AI

Melding AI and Virtual Assistants with Humans: The Right Formula for a Superior Customer Experience

By now, just about all of us have encountered an automated system when reaching out to a contact center. According to research cited in a 2017 IBM Watson blog, by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent. Sometimes, such systems work flawlessly: the bot or virtual assistant (VA) understands customers responses easily and the conversation progresses smoothly as they either get the information they expected or complete the process they hoped to finish. In some cases, customers may not even be sure they are interacting with an automated entity.

But while AI continues to provide increasingly beneficial results in the contact center environment and to grow in its capabilities to emulate human behavior, it is not yet the be-all, end-all technology that can resolve every issue. In some instances, the AI system simply can’t process the information that customers supply, leaving them ensnared in a loop of repetitive responses….and the resultant frustration can have immediate and serious consequences. NICE inContact’s 2018 CX Transformation Benchmark, revealed that only 33% of consumers found that chatbots and VAs consistently made it easier to get their issues resolved.

This is precisely why it’s critical to ensure that empathetic human intervention is readily available.

When the human touch is needed, it must be prompt, proactive, professional and above all, responsive to the customer’s needs. While many contact centers are increasing their reliance on AI solutions to reduce headcount and deliver rapid ROI on their technology expenditure, they are also learning that not having enough caring flesh-and-blood agents ready to complement their electronic counterparts can result in diminished loyalty and customer churn. Establishing the right balance between an effective, continuously updated AI program and humans who can seamlessly step in at just the right moment is a necessity in an environment where customer satisfaction has become the most significant business differentiator.

Having the capacity to train an AI system to determine the exact point in a conversation on any touch point where the customer needs to be handed off to a live agent is the most important factor in the process. Analytics plays a key role: data gathered within each individual interaction can provide a treasure trove of relevant information enabling managers to better understand what sets a customer on edge, what makes them feel more comfortable in a conversation that is not going well and what can ultimately drive them to take their business elsewhere. Having the right intelligence readily available also enables management to also pinpoint necessary adjustments in policy, procedure or verbiage.

Of course, as AI increases in intelligence through machine learning, it can also provide additional value-added suggestions such as which department is best equipped to assist customers based on analysis of their specific needs. Leading-edge AI solutions can pair such customers with an individual agent with the right skill set to guide them to successful resolution of their issue.

Companies investigating either implementing or upgrading an AI customer service solution need to develop a strategy that offers optimal potential to enhance customer relationships and improve the quality of interactions on all touch points. In addition, they must explore ways to strengthen collaboration between self-service entities and live agents.

On Thursday, October 3rd at 1:00 PM ET, CrmXchange will present a Best Practices Roundtable on Seamless Customer Experience: Combining AI VA with Live Agents, featuring experts from leading solution providers NICE inContact and Verint. Among the topics discussed will be:

  • Current AI adoption trends: how to get the most of early AI investments
  • How is AI impacting customer service today and what’s ahead in the future?
  • Where AI can add the greatest benefits
  • How to define and implement the right mix of automation and human touch—without damaging consumer trust and undermining relationships in the process of digitization.

This informative roundtable webcast is complimentary and those unable to attend it live can download it approximately 24 hours after it is completed. Register now

It’s So Random: Changing the Culture of ‘Who’s Up Next’ with Intelligent Call Routing

With comprehensive information at everyone’s fingertips, few people now book a hotel room in a far-off location, make a reservation in an unfamiliar restaurant or hire an unknown contractor without carefully reviewing all relevant feedback. For the most part, businesses are even more cautious about making moves, industriously uncovering everything about prospective employees during the hiring process, and thoroughly investigating every angle of any potential partnership, investment strategy or technology purchase.

Yet, with all the rich data resources available to them, most organizations leave one crucial business process almost entirely to chance: which front-line representative takes the lead in customer interactions. Startlingly, 95 – 99% of companies still randomly route customer calls to the next available agent. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Intelligent routing systems—with the capability to identify the caller and the reason for the call to assign the customer to the agent best skilled to handle the specific inquiry— have been around for years and are constantly becoming more efficient and affordable.

