By Mike Aoki

With all the buzz regarding artificial intelligence (AI) and customer experience (CX) in the contact centre world, it is important to note some of the real-life successes and challenges presented by these trends.

To explore and understand them here are the seven impacts of AI and CX at the operational level.

1. AI is harder to implement than expected. There is an old phrase in computing called “garbage in, garbage out.” That means the quality of your input determines the quality of your output. If an AI chatbot responses are the output, the input is your contact centre’s ability to predict common customer questions and conversation flows. That includes accounting for customer variations in grammar and spelling for chat and accents/pronunciation differences in speech.

Human input is needed to build the AI algorithms used for customer interactions. AI works well for easily mapped processes, such as FAQs and simple transactions, like online purchases. However, AI struggles with complexity, because the programming and human variables become too complex. That may change as programmes (and programmers) become more sophisticated. However, AI is still primarily used for basic customer interactions at this time.

2. AI can handle “easy” inquiries and therefore reduce the volume of contact centre agent interactions. Think of AI as being similar to an automated banking machine (ABM). ABMs are great for routine transactions, such as withdrawing money or checking your balance. But you still need to interact with a live customer service person for anything complex, such as disputing a bank charge or setting up an RRSP. AI can take care of simple inquiries and transactions. That reduces the overall volume of interactions for agents. However, those remaining interactions tend to be more complex and may take longer for your agents to handle.

3. AI means those remaining customer interactions require a higher agent skill set. Complex, emotionally challenging interactions require agents who are emotionally intelligent and able to creatively problem-solve. That requires additional training on communication skills, self-awareness, negotiation skills and analytical ability. So, constant training and coaching become paramount in this new environment.

4. AI changes agent hiring criteria and employee retention strategies. Have you updated your hiring criteria to reflect them? Are you testing for emotional intelligence? Are you evaluating candidates on their ability to problem-solve? Have you changed your compensation package to attract and retain agents with this higher skill set? If not, you and your Human Resources team need to re-examine your hiring and retention strategies in the age of AI.

5. AI can also generate a backlash. Customers are catching on to AI. They may type “Are you a real person?” when confronted with a chatbot. Some customers do not want to deal with AI. Like when they press “0” as soon as they hear your IVR message

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. So, there will always be a need for agents to handle the subset of customers who prefer interacting with a real person, all the time.

6. Growing CX focus has changed the way organizations discuss “Customer Service”. CX creates a more holistic view of your customer’s interactions when dealing with your organization. It provides a framework to discuss the customer journey, company-wide customer touchpoints and customer effort reduction. It also shifts responsibility for improving customer relations from the contact centre to the whole organization. Done well, CX tools such as journey mapping, continuous improvement and customer effort reduction can improve CSAT (customer satisfaction score), NPS (Net Promoter Score) and profitability.

7. However, there is still a long way to go in organization-wide acceptance of CX at some companies. Many businesses still use “Customer Experience” as a trendy way to say customer service instead of truly focusing on the customer’s end-to-end experience. CX discussions are often limited to the contact centre rather than being organization-wide. Determining your company-wide CX goals, doing a “town hall” announcement and providing CX training for all employees are good first steps. However, you need to supplement that with the hard work of changing processes and eliminating customer frustration points in order to succeed. That means incorporating VoC (voice of the customer) and VoE (voice of the employee) for feedback and improvement. It also requires viewing CX as being a continuous journey of improvement rather than a destination.

In many ways, AI represents the classic contact centre goal of improved efficiency, while CX symbolizes a philosophy of effectiveness in taking care of your customer base. The good news is that properly done, AI can enhance the CX by quickly handling routine transactions. AI is like a superhero’s sidekick, who takes care of mundane aspects of the job, while freeing your agents to tackle the more complex, emotionally intelligent interactions with your customers.

Mike Aoki is president of Reflective Keynotes Inc. (, a Toronto, Ontario-based training firm.

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