI than those from small or medium-sized contact centres.

AI in the contact centre

Survey respondents from the US also viewed AI as having the role of supporting agents, with 83% agreeing or strongly agreeing. However, they were more likely to believe that AI will replace human agents with 59% agreeing with that survey option. Interestingly, the US survey also had 12% of respondents thinking AI is unimportant to their contact centre.

AI in the contact center

There’s been a lot of hype around AI taking over jobs and making humans obsolete in certain roles and industries. While there’s been impressive advancements in the use of AI within the customer service space over the past several years, it’s certainly not at a point where it can completely replace all of your human agents. The fact that a majority of survey respondents in both the UK and US felt that AI will be used to support agents is right on the money. The combination of humans and AI makes for an improved customer support experience.

One way in which companies can support their live agents is with AI-enhanced virtual agents and chatbots. Back in 2015, Motability Operations won a Customer Contact Innovation Award for their contact centre virtual agent, Ask Mo, and gave a presentation on their winning case study. While the presentation is a bit old now (although not nearly as old as The Rotary!), it provides some great insights into why Ask Mo – which is still used in their contact centre today – has been so successful. It provides real evidence to back up the survey’s findings that using AI to support agents provides customers with higher quality resolutions and a better experience.

Be sure to download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service – find the UK version here and the US version here – for more insights into the ways organisations are using AI as part of their self-service and contact centre strategies. While long-established customer communication channels haven’t disappeared, companies need to look to new technologies and methods to help them support those channels, as well as newer ones, in a better and more cost-effective way.

A Chatbot for Your Contact Center

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Contact centers around the world are celebrating Customer Service Week this week, recognizing their agents who deliver service and support to customers all year long. But many of those contact centers are missing an important team member. A team member who never needs a day off, who doesn’t get annoyed answering the same questions over and over, and who makes the rest of the team better at their jobs. They are missing a chatbot.

Chatbots and virtual agents have become essential tools for providing 24/7 self-service to digital customers. Yet many organizations are missing out on the added benefits of using these solutions in the contact center. Contact centers require a great deal of investment – from recruiting and training staff to putting the necessary tools in place for agents. A chatbot can help you maximize on those investments while creating a positive omnichannel experience for customers. They instantly provide agents with information to assist customers, reduce average call handling times, and increase first contact resolution. Training time for live agents is drastically reduced, and you build confidence with customers by assuring consistent communication from all agents.

A chatbot in your contact center works essentially the same way as a chatbot on your website, except the users are your agents instead of your customers. The tool understands questions asked in natural langue, as well as common abbreviations used by your contact center, and can guide agents through processes and forms step-by-step as they assist customers. By giving all staff easy access to the same level of knowledge regardless of experience, anyone from support teams to trainers and coaches can step in to answer customer questions with confidence at peak or busy times.

Contact centers looking to implement a chatbot need to be aware that not all chatbot and virtual agent technology is created equal, and not all solutions on the market have been designed for the contact center. The new whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Center explores tips for selecting and implementing a conversational platform to support agents and provide an omnichannel customer experience. Designed to act as a buyer’s guide, it provides questions to ask when selecting chatbot technology for your contact center, guidelines for how to align your contact center with digital channels for seamless customer support, and best practices for successfully implementing and maintaining a conversational platform.

Outlining and executing successful digital customer experience (CX) initiatives continues to grow in importance as consumers become more digitally-savvy and digital natives gain more buying power. A successful digital CX strategy goes beyond what your customers are experiencing online to include what’s happening in your contact center. It’s crucial to select contact center tools that will not only improve performance now but set your contact center up for continued integration with the digital channels of the future. With chatbots, you can maximize on contact center investments, provide seamless omnichannel customer support, and incorporate your contact center into your digital CX strategy.

Download your copy of A Chatbot for Your Contact Center for important tips and questions to ask when selecting and implementing a conversational platform for your contact center agents.

Happy Customer Service Week!

Don’t Worry, the Customer Only Wants You to Be Perfect

By Scott Tompkins, Enterprise Account Executive, USA

So…. I have this diploma and now have no idea what to do! Anyone else been there after graduation? Being from Delaware, I thought I would try my hand at one of the many financial service companies that call the First State home. My interview seemed to go well and as it was concluding the hiring manager asked me to sit with one of her agents for 30 minutes so that I would have a better understanding of what I would be doing in this role. I sat down and listened to “Steve” take his first call. The caller was a very polite woman who I assume had lived a long, enjoyable life. She was calling to cancel her credit card. I can’t recall all of the dialogue but when she hung up the phone not only was the card not cancelled but she now was the proud owner of the “World Traveler Card.” How did that happen? At that moment, I realized this was not the job for me! What an incredibly difficult position for an agent. How do you show empathy for your customers while at the same time complying with the push to meet goals the company has outlined?

Fast forward a dozen or so years and now I am a seasoned member of the working class that at times requires support from brands I purchase from. My expectations when speaking with an agent are that they will handle every situation the way I would handle it if I was on the other end. Imagine asking an agent to meet each caller’s personal expectations. I really dislike the word “fair”, and don’t allow my children to use it, but my goodness, that is an unfair expectation.