Rather than adhering to the circuitous procedure of using interactive voice recording (IVR) to send the customer to the most appropriate department or to an initial operator who will forward the call, intelligent call routing totally streamlines the process. It taps directly into customer records to retrieve information about the caller based on previous interactions and instantly directs the call to whom it judges to be the most qualified agent to handle the issue. In making split-second routing determinations, such systems not only take into account an agent’s track record, training and skills, but also consider caller priority, long-term customer value and more. Sometimes, the best responder for a specific call may already be engaged in another ongoing conversation that started only a few minutes earlier. Depending on how long the caller may have to wait, how wait time impacts that individual’s satisfaction and the skill level of others available, intelligent call routing decides to either have the caller wait or assign them to the next best agent.

With the increasing volume of available data on customer history and improved knowledge of agent capabilities, the traditional legacy routing strategy is evolving to become more intelligent, personalized, and able to effect specific improvements in a company’s metrics. Integrations now enable the use of data gleaned from previous interactions to provide insight into a customer’s personality and behavioral characteristics. By applying this knowledge, companies can gauge their customer’s communication preferences–intelligent routing can go beyond calls, helping to shape better outcomes on email, chat or messaging channels– and deliver the optimal experience.

Learn how your company can use this vital and improving technology to both reduce customer effort and create more personalized connections. Listen to a complimentary webcast “How Intelligent Call Routing Can Deliver Business Results,” presented by NICE Nexidia.

70% of U.S. Employees Hold Positive View of Artificial Intelligence in the Workplace Today

Despite recent doom-and-gloom anecdotal reporting, a nationwide survey of 1,001 workers in the United States (U.S.) finds that 70% have an upbeat attitude toward new workplace technologies involving artificial intelligence (AI), such as chatbots, robots and augmented reality. Only 5% say they dislike new technology for putting their jobs at risk today. In fact, 32% of U.S. respondents feel AI will have a positive impact on their job in the next five years, increasing from 26% today. Just 19% of those surveyed express fear that AI/bots could swallow their jobs within the next decade.

These findings stem from new research by Genesys® (www.genesys.com) into the attitudes of employed Americans regarding the rising adoption of AI in the workplace. Genesys conducted an identical survey in six countries — the U.S., Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand — for a total of 4,207 participants.

The picture isn’t all rosy, however. While 75% of Americans surveyed say they are “rarely” or “never” threatened by new technology at work, one quarter do feel unsettled by it. Happily, only 4% “always” feel threatened. This is fairly similar to respondents in Germany, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, but in Japan that figure jumps to 12%.

Is AI a Friend or Future “Frenemy”?

While 52% of U.S. workers surveyed say AI has not yet affected their jobs, that number falls to 29% when asked about a five-year timeframe, with expectations for an increase in both positive and negative effects. Part of the reason for the low percentage of AI’s current impact? It’s not as ubiquitous in the workplace as many people would believe. Among U.S. respondents, 68% say they are not yet using tools that leverage AI; surprisingly, there is not a noteworthy difference between large and small companies.

Survey results also shed light on AI’s influence on employee social interaction, ethics and upskilling, with worker attitudes varying according to age, company size, job status and job function. The overall impression? Employees have a generally positive view of technology now, but are less certain if technology enabled with AI will be their friendly co-worker in the future, or a “frenemy.”

“The survey findings substantiate a long-held Genesys belief that a blended approach to AI is best in customer contact centers as well as the workplace in general,” said Merijn te Booij, chief marketing officer for Genesys.

“Some jobs will evolve as human work combines with the capabilities of AI. The key for organizations adopting this intelligent technology is to help employees understand its potential to make their jobs more fulfilling by taking the mundane, easily automated tasks off their plates. This opens the door for more employees to apply skills AI just can’t replace – like creativity, leadership and empathy.”

Considering 27% of Americans say they simply cannot predict the impact of AI on their jobs five years down the road, and only half feel they have the skills to compete effectively, it’s increasingly important for companies to closely monitor the pace of AI adoption and employee training programs to address it.

A few additional U.S. findings related to overall attitudes toward AI include:

  • Two-thirds (66%) of the U.S. cohort say technology makes them more efficient in their jobs. This response is exactly the same across the three age ranges surveyed.
  • 8% of U.S. employees say they dislike new workplace technology such as AI and bots because it takes away their easy tasks.
  • More part-time U.S. employees (25%) fear AI will take their jobs within 10 years than do full-time workers (18%).
  • Surprisingly, exactly twice as many (26%) of the U.S. employees in the youngest cohort (ages 18-38) fear replacement by AI within the next decade as do their over-55 co-workers (13%).
  • Nearly 70% of U.S. employees trust their employers to use AI in an ethical way.

