by Tamsin Dollin
Contact centers are at the heart of a company’s relationship with its customers. In no other business function do you see the exchange of ideas and feedback that happens between agents and customers during support interactions. This conversational information, plus a wealth of operational statistics, make contact centers a treasure trove of customer data.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is uniquely qualified for analyzing data this complex and plentiful.
While the task is beyond human abilities, AI has a voracious appetite for massive quantities of fast-moving data. It's able to take that data and identify patterns, which it can then use to make predictions and provide other actionable insights that can lead to positive business results. It's no coincidence that 58% of top-performing contact centers have adopted tools like predictive analytics, compared to just a 44% adoption rate by "laggards."
But analytics certainly isn't the only way contact center AI can provide a competitive edge. Organizations are also implementing customer-facing tools, like chatbots and virtual agents, to provide effective and satisfying self-service. Artificial intelligence also makes agents more effective by automating routine tasks, providing timely information, and coaching agents in real-time on their soft skills. And the applications don't end there - AI can also be used to make forecasts, schedules, and routing more effective and accurate.
If you're in the contact center business, you may know much of this already. After all, contact centers are often a favorite guinea pig for organizations that are just beginning to experiment with AI. But you may not know that the benefits of contact center AI extend far beyond the walls of your call center. Other organizational groups also experience the upside of outcomes like more loyal customers, more engaged agents, cleaner data, and a more holistic voice of the customer (VoC).
If your contact center is the AI pioneer within your company, you can use this opportunity to educate other functions on the benefits of artificial intelligence in general, and more specifically how your AI initiative is making their lives better. You might even inspire them to implement their own artificial intelligence solutions - there are many applications beyond the contact center!
Why is AI relevant now more than ever?
In the past year, many organizations struggled with overwhelming volume, stretched resources, and sudden operational changes. The pandemic lockdowns were hard on both consumers and businesses. People who were faced with financial uncertainty flooded call centers with requests ranging from initiating unemployment benefits to deferring mortgage payments. For their part, call centers were fighting to keep the lights on as they quickly pivoted to a remote agent model.
It was a perfect storm of accelerating consumer demand amidst severe operational disruption.
Although we're returning to "normal," the experiences of the past fifteen months aren't something we can just gladly put behind us. There are some important lessons learned about business resiliency that should guide how organizations operate now and into the future.
There are many examples of organizations that made good decisions and prevailed in the face of adversity. They all have something in common - those that excelled through these challenging times were successful because they provided their customers and employees with reassurance, stability, and easily accessible information.
How did they do it? Many of them leveraged AI and automation to supplement agent capacity and provide timely and critical information to their customers. Every call center should have these capabilities in their toolkits for everyday use and to ensure business continuity when the unexpected happens. The benefits of contact center readiness are experienced by the entire business because customer satisfaction and loyalty are at stake.
Remember! Start with a goal
As you expand artificial intelligence within your call center, it's important to remember that AI isn't a silver bullet that can solve all your company's problems. It also isn't a toy to be played with. Ultimately, AI is a means to an end. It's another tool to help you meet your business objectives.
AI can be highly effective when applied to the right goals and use cases, but it won't be successful when it's used for the wrong tasks. Before you launch an AI initiative, thoughtfully answer these questions: What's the desired outcome? How will AI help us achieve our goals?
For call centers, the answers to these questions often have to do with CX, efficiency, accuracy, and capacity. AI-enabled chatbots and virtual agents enable satisfying self-service that's available to customers 24/7. It's also a cost-effective way to increase capacity. If your goal is to improve agent effectiveness, you might consider bots that assist agents with administrative tasks. Or, if your goal is to improve stats like average speed of answer and abandon rates, AI can optimize forecasting and scheduling accuracy so that you have the right number of agents scheduled to handle the expected workload.
And remember that the goals you set for your AI initiative will echo throughout the entire business if you achieve them.
AI benefits beyond the contact center – where can ROI be found?
What are these far-reaching benefits? Here are three examples.
Grow sales, generate revenue
AI-powered interaction analytics tools are able to analyze and process all interactions from all channels, which provides invaluable and previously unavailable customer insights. Additionally, AI-enabled automation can ensure interactions are completely documented in CRM applications and transactions are entered accurately into support systems. The combination results in more comprehensive and accurate customer data. Your sales and marketing teams will benefit by using the information to build more holistic customer profiles and design more relevant, personalized offers that result in higher conversion rates. They'll owe their increased success to your AI initiative!
