Communications Blog • 5 MIN READ

Is the Contact Center being Transformed by AI?

Skip Chilcott

Written by Skip Chilcott

Contact center agents in 2017 must communicate with customers not only on the phone but via social media, instant messaging, video conferencing and web chat. How can humans do it all? Increasingly, they can't.

That's why many companies are implementing bots powered by artificial intelligence to work in their contact centers and talk to their customers. Gartner predicts that, by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions won't be managed by humans.

Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Google are all building virtual assistants and chatbots that can respond to voice queries and engage in a fairly natural dialog with users. Even Taco Bell has a TacoBot that helps customers place pickup orders for select menu items.

In theory, virtual assistants will greatly improve the customer experience, because AI bots can store endless amounts of data and access relevant information at the right time to give customers exactly what they want. Would you like Sprite with your Crunchwrap Supreme? AI bots can also help organizations boost efficiencies and reduce costs, because organizations will no longer have to operate contact centers staffed 24/7 by employees around the globe.

In fact, AI is already dramatically changing contact centers. It's making contact centers more efficient with bots that can quickly answer the questions most commonly asked by customers. AI is even helping to predict customer behavior, providing advice to customer service reps on how best to solve a particular issue.
If AI can improve the operation of contact centers, that's a win for customers and companies. In many ways, contact centers are the heart and soul of the enterprise. They're often the most intimate point of contact between a business and its customers, and what happens—or doesn't happen—in the contact center can make or break the customer experience.

Possibility for Mistakes & the Rising Stakes

Conversely, the better AI gets, the greater the potential for error. As AI handles more data and more types of data, the complexity of its data interactions grows and so does the potential for error.

Thus, as contact centers move toward automation, it's crucial that companies be able to observe the effectiveness of their customer interactions and their AI solutions. They must be aware when interactions wander off-track—because their customers certainly will. If it looks like a robot, and acts like a robot, you can guess the rest. 

If a company deploys a chatbot and the bot misbehaves, customers will notice it right away. And if the misbehavior is grevious enough, it can damage the company brand. Perhaps you remember Microsoft's Tay bot disaster of 2016, when it took Twitter users less than 24 hours to turn Microsoft Tay from an innocent chatbot modeled to speak like a teenage girl to misogynistic, racist monster.

Experience Monitoring is Essential

So how can your business take advantage of AI while guaranteeing a consistently excellent experience for your customers? You need to constantly monitor the experiences you deliver. Monitoring enables you to identify issues fast so you can take rapid action to protect the customer experience. You can keep systems humming and nip issues in the bud—in real-time.

For instance, with AI you still need to monitor the time it takes to complete a particular interaction and know if the customer was satisfied with the experience. AI promises to alleviate many of the burdens associated with the contact center, but you still need a complete view of the customer experience. You still need to avoid issues and delays that frustrate your customers. And, best case, you will need to identify those issues before your customers do.

You will also still be required to record customer interactions if you are in a regulated industry. Aside from asking a human to check every recorded voice call, which defeats the purpose of using bots, you will need to invest in call recording assurance technology. This helps validate the physical presence of the recording files on the servers and then validates their audio quality using complex algorithms.

Regardless of humans or bots interacting with customers, the quality of the communication remains very important, including voice quality. The best responses are worthless if they cannot be understood. Organizations considering AI and bots for their contact center first need to ensure that they are proactively managing voice quality.

RIP to the Contact Center?

AI is poised to radically transform the customer experience. And we're only at the beginning. In a 2016 worldwide survey by Xerox, 42% of respondents predicted that the contact center as we know it now will cease to exist by 2025. Indeed, the steady progress toward deeper implementation of AI in the contact center is inevitable because it will allow organizations to improve service levels and reduce costs.

However, those responsible for implementing AI and bots into their contact center would be wise to remember, when there is only one human on the line and that is the customer, there is nobody to hear them scream.

Topics: Communications Customer experience

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