So, what is the answer? For me, it’s automation. When I take inventory of all the reasons I pick up the phone or live chat with a brand, most of those things could be answered in some type of automated fashion or by a chatbot. Whether I need information about my account or steps to troubleshoot a process, I shouldn’t need another person to take the time to help me. Chatbots have evolved in 2017 to be intelligent, easy to access and conversational. They should be used in everyday transactions and leave the “high-touch” scenarios for the agents. Companies should strive to create an environment where customers are able to get immediate support for everyday issues, while at the same time having agents available for consultative help. Companies will not only create a superior customer experience but also help bring sanity back to their agents. Allow the agent to spend their day consulting with customers on new products and offering advice where necessary. Let the chatbot handle the password reset, account balance, and “I need to reset my router” questions.

Contact us to learn more about our chatbot experts and solutions.

Postcard From Las Vegas: Happy Customer Service Week!

By Claudia Ramos, Senior Customer Success Manager, USA

When I got news that I’d be relocating with my family to Las Vegas, NV, I was thrilled with the possibility of finally breaking out of the Contact Center world and embarking on my new dream. I envisioned my big entrance in the Hotel Bizz. Dreams aside, I had to provide for my family. The reality of a crashing economy shattered my dream of working in a new exciting field. I knew that I had become great at something I did not like so much anymore. So, I accepted a Contact Center Manager job that paid 50% less than what I was making previously. Looking back, at least I had the view of the Las Vegas Strip and the occasional fun background check to review and decline for hire…

However, what was it that changed my love and passion for working at a Contact Center?  It was never the clients, the calls or coaching sessions, and certainly not the amazing Potlucks. First, I was fed up with the fast-pace of hiring demands. Second, was how quickly we had to teach the agents to follow quality guidelines and memorize all the products offered. At one point, I remember being the only manager on the floor with 45 New Hire agents and every other agent was asking the same question. If you do not know the feeling, it is equivalent to hiking Red Rock Canyon without shoes (it’s a long story)! I would go on to interview, hire, train, coach and motivate agents for the next few years. Each day, reminding myself that all this experience would come in handy one day. At the very least, I was able to fit into some old Levi’s from my early 20’s due to all the walking around answering questions!

I have a new spring in my step these days! In 2016, I took the challenge from my mentor to join a team of Artificial Intelligence experts. Without a doubt, my first thoughts were, “Bots are here to take our jobs”, “Bots are not conversational”, etc. Do you want to know what made things interesting? The VP told me, “These are some of the best conversations you are going to read” (insert LOL emoji). Fine, I would like to read these myself! As I started reading through conversations, they felt more like a face-to-face conversation with a person than talking to a robot. I was noticing that the chatbot was handling more concurrent chats. All the while helping resolve the customers’ questions. The chatbot was apparently alleviating issues at all levels, resulting in a reduction in phone escalations. The additional development was that the chatbot could assist agents with listening and providing accurate responses to customers. My initial reaction was jealousy. I wished this technology had been available to me during all those years of on-the-job training for New Hires and walking the sales floor!

The hustle of my Vegas Contact Center days was not in vain. I feel good being able to contribute to a fast-paced world that needs happier, more satisfied agents and customers! Chatbots are created by people who are passionate about helping others. Individuals who understand the importance of clients receiving speedy and accurate resolutions and carefully curating answers that maintain a conversational element.

Big shout out to all the New Hires out there. Y’all are too much sometimes, and that is okay because I love you. Thank you for all you do!

Reach out to learn more about our AI experts and solutions.

“Thank you for calling..this is Mike, how can I help?”

By Mike Murphy, CEO, USA

Taking customer service calls is a lot harder than you imagine it would be. No one is particularly happy to be speaking with you, and they get a little less happy with every passing second. I’ve said it many times…being a call center agent was the most difficult, challenging, and rewarding job I’ve ever had. The goal is to warmly greet a stranger, figure out which of the hundred or so possible issues they need help with, convey empathy in an honest way, talk them through a resolution, wrap the call with appropriate branding and thank them for being a customer…and do it all in 12 minutes, before picking up the next call with the same level of energy…rinse and repeat 30 or so times in a shift, unwillingly do the same in your dreams at night, and start again the next day without missing a beat. By the way, you’re also logging case notes in real time, clicking through a call-flow tool, and looking up information in several different windows. Heavy drinking the night before is ill-advised.

On the plus side…it’s a metrics-driven job.  AHT, CSAT, FCR, NPS, Conversion Rate, AOV…everything is captured, reviewed, tracked and ranked. Your aim is to incorporate the fundamentals of good customer service: Make it effortless, Be nice, Be quick…while completing as many conversations in a day as possible. Talented customer service reps aren’t cheap, so maximizing their productivity is key and has been my professional focus for the last 15 years. Agent chat was the first technology I witnessed dramatically increase agent productivity. Now a great “contact” center agent could have 80-100 quality conversations per day instead of 30. Learning how to translate the fundamental principles of customer service to work within a digital conversation was also a lot of fun to figure out. Chat provided some interesting learnings…including the fact that creepy people are even creepier in chat. Working alongside other talented individuals, we figured out a playbook for best-in-class chat agent training. And now we have chatbots. We’re now applying the same principles from the chat-agent training playbook to chat-bot training. And we’re also helping out agents with bots of their own and driving the next leap in productivity. Great chat agents with bot-assistance can now do 150+ chats per day. And the bots themselves are happy to do 100,000+ conversations per day…and haven’t showed up to work sporting a hangover just yet. Can’t wait to see where we go next.

Reach out to learn more about our AI experts and solutions.