Survey Methodology and Participants

Within the U.S., a total of 1,001 adults completed the online survey in April. Respondents were evenly divided into three age ranges: 18-38, 39-54, 55-73, with women accounting for 65% and men 35%; less than 1% did not categorize by gender.

Approximately 80% of those surveyed have full-time employee status with the remaining 20% working part-time. Respondents came from seven categories of company sizes, with a total of 42% employed in companies of fewer than 250 employees.

While U.S. survey respondents work in a wide variety of industries, 77% fell into one of 11 functional job categories: Administrative, Assembly Line/Manufacturing, Customer Service/Retail, Doctor/Nurse/Caregiver, Education/Training, Finance/Accounting, Food Service, Human Resources, Marketing/Inside Sales, Media, and Driver/Transportation Provider. The remaining 23% fell into an “Other” job category.

For a copy of the full survey data, please contact genesys@sterlingpr.com

CX Transformation Benchmark Study from NICE inContact

The 2019 NICE inContact Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark gauges the changing attitudes of business contact center leaders and consumers in key areas of customer experience. The report compares global findings to the 2018 consumer wave of the study, and includes year-over-year findings for the US. Results reveal that businesses are confident in artificial intelligence’s (AI’s) role in delivering exceptional customer service experiences, but they overrate their own CX performance. Compared to consumers, businesses overreach when estimating their own net promoter scores (NPS), overrate their own CX success, and underperform when it comes to delivering seamless omnichannel experiences.

The results reveal that businesses are confident in artificial intelligence’s (AI’s) role in delivering exceptional customer service experiences, but they overrate their own CX performance. A few of the core findings from NICE inContact’s CX Transformation Benchmark include:

  1. Significantly more US businesses now offer automated assistants / chatbots online, at 54% compared to 44% the prior year.
  2. 63% of contact center leaders agree that chatbots and virtual assistants make it easier for consumers to get their issues resolved
  3. While 93% of businesses agree that consumers expect companies to provide a seamless experience when moving between channels, only 24% of businesses globally give themselves an excellent rating on allowing consumers to switch seamlessly between methods of communication.

To read more: http://get.niceincontact.com/Q219-CX-Transformation-Benchmark-Business-Wave.html

 

How Robotic Process Automation Makes Contact Centers More Efficient

Automation isn’t new. Technologies like Interactive Voice Response have been around for a long time. But while advancements like these have reduced costs for the contact center, they’ve also managed to annoy customers. In the case of IVR, callers often get stuck in menu loops or struggle with systems that don’t understand what they’re saying. Enter robotic process automation.

Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence

Contact centers are in the business of serving the customer, and in an effort to improve the customer experience, technologies are always emerging. Robotic process automation (RPA) is one of them, automating tasks and freeing up agents to personally handle complex issues. RPA uses Natural Language Processing, which is related to artificial intelligence, an even more advanced type of automation that can make human-like judgments about tasks.

Interactive Text Response for Customer Service

Interactive Text Response (ITR), more casually referred to as chatbots, goes hand-in-hand with the increasing popularity of messaging apps. Brands that want to improve the customer experience are making themselves available on chat – and it’s working. More than 70% of 1-800-Flowers’ chatbot orders come from first-time customers, and the company’s commitment to new tech has attracted tens of thousands of users. Chatbots are more effective than IVR because text input is easier for the system to understand than spoken language. AI can then be used to gain a deeper understanding of what the customer is saying, accounting for the different ways a customer may phrase a sentence or question.

Sample Phone Call with RPA

RPA can also be used with phone calls, not just chatbots. Here’s an example of how RPA can help with a live call:

  • Jane calls to speak with an agent.
  • Your RPA takes the call and authenticates Jane by confirming her account number and call-in PIN.
  • Your RPA analyzes Jane’s account and sees that she has an open ticket and that she’s just been on the website to look at the status.
  • Your RPA says something like, “I see that you have an open ticket with us. Is that the reason for your call?” Jane confirms that this is the reason for the call.
  • Jane is transferred to an appropriate live agent.

Contact center technology like RPA can help customers solve their issues more quickly, but it can also provide much-needed support to agents by making them more efficient.

5 Strategies for an Enhanced Customer Experience

Customers don’t hesitate to talk about a negative experience with a brand ­– they tell their friends and, more importantly, post critiques online for the rest of your customers to see. Even one bad experience can spoil a customer to a company forever. Customer experience has to be a top priority for contact centers in order to promote satisfaction and loyalty.