But the increased sales and revenue aren't completely in these other groups' hands. The CX your call center provides also influences sales. Capabilities like convenient AI-powered self-service and real-time interaction guidance that coaches agents during phone conversations can improve the customer experience. Our research shows that an overwhelming majority of consumers (87%) say they're willing to buy more from a business following a great customer service experience. Moreover, 81% say great CX makes them more willing to recommend a brand to people they know, which can result in new customers and more revenue.
Let's discuss one more way contact center AI can increase sales and revenue. Are any of your agents reluctant to make upsell or cross-sell offers? Some agents might be uncomfortable with the process because it feels like "pushy" sales. But virtual agents are never swayed by emotions like reluctance and discomfort - they do what they're programmed to do, including cross-selling. For example, a bot that takes pizza orders will always offer breadsticks if that's how you program it, leading to more sales and higher revenue.
While sales and marketing teams are the direct beneficiaries of cleaner and more complete customer data, ultimately everyone in the business wins when contact center AI results in more income.
Higher agent engagement, lower turnover
If AI-enabled self-service is successful in empowering customers to resolve more of their own simple problems, not only is that great for CX and the budget, but it will positively change the role of agents. When routine transactions are eliminated from the contact mix, agents will be called on to handle more complex problems. For many agents, this will represent an enrichment of their responsibilities and will improve engagement. That should result in lower turnover.
Agent roles can also be enhanced with AI-powered bots that assist agents with mundane tasks.
Many routine agent activities, like searching for information or completing help desk tickets, are great candidates for automation. When bots assist with these tasks, it removes unfulfilling work and allows agents to focus on delivering loyalty-building CX. Spending more time on higher-value activities can improve satisfaction and engagement.
Finally, agents who want to improve their job performance will appreciate the coaching provided by real-time interaction guidance. This AI tool can detect customer sentiment and alert agents if they aren't showing proper empathy and other soft skills. Because it's real-time, it provides agents with the opportunity to improve the interaction while it's happening, resulting in increased agent success.
We know how improving agent engagement and retention benefits call centers, but what do other departments get out of it? Think about how much time your HR team spends recruiting, hiring, and onboarding new agents. Large call centers can average 40% annual turnover rates, which means HR departments are perpetually looking for agent candidates. If your AI solutions enable you to reduce turnover by just 3-5 points, that represents a meaningful reduction in HR effort.
Build loyalty, deeper customer relationships
A business plagued by recurring customer-impacting issues will soon find even loyal customers abandoning ship. And heads will roll in the teams responsible for the problems. Fortunately, there's a contact center AI solution that can help organizations quickly identify and manage new problems, so their impact is minimized. Interaction analytics can highlight trends in keywords and identify emerging issues with the website, product quality, deliveries, and more. When you're able to quickly alert the web team that the shopping cart is broken, you might save them from a lot of firefighting and uncomfortable conversations with the CEO. Plus, you'll contain the impact on customers.
Not subjecting customers to constant issues is certainly important for maintaining loyalty, but artificial intelligence allows you to go beyond troubleshooting. AI solutions can also facilitate loyalty-building connections. For example, AI routing can match customers to agents they’re more likely to connect with by factoring in customer personalities and preferences. This facilitates more satisfying, personalized interactions. Additionally, the automation capabilities we've already discussed will allow agents to focus more on really listening to customers and having the types of conversations that can strengthen relationships.
Building loyalty is, of course, good for the bottom line. Loyal customers are more likely to have long-term relationships with brands and purchase more from them, leading to a higher customer lifetime value (CLV). Higher CLV is good for everyone in the brand but, specifically, lower customer churn takes some of the pressure off sales and marketing teams - yet another far-reaching benefit of contact center AI!
The impacts of contact center AI initiatives aren't isolated to the call center - the rewards can be far-reaching and transform other parts of the business. When calculating ROI, look for benefits across the enterprise; that can build cross-functional support and might provide the justification you need to add more AI solutions. And if you do add more, remember to identify your goals and ensure AI is the right tool to accomplish them. Thoughtfully implementing AI will help you secure meaningful benefits in your call center and organization-wide.
Learn more about the ROI of contact center AI
Understand the ROI of AI with the latest expert insights. Not sure where to start? You need the inner circle!
This comprehensive paper from ContactBabel takes a deep dive into use cases for AI in the contact center with data on how others have implemented AI, the ROI of AI, use cases, and answers to frequently asked questions. Download your complimentary copy of ContactBabel’s Inner Circle Guide to AI, Chatbots, and Machine Learning now!