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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.

The Impact of Customer Experience Developments on the Future of Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

There is always an element of uncertainty we must take into account when planning for the future. This has perhaps never been truer on a global scale than right now as we face the unpredictable impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it may not be the right time to book your next beach getaway or send out invitations for your extended family reunion, smart companies should be looking towards the future impacts of customer experience (CX) developments and consumer expectations.

In the recently published report The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service (available for download in a UK version and in a US version), ContactBabel takes a deep dive into the current status of CX self-service technologies, use cases and customer preferences. Each version of the report breaks down the results of a survey conducted with 1,000 consumers in that country on their expectations of a good customer experience. The report then compares those responses with survey responses from organisations on their current and planned self-service offerings and investments.

The last section of the report analyses responses from business leaders on the future of CX, self-service and the contact centre. This includes a question on how important various CX developments will be on their organisation in the next two years. The two graphs below summarise their responses – the first is responses from the UK, the second from the US:

ContactBabel Self-Service GuideContactBabel Self-Service Guide

In the US survey, 61% of respondents identified AI/self-service as being very important, up from just 51% in 2018. The UK survey found a similar noteworthy increase in responses from the 2018 survey for AI/self-service. This reflects the significant developments made in the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in the customer service space over the past several years. The hype around AI-powered self-service tools, such as chatbots and virtual agents, has evolved into a more practical and realistic view giving organisations more confidence to pursue the technology.

It also reflects the increased adoption of digital self-service by customers over the same period. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with using self-service chatbots and virtual agents. They appreciate being able to get help and support instantaneously at any time of day or night. In both the UK and US customer surveys cited in the ContactBabel reports, respondents identified website self-service/mobile app as their preferred method to contact a company for a high urgency interaction. Nearly half of all respondents selected self-service over other options such as phoning the call centre or sending an email.

Self-Service Guide

Self-Service Guide

It will be interesting to see how these trends change over the next 12 months as companies rise to the challenges of supporting customers during and after coronavirus-related shutdowns and social distancing measures. There has already been a significant uptick in the use of self-service tools like virtual agents as contact centres struggle to respond to the sudden surge of incoming calls, chats and emails. Will this result in a more permanent increase in customers turning to self-service as their first point of contact for support issues? And will the more intense focus on digital strategies within organisations, currently driven by necessity, continue as they see the benefits of the changes they are making?

Despite all the uncertainty and unpredictability of the coming year, organisations must take action now to assess their customers’ needs and expectations in order to prioritise CX developments. Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service – find the UK version here and the US version here – for more insights and self-service use cases.