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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.