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Contact Centres are Crying Out for Help

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Contact centres and contact centre agents are under immense pressure, dealing with increased contact volumes, rising customer frustration, and agent attrition. A recent survey of 1000 contact centre leaders in the UK, US, and Australia has revealed a very telling and consistent view that contact centres are hanging on by a thread.

This survey, conducted by Censuswide, found:

  • 68% of contact centres report rising chat and call volumes
  • 66% of contact centres agree that contact volumes are spiralling beyond their capacity to handle them
  • 70% of contact centres report escalating customer churn
  • 68% of contact centres are experiencing increased agent attrition
  • 66% of contact centres report that dealing with frustrated customers is impacting the mental health of frontline customer service employees

The findings of this survey are not good. Not good for contact centre agents, not good for customers, and not good for businesses. However, the survey also uncovered that 96% of contact centres are planning technology upgrades in the next 12-24 months to keep from a complete breakdown of customer service under these pressures.

While technology won’t solve all the issues facing the contact centre industry, the right solutions will go a long way in alleviating some of the stress being placed on agents. These solutions include both tools designed specifically to support agents as well as customer-facing tools that create easier digital self-service.

Offering 24/7 intelligent self-service options to customers alleviates pressure on busy contact centres by reducing the number of incoming contacts. Chatbots and virtual agents can answer your most common questions that don’t require engagement with a human, so your agents no longer have to answer the same basic queries over and over. Chatbots backed by a more sophisticated conversational AI platform can also guide customers step-by-step through troubleshooting instructions and hand-hold users through the completion of forms, applications, and even the sales process. This further reduces contact volumes and frees up agents to deal with most sensitive, complex customer issues.

Regardless of what channels your agents are delivering support on – phone, email, social media, SMS, messaging apps, live chat – it’s important for them to have the information and tools they need to help customers efficiently and accurately. Easy-to-use desktop conversational AI solutions are proven to reduce training time for agents and also give all contact centre staff members easy access to the same level of information to help customers.

Agents can find the information they need by typing in questions using natural language or internal abbreviations. As with customer-facing chatbots, a high-quality conversational AI platform allows for conversation flows to help agents guide customers through procedures, processes, and forms. The tool can provide ‘next-best-action’ prompts to assist with up-selling and cross-selling. And when integrated with voice technology, the tool can ‘listen in’ on calls and present agents with relevant information as the caller explains their issue.

Staff training on how to deliver compassionate, emotionally intelligent engagements can be augmented with an agent self-service tool for supporting potentially vulnerable customers. Agents use search terms such as ‘job loss’, ‘anxiety’, and ‘autism’ to access tips on how to support customers’ needs effectively and sensitively within company guidelines. Links to practical and helpful resources can also be included to help create more empathetic experiences for vulnerable customers as well as act as a way for agents to find reliable information and services for themselves.

With these customisable contact centre tools, agents no longer need to worry about memorising and retaining content or shuffling through multiple pages of notes and handbooks. Instead, they know they have all the information they need at their fingertips and can concentrate on the human engagement with customers.

Deploying conversational AI technology for both customers and agents as part of a cohesive strategy delivers a variety of benefits for the contact centre:

  • Customers are happier and less frustrated because they have a better option to self-serve.
  • Increased self-service containment and resolution means reduced contact centre traffic.
  • Agents are more readily available to support customers with the most complex issues instead of spending time dealing with basic, repetitive questions.
  • Agents have instant access to information, guides, and tips for helping customers effectively and sensitively.
  • An improved experience for agents means lower agent attrition.
  • An improved experience for customers means lower customer churn.

There is no quick fix or magic solution for all the pressures contact centres are currently experiencing. However, conversational AI is one technology that can help overcome some of these challenges by addressing them from both the customer and agent viewpoints. The key to finding success with this approach is to work with a conversational AI provider experienced in both areas.

If you find yourself agreeing with the findings of this survey within your own organisation, then it’s time to talk to the conversational AI experts about crafting your own contact centre strategy.

The Buzz about Digital Transformation

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

While there has been buzz for years about digital transformation, the shift to digital has now become an imperative for many businesses to stay competitive. The wider availability of technology and devices, an increased adoption of digital channels during the pandemic, and a growing customer base of digital natives are coming together to spur a digital transformation push.

According to Forrester, 72% of APAC decision makers report an accelerated shift to digital business as a high or critical priority over the next 12 months. Their three top drivers for digital transformation are promoting agility and innovation, improving operational efficiency, and improving the customer experience.

APAC businesses aren’t alone in this drive for digital transformation. Organisations around the world are exploring additional technologies as a way to improve business performance. In their 2022 CIO survey, Gartner found that there is a broad demand for digital transformation across industries as well. They also highlight the push to get from limited digitalisation to full transformation quickly as being half-digital is an unsustainable position for businesses.

