By Yishay Carmiel

The federal government is betting big on artificial intelligence (AI), with the goal of making Canada a world-leading destination for companies seeking to invest in AI and innovation. Last year it announced that it was spending $125 million on launching the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, delivered through the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).

The strategy, according to a press release dated March 22, 2017 is to “attract and retain top academic talent in Canada, increase the number of post-graduate trainees and researchers studying artificial intelligence and promote collaboration between Canada’s main centres of expertise.1”

With the market for AI-related ideas and products expected to reach $47 billion in Canada by 2020, according to the CIFAR release, many Canadian businesses are eager to use new machine learning technologies to improve customer experience. And, when it comes to the contact centre specifically, the focus of AI is squarely on supporting and assisting live agents to help them deliver more helpful and engaging customer interactions.

Today’s leading AI solutions are being integrated into businesses’ contact centre solutions to support the complete customer journey. One that allows the full context of an interaction to be visible to contact centre agents. This way, the agents become extensions of the automated experience, thereby helping to increase customer satisfaction.

Here are three ways AI is helping customer service agents enhance the overall customer experience:

1. Less paperwork, more focus. When speaking with customers, agents are tasked with filling out many forms. This means they’re often more focused on paperwork than they are on providing great customer experiences. However, by incorporating AI technology to listen into conversations and assist with relevant forms, businesses can help their agents save time and focus on delivering the highest level of customer engagement.

2. Smart routing and improved interactions. Many mid-sized and large enterprises are now using Big Data to provide pinpoint customer routing strategies, matching agents and callers based on history and behaviours, and then providing those agents with real-time feedback. Increasingly, businesses are also giving agents instant access to proactive guidance and next-best-action suggestions consistently across voice, video, chat, email and messaging channels.

By incorporating these AI technologies, there is no more waiting on hold for customers while agents look up information. Rather than manually searching databases and other internal sources for reference materials, agents now have all the information and resources they need to bring customer interactions to positive conclusions. The results are increased upsells, higher customer retention and improved customer satisfaction metrics.

3. Trend spotting and sentiment analysis. Using trend spotting and analysis, businesses can get real-time feedback to their agents as to how receptive callers may be to the overall tone and tenor of the conversations. This leads to deeper, more personal and positive interactions through agents now having deeper understanding of what customers are saying and knowing how to better relate to them. Sentiment analysis can also be used in the agent/supervisor relationship. It allows contact centre managers to recognize when agents need more coaching and therefore positively impacting customer relationship metrics.

How companies can get started with AI

For businesses that have yet to incorporate AI in their customer service model, the first step is to understand the business problem you are trying to solve. Too many companies are purchasing new solutions and then asking, “What can it do?” You need to identify your specific challenge and then select an AI tool that can solve it.

Secondly, businesses must understand the ecosystem they’re living in. AI is not a magic box that plugs into the wall and makes everything better. Your customer experience is not going to improve overnight, so you need to be patient as the AI solution adapts to your data environment.

To continuously improve the key metrics for customer satisfaction, you need to create a feedback loop from first contact through subsequent interactions across any and all channels. And, through analytics, you also need to feed the outcomes of the customer journey back into the AI engines so that smart technology can grow even smarter for the next iteration of contact by customers.

While AI is still relatively new to the contact centre environment, it will soon be impossible for Canadian businesses to provide a great customer experience without it.

Yishay Carmiel is founder of IntelligentWire—an Avaya company—which develops and implements industry-leading deep learning and AI technologies for automatic speech recognition, natural language processing and advanced voice data extraction. Yishay is also the head of Spoken Labs, the strategic artificial intelligence and machine learning research arm of Spoken Communications, also an Avaya company.

1 Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, “Canada funds $125 million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy”, press release, March 22, 2017.

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