By Marie-Louise St-Jacques and Eric Dauphinais

Technology has never evolved at such a rapid pace. Newly implemented solutions can become obsolete or dated in an instant. The panic of being left behind has many companies adopting new technologies for the sake of newness, with little thought as to why these solutions are needed, how they can be best used or how they should interact with other critical applications.

In 2018, artificial intelligence (AI) reached critical mass attention with just about every tech company announcing the launch of AI enabled solutions and partnerships with AI institutes. Working in Montreal, a world-leading AI hub, it’s impossible to ignore the enormous potential benefits of the technology.

One of the AI solutions gaining in popularity are chatbots. Chatbots instantly handle routine and repeatable customer contacts, freeing contact centre agents to manage more complex sales or service inquiries. As a consumer, you have likely interacted with an AI chatbot without even realizing it. Google Home, Siri, Alexa and within the contact centre space, Genesys’s recently-launched Kate and Nuance’s Nina, are examples of integrating AI to customer experiences. The futuristic world promised by the 1960s animated series, The Jetsons, finally seems to be a reality. It’s no wonder that contact centre organizations are eagerly looking to these solutions with wide eyes.

Properly implementing digital channels
As front-line administrators of the relationship between the company and their customers, contact centres hold tremendous power in orchestrating the customer experience. Contact centre agents have a bevy of tools that deliver customer insights, improved response and ultimately, customer satisfaction.

For many companies, the advent of AI chatbots is a natural and necessary progression from more established digital channels, notably chat and SMS/text messaging, to help them achieve their goals.

But companies that invest straight into AI chatbot technology with zero previous experience with these other tools will likely lead to failure. The old adage, walk before you run, rings true for a reason.

Let’s take a deeper look at chat and SMS/text messaging. When part of a strategic response plan,these technologies can be important tools in your toolbox. More than a customer convenience, chat provides instant and on-the-spot interaction with follow-up questions taking place in real-time, leading to faster issue resolution. When integrated within your contact centre solution strategy, the potential for increased sales and, improved customer service and loyalty are boundless.

But too often chat or SMS channels have failed to deliver on their customer service promise. The lure of new technology is so strong, that unfortunately contact centres often move too quickly and without a structured strategy, or they choose separate technologies for digital versus voice channels.

Choosing a tool that is separate from your overall contact centre technology will leave your agents in a silo and force supervisors to manage multiple tools, creating an imbalance of work that leads to long call wait times for voice agents while chat/SMS agents sit with empty queues. The last thing you want is to have the new chat queue generating additional calls due to a poor customer experience. Do end users really prefer voice over chat/SMS? Or is the design and administration of the tool the real issue?

When contemplating a digital channel, companies must consider the design and operational impacts of the solution. Interfaces that cause redundancies and errors will not be utilized. These dynamic, evolving and live channels touch many aspects of contact centre operations and must be part of an integrated contact centre strategy with a clear understanding of how the solutions will be used. When, and why, does someone choose to chat or SMS? Is the end-user on a mobile or desktop device?

By understanding existing channel analytics, you can create a response strategy based on common requests and can start to predict new inputs and address them before an interaction is initiated. Ultimately, this proactivity will increase contact centre efficiencies and end user satisfaction. Your digital messaging should support this response strategy and not dictate it.

So, the question is not whether chat or SMS/text messaging are valuable tools, but how to properly implement digital channels within your contact centre organization to maximize benefits. The goal is to understand how they will be used within your ecosystem and to define what you want accomplished with a clear vision of the end-result. Only then can you select the right digital messaging technology and have an implementation methodology that will serve your end goals. Otherwise, all you will have is an isolated tool that delivers zero internal or external value.

Build digital right and achieve success
To understand the greater value of digital when built right, let’s take a real-world example of a company’s help desk that was dealing with a high volume of service requests with no chat support. Its front-line agents were faced with a significantly large number of live support calls and a low first call resolution rate. Self-help was non-existent with the burden placed completely on the agents to manage an overwhelming amount of contacts per month.

The challenge was immense with implications affecting many stakeholders beyond the agent level. The company took a step back and gathered the necessary metrics to build a clear and accurate understanding of its current situation. Using baseline best practices, it developed a focused strategic plan with clearly defined targets and objectives.

The company determined what they wanted to achieve before there was any talk of technology. Once the desired outcome was clear, its strategy was to use chat as a main component in their plan to reduce live call support volumes. With an integrated plan that directed clients away from live agent support and towards chat, it altered the voice-path to make it less attractive as a first path resolution and implemented knowledge-based, self-help web pages.

Post-strategy metrics are impressive, to say the least. The company generated 50% fewer contacts per month, 80% of which are now chat-based. It saw a 40% reduction in service request volume and its first contact resolution rate increased by 17%. Not only did the company leverage use of its web site and increase the agent and customer experience, it was able to repurpose its agents towards more proactive activities that better utilize their expertise, allowing them to become more engaged. Mapping out and then driving customers towards the appropriate channel eliminated the heavy burden placed on the agents, ensuring that the right calls went to the right agents at the right time. Now that the help desk can clearly identify common tasks completed by their agents, and the input/outputs have been tested with chat/SMS, when ready, an AI chatbot can be implemented in an effective way.

Without a plan or clear direction, you may lose sight of your objectives.Don’t let technology, current or new, dictate your path. Remember, as smart as Alexa, Kate, Nina and Siri are, if you don’t properly phrase your question, you’ll never get the right answer.

Marie-Louise St-Jacques is channel manager and Eric Dauphinais is senior consultant, contact centre solutions at Quovim C3 (www.QuovimC3.com).

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