  1. Treat all interactions with the same care.

There isn’t one type of feedback that’s more important than another ­– they’re all valuable and important. If you’re going to have various communication paths set up – Twitter, email surveys, live chat – you need to be available and responsive on all of them with the same amount of attention. Otherwise, consider if that channel is important enough to keep.

  1. Invest in cognitive computing.

Cognitive computing technology takes natural language processing a step further ­– it can tell how a person is feeling by analyzing the sentiment behind what they’re saying. The agent can then adjust their responses in order to improve the customer’s mood to either neutral or happy before the call is over.

  1. Allow all employees to make decisions.

Unless there’s a legitimate reason why an employee can’t resolve a situation on their own, give your agents the power to make key decisions. For example, if discounts or refunds are usually offered to customers who meet certain criteria, allow your agents to present the offer without having to transfer the customer to a supervisor.

  1. Offer excellent advice for the individual customer.

If you have advice to give, give it! The customer experience is largely based on building relationships. Customers will trust you if you give them valuable advice even when it’s not directly promoting one of your products or services. Creating a loyal customer can be more important than getting another sale right this second.

  1. Make self-service obvious and easy.

You can build a solid relationship with a customer without speaking with them one-on-one. Remember, the company overall is developing the relationship; the relationship isn’t between the agent and the customer, necessarily. Many customers want the option of self-service. Knowing they can accomplish a task on their own can boost the sentiment they have for your company.

When you put customers at the center of your business goals, you’ll be in a better position to deliver the quality experiences they demand.

How Desktop Automation Improves Agent Performance

Desktop automation has a major impact on the customer service industry. Contact center agents use automation to finish tasks faster and quickly access data, which leaves plenty of energy for delighting customers and providing top notch service.

How Desktop Automation Tools Work

  • Hotkeys or triggers immediately start a specific workflow on the computer. By triggering a workflow with just one click, agents save a lot of time that used to be spent on manual processes.
  • Desktop automation software usually comes with standard workflows that you can start using right away. You’ll also have the option to customize the workflows or create brand new ones.
  • Different apps trigger different actions based on how the customer interacts with it, all without requiring the agent to be logged in at the moment.

Sample Desktop Automation Workflow

Step 1: Software identifies and authenticates the customer.

Step 2: A live agent listens to the customer and then determines that they need to provide more information.

Step 3: The software collects the additional data.

Step 4: The live agent reconnects with the customer to verify that the information has been received and to finalize the conversation.

This may sound clunky if you think of it in terms of a calling customer ­– transferring a customer back and forth between a computer system and an agent is frustrating. However, if it’s happening on live chat, the customer probably won’t realize when they’re speaking with a chatbot as opposed to a real agent.

Benefits of Desktop Automation

  • Desktop automation puts robots next to agents so they can carry out simpler tasks. The robots are unobtrusive – they’re a tool for the agents, not something that gets in the way.
  • Automation tools also handle the tasks that are more prone to errors when in the hands of live agents.
  • Desktop automation tools don’t get tired. They’ll continue making the same decisions no matter how long they’ve been working. Agents are then free to connect on an emotional level with customers and they’ll have the energy needed to do so.

Contact center systems can be complex, with multiple applications for different needs. This is why so many contact centers are streamlining operations with desktop automation. Existing applications can be combined into one user-friendly platform to ease workflows and automate tasks. Agents no longer have to spend time on data entry or get stuck navigating complex systems.

5 Ways to Use AI in the Contact Center

Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t about replacing live, human agents with robots; it’s about supporting the agent by handling more routine issues so customers can get live help for their complex issues.

Here are 5 ways contact centers can use AI.1. Replace simple IVR processes.

1. Replace simple IVR processes. Basic IVR can do something like transfer a call to the sales department. AI takes this several steps further thanks to machine learning and natural language processing, allowing it to understand what the customer is saying (as opposed to just giving the customer a string of choices). AI can get rid of annoying queues and “If A, then B” action sequences and replace them with smarter, more human interactions.

2. Act as an agent assistant. AI can function as an assistant by sitting on the desktop, collecting customer info via a bot that’s currently serving the customer, then alerting the agent about what their next steps should be. This goes back to the overall purpose of AI to help the agent perform better and to work smarter instead of harder.

