By Andy Bird

The contact centre has come back into the spotlight in a big way. Our newly remote world has complicated organizations’ abilities to connect with their consumers in-person, making contact centres and their agents indispensable.

However, many contact centre teams are struggling to maintain a high level of productivity and customer service while working remotely. Like many knowledge workers, agents have had to adapt to a sudden environment change since March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

But unlike some other fields, contact centres and their staff are also grappling with a considerable uptick in work as customers seek information and help for financial services, to cancel travel and with unemployment benefits. And from the shift from in-person retail and restaurants to eCommerce and meal delivery. COVID-19 has also meant much higher use of videoconferencing, which has led to support calls from customers seeking to access or having difficulties using the applications.

In these cases the customers are very often stressed from the issues they are calling about, their personal stresses and unfamiliarity with these means of obtaining products and services. Stresses that inevitably are heard and felt by the agents: who are often experiencing the same issues at home.

Digital transformation desperately needed
This spike in traffic has overloaded contact centres and left thousands of callers met by automated messages asking them to call back. When it strikes unemployed workers, the stakes are incredibly high as they and their families’ survival are on the line. But similar scenarios are playing out for retailers, universities, financial institutions and other brands.

Contact centre supervisors are scrambling to find solutions to bring down resolution times and meet their service level agreements. This imperative to adapt has been the main driver of the expedited contact centre digital transformation we’ve seen over the past few months, most notably through the integration of artificial intelligence (AI).

4 ways to implement AI
AI represents part of the ticket to solve the excess in contact volume right now and it’s becoming a vital component of contact centre efficiency. Here are four ways you can incorporate AI into your contact centre processes and customer experience (CX):
1. Front-end call support. AI bots can resolve many customer requests and problems upfront in the calls. It’s not always necessary for customers to speak to live agents to receive service, meaning agents can reserve their time and skills for more strategic customer tasks that require intuitive, human reasoning that AI can’t replicate. For example, a customer might call a retailer’s customer service number to check the status of their order. The AI bot can validate the customer’s identity and order number, ask what they need help with, identify the corresponding solution keywords, ask follow-up questions and fully resolve the issue.
2. Call transcription. During calls, contact centres can lean on AI to more accurately transcribe conversations in real-time, just like closed captioning. However, while speech recognition technology processes the conversations it also looks for key phrases, such as “I am very upset.” AI can then coach the agents mid-call with suggestions for words, phrases, data or actions to use as a next step, like offering the unhappy customer a 20 percent discount on their next purchase or free return shipping.
3. Performance evaluation and future planning. Supervisors can use AI-powered tech as observation and optimization tools to gather insights from each call. Supervisors can sort through this information and the AI’s suggestions to flag learnings, feed into performance reviews, make adjustments and plan for future training. This is an especially important capability for a distributed, remote workforce where it’s not so easy to evaluate agent performance on a one-to-one basis.
4. Effective routing. Finally, contact centres can leverage AI to engage the right agent(s) to handle specific calls or customer issues. For example, if the contact centre is receiving a high number of calls about a certain product, AI can detect as much and reroute calls to specific individuals who are skilled and specialized in that product area and able to provide a higher level of service to those customers.

With today’s burgeoning selection of AI solutions, organizations have the power to choose the complexity and extent to which they implement AI into their contact centre experience.

There are fully customized solutions tailored to the unique needs of your organization, as well as solutions that are pre-built to offer a simpler level of customization. Most solutions are also agnostic, meaning it doesn’t matter if your contact centre platform and database operate on Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), another cloud or a mainframe: they’ll still be able to ingest and learn from your data.

What’s more, AI technology doesn’t require months of lead time before it’s fully operational. In fact, some solutions can be deployed in less than a week.

But remember there is no blanket AI solution. So before diving into AI, consider the full scope of solutions available and how those solutions could meet your organization’s unique needs. What are you trying to achieve with AI for your contact centre? Why do you think you need AI? What are your costs per transaction/per minute? Narrowing down exactly where and how the technology will elevate CX is the first step.

The need to support both customers and agents remotely is only increasing, whether it’s in a fully remote, distributed organization or a hybrid model. AI is one of the most impactful, utilitarian digital transformation tools available for contact centres. With the power to influence how contact centre decisions are made, where callers are routed and how the business can optimize and improve productivity as well as the overall CX, AI solutions are an invaluable potential addition to contact centre leaders’ toolkits.

Andy Bird is director of product management for CCaaS at Lifesize.

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