Digital transformation is certainly a worthwhile and valuable investment for organisations. However, to be successful it needs to be implemented with a strategic and thoughtful approach. Digital projects that are carried out in isolation can severely hinder a company’s full transformation. They can reduce efficiency and worsen the customer experience, the opposite of what they should be delivering.

A comprehensive digital strategy requires clear goals, obtainable objectives, and the right key performance indicators (KPIs). It must consider both the employee and customer experience, as well as identify when and how the two can be linked to create seamless experiences. It also must ensure that the technologies and solutions being implemented will positively impact and support the work of the humans involved.

Conversational AI is one of the technologies increasingly being added to digital transformation strategies in the areas of customer service and employee support. These solutions are proven to increase efficiency and improve experiences for customers, employees, and contact centre agents while also typically reducing costs.

A high-quality conversational AI platform will support integrations with other systems within the platform. This enables organisations to connect conversational AI solutions – chatbots and virtual agents – to other digital tools such as CRMs, ticketing systems, forums, voice technologies, payment systems, and live chat to create easy, seamless digital experiences.

While actioning digital transformation should be a priority for organisations, it’s just as imperative that they are transforming in a way that creates positive digital engagements. Having a poor digital experience can be as damaging to business, employee retention, and customer satisfaction as having limited digitalisation.

If you’re looking to add conversational AI to your digital transformation strategy, check out the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for expert tips.

If you already have a conversational AI project but are finding that it’s not delivering the results you need within your overall digital strategy, check out the Conversational AI Issues & Solutions eBook.

And when you are ready to take the next step with your project, contact the Creative Virtual team to arrange a demo and discuss an individual workshop to help build your conversational AI strategy as part of your full digital transformation.

Integrate Your Way to a Better Self-Service Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

If you give visitors to your website the option to self-serve with a chatbot or virtual agent, kudos to you for recognising the importance of easily accessible digital support! Both current and potential customers appreciate being able to engage with automated self-service anytime, anywhere. However, what they don’t appreciate is thinking they are going to have an easy self-serve experience only to discover your chatbot is ill-equipped to handle anything beyond a simple question and answer pair.

I’ve been in the chatbot and virtual agent field for over 13 years and have the privilege of working with many colleagues who have over two decades of experience with the technology. Back in the early days, all chatbots were very simple question and answer tools. Rachel Freeman, Operations Director at Creative Virtual, has talked about starting in the industry in 2000 “when the focus was marketing and the novelty of the service was almost as important as the aim to increase ‘website stickiness’.” Major advancements in the technology have propelled the capabilities of today’s chatbots far ahead of those early deployments.

Unfortunately, there are still many chatbot platforms on the market that operate as simple question and answer tools with very limited conversational capabilities and integration options.  While there are specific use cases for these types of bots, quality customer self-service is no longer one of them. You will never be able to deliver the experience customers are looking for if you don’t have a tool built with an advanced conversational AI technology and the ability to be integrated with other systems.

Why is the ability to integrate your chatbot or virtual agent with other backend systems so important? Without those integrations, you are unable to deliver personalised responses for authenticated users. You can’t seamlessly escalate users from the virtual agent to a live chat agent. You don’t even have the option to deliver updates in real-time from external information feeds. All these pieces of functionality are now part of users’ expectations when they engage with your chatbot.

Given those expectations, what sort of systems should you consider integrating with your conversational AI tool? The integrations you select will depend on your self-service use cases and customer needs. Think about integrating with live chat, CRMs, voice technologies, knowledge management platforms, digital payment systems, community forums, ticketing systems, user survey tools, and contact centre platforms. Your goal should be to implement integrations that enable both you and your users to fully take advantage of the benefits of today’s conversational AI capabilities.

The big question then is: how should you go about upgrading your simple Q&A bot to an effective and integrated conversational AI tool? An obvious first step is to determine if your current chatbot platform supports the integrations you want. If not, find a more advanced platform that will allow you to create those connections. Jumpstart your upgraded tool by repurposing what you already have with your current project.

Once you have a chatbot management platform that gives you the integration and customisation options you need, don’t feel pressured to do everything at once. Take a staged approach, starting with the integrations that will have the biggest impact on improving your self-service experience. Then gradually add additional functionality to create a tool that is built for your specific needs and goals. Don’t forget to periodically review your conversational AI plan and make adjustments as your business and customer needs evolve.

We all know from our own personal experiences as customers how influential the support engagements we have with a company can be in our purchasing decisions. Take a few minutes to test your organisation’s digital self-service from that perspective. Are you delivering a seamless and personalised experience with your chatbot or virtual agent? If not, then it’s time to revisit your conversational AI strategy and identify what integrations could improve your self-service.

Gone are the days of siloed, disconnected customer service chatbots. To deliver the conversational AI engagement customers want, expect, and appreciate, you must integrate your way to a better self-service experience.