3. Be part of the quality assurance team. AI solutions can analyze agent and customer conversations and give live feedback to team leaders and QA teams about both what is being said and how it’s being said. AI listens and interprets more than just words  it can also ascertain stress level and clarity of speech.

4. Help stabilize workforce management.AI can not only predict upcoming spikes in communication based on data but it can also recruit agents to fill in the gaps in the schedule. Also, since AI can handle a number of more basic customer needs on its own, it reduces the number of employees needed at any one time and levels out major peaks and valleys.

5. Improve the customer experience. AI can analyze the customer journey to determine where the hottest touchpoints are as well as different areas for improvement. It can also understand customer patterns and predict experiences in order to deliver an excellent experience before the customer even realizes what they need next. AI is finding its way into all sorts of brands, organizations and business processes. One of the places where it’s making the most impact is in the contact center. Managers are using AI to create better experiences for everyone, from agents and supervisors to the customers themselves.

4 Uses of AI in the Contact Center

Artificial intelligence (AI) has multiple uses across the modern contact center. While some people mistakenly believe that robots are going to replace live support agents, the truth is that AI in the contact center actually helps customer service agents perform their job better. Here’s how.

  1. Data capturing during customer interaction.

There’s a lot of data to be captured during every interaction. AI can be used to capture this data and then feed it into the contact center’s analytics system. With features like sentiment analysis, AI can also be used to spot certain emotions, like anger or dissatisfaction, which can then escalate the issue to be handled by a live agent.

  1. Management of customer data.

Capturing all of that customer data is just the first step to actually understanding it. Data has to be analyzed and leveraged in order to actually improve the customer experience. AI can help with this by capturing and cross-referencing data, then sharing it across different channels and platforms. This way, the customer won’t have to repeat their details every single time they contact customer service, and they won’t receive offers or messages that don’t truly relate to them.

  1. Smart replacement of IVR processes.

A contact center’s IVR system will have a set of pre-defined rules to follow. These rules are generally simplistic – for example, the IVR system may transfer a sales call to the sales department. AI can take this several steps further by using natural language processing and machine learning to understand customer statements instead of just giving them a set menu of choices.

  1. Directing customers to different areas of the website.

Many customer requests can be handled simply by pointing the customer to a specific area of the website. For example, a customer may be able to get information about their account or recent payment by viewing their account information, eliminating the need to speak with a live agent. Customers can also engage in self-service by finding the answer to their FAQ. A virtual assistant can direct the customer to the right section of the website, freeing up live agents to handle more pressing issues.

There’s always going to be a need for live, human interaction. In order for contact center agents to deliver the best, most personalized support possible, AI tackles easier-to-handle customer queries, speeding up the process on both ends.

5 Trends in the Customer Service Industry

Every year sees new changes to the customer service industry, and 2018 has been no different. This year, the focus has been on improving customer service in order to meet growing expectations. Here are 5 trends that are influencing the industry right now, and they’ll likely continue – and be built upon – in 2019.

  1. Chatbots are providing customer care.

According to IBM, by the year 2020 as much as 85% of customer interactions will not be handled by a human. For the contact center, this means making sure chatbots are providing a great experience for the customer – poor technology or chatbots that are used incorrectly can seriously impact your bottom line.

  1. Cloud-based customer service software is the norm.

Contact centers that rely on cloud-based solutions can have remote agents located around the world. This means that different time zones and extended hours can be covered, offering customer service practically any time and from anywhere. This software can give a complete history of customer interaction, including past communication and notes that agents make about a customer.

  1. Success of the team has become a priority.

If individuals can provide great service, then teams of excellent agents can do even more. Teammate success is now a priority and contact centers are investing more in educating and training their teams. One way of making customer service teams more successful is by hiring agile agents who can handle more than one type of job.

  1. Increased reliance on self-service.

Self-service has been trending for a long time, but now companies are taking self-service to the next level by personalizing it. For example, customers may be shown only certain self-service options based on the products or services they have. This means that customers can get quicker access to the information they need without having to weed through an entire knowledge base.

  1. Software will seamlessly integrate.

Contact center technology systems are a big expense and they carry out integral jobs, like analyzing data and storing all sorts of customer information. Since software is so essential to the contact center, it’s important for different software and tools to integrate with one another. We’ll continue to see software that’s specifically designed to work seamlessly with complementary software so that you can piece together the best system for your contact center.

Have you noticed trends in the customer service world? Tell us about them in the comments.