Virtual Agents

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.

Customer Journey KPIs Every Contact Center Should Track

 

The customer journey can be a difficult thing to map and understand. With so many touchpoints along the journey, the map isn’t predictable and linear, yet it’s still necessary to monitor and analyze. These Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will help you gain insight from the customer journey and move on to improve it.

Customer Effort Score (CES)

Even if a customer prefers self-service to live agent support, they don’t necessarily want to put a ton of effort into solving their own issue. Self-service shouldn’t be a difficult-to-implement alternative to normal customer support. Instead, it should meet the needs of the type of customer who seeks out self-service via quick, easy-to-find answers and the ability to make changes sans agent assistance.

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)

Some of the most important customer journey touchpoints will occur when the customer interacts with a support agent. CSAT is the measure of the customer’s satisfaction before, during and after they contact customer service. If CSAT scores are dropping, it may be time to look closely at agent productivity, ticket management and self-service options.

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

The NPS will tell you if your customers are going to recommend your products and services to others. You have to go deeper here, though – why will your customers recommend your products and services, or what it is that’s keeping them from doing so?

Customer Churn / Retention Rate

Customer support teams for subscription-based products and services have to pay special attention to retention rate. If you see a lot of customers leaving around renewal time, it’s necessary to figure out why you lost them. What part of the customer journey is causing customers to change their mind? There’s a snag somewhere.

Customer Success

Customer Success isn’t a single KPI, but instead a customized KPI program based on your specific business, customers and goals. A Customer Success strategy may include Up- and Cross-Sell Rates; Average Revenue per Customer; or Rate of Adoption, which starts with defining beginner, intermediate and advanced customers or users. You may also want to include Retention Rate, NPS and CES in your customer success KPIs. Think of Customer Success as an overarching customer journey strategy based on what success means for you.

Customer journey KPIs may be difficult to track, but they come with a big benefit – often, improving one will have a positive impact on another.

4 Best Practices for Your Social Media Customer Service Strategy

The days of wondering whether or not your contact center needs to have a presence on social media are over: the answer is a resounding “yes.” Now, the main questions revolve around how you should be listening and responding. Here are four tips that will help your agents build beneficial relationships with customers through social media.

  1. Use the right platform.

Not all social media platforms are created equal. For example, Instagram and Pinterest are ideal for image-focused brands, like retail shops, while LinkedIn may work better for B2B companies. The ideal social media platform is the one where your target customers are ­– don’t waste time on the others.

  1. Keep track of mentions.

Staying on top of customer needs doesn’t mean staring at your feeds all day long. There are plenty of listening tools out there to help you monitor when your company or product is mentioned online, even if your profile isn’t tagged (which it probably won’t be). Modern contact center software with social media integrations will put these mentions right in your help desk. (P.S. Make sure to monitor for common misspellings, too.)

  1. Respond quickly.

Customers use social media for convenience and speed, and you need agents who can respond quickly. Since social media is based on live feeds, customers have different expectations than with other communication platforms. Whereas a 24-hour response time may be okay for email support, a 30-minute or 60-minute response time is expected on social media. You may need to adjust your scheduling to accommodate for this quick response time, especially during something like a product launch.

  1. Customize your tone.

Tone is important for customer service overall, but with social media it can trickier to (1) figure out the right tone for the situation at hand and (2) fit an appropriate tone into a character limit, like on Twitter. Here are three quick tips for getting the tone just right in-the-moment:

  • If the customer uses a casual tone, like through slang, exclamation points and emoticons, you can reciprocate.
  • If the customer doesn’t seem to be 100% fluent in the language, keep your tone basic and avoid nuances.
  • If the customer is agitated, be more empathetic and apologetic than usual.

 

While social media support is a necessity for contemporary customer service, you can simplify the process by following these basic, tried-and-true tips.

How Bots Help You Learn What Customers Want

There are many reasons why businesses increasingly turn to artificial intelligence (AI) to augment and enhance their customer communications. That everyone else is doing it too isn’t a good enough reason for you to jump on board any ship, so we’ll just tell you why your contact center should be utilizing AI and cognitive technologies: AI can learn exactly what your customers want.

In a typical call, a customer is greeted by an IVR menu that offers that all-too-familiar range of options (e.g., “Press or say 1 for billing… Press or say 2 for support… Press or say 0 to speak to a representative….”). Although efficient for routing callers to appropriate agents and service departments, automated phone menus do little when it comes to learning the true purpose of a call.

In stark contrast, an AI-enabled contact center can ask the customer a direct question (e.g., “How can I help?”) and the customer can blurt out a specific answer (e.g., “My laptop broke.”). There’s no need to offer options and divine why customers called based on their choices or levels of abandonment.

With just the customer’s answer, the AI-driven contact center can zoom in on keywords, gain information about products or services, detect emotional weight and sentiments, perceive subjects of conversation, use natural language understanding, and so forth—all while recording the conversation and storing data.

The same goes for chats and SMS conversations. Chatbots can skip past all the pleasantries and get to the heart of any issue by simply asking, “What do you want?”

The data gathered from that one question is gold. The next time your customers contact you, let them feed you the very information that empowers your business.

Learn more about how AI assistance and bots can transform your contact center practices.

5 Tips to Improve Your Contact Center’s Chat Services

Live chat is an important, useful customer service tool. Having live chat isn’t enough, though – you have to make sure it’s working intuitively and efficiently in order to solve disputes and answer questions as quickly as possible. Here are a few ways you can improve your contact center’s live chat services.

1. Use a pre-chat survey.

A pre-chat survey gathers initial details that will make it easier to help the customer. For example, you can ask for their name, account number, preferred callback number in case you get disconnected and a quick synopsis of their question or problem. Then when a live agent is ready to take the chat, they’ll have those preliminary details at their fingertips.

2. Use a scripted greeting.

Though you want to avoid using too many canned messages, it’s a good idea to have one as your greeting. Customers like to see a chat window pop up immediately. If your agent had to write each greeting personally, there would be too much lag time between when the customer visits the site and when they’re greeted.

3. Introduce yourself by name.

Most customers are going to be savvy enough to know that they’re speaking with computerized messages in the beginning, but once a live agent is on the chat, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself by name. This helps build rapport between the support agent and the customer.

4. Always be honest with the customer.

Even if you can’t tell the customer what they want to hear, you should never lie to them or promise something you can’t deliver. If you’re unsure of an answer or if you don’t have the ability to do something like offer the customer a discount, put them on hold and speak with a supervisor.

5. Remember that the typing indicator is on.

One main reason why people use live chat is because they want swift service. Always remember that the typing indicator is on and that your customer can see when you’re responding to them. While they may not mind if you take a minute or two to type out a full response, they will start to get impatient if they don’t see any response coming through at all.

It’s a good idea to periodically check in with your live chat agents to brainstorm creative ideas that can improve agent-customer interactions.

 

 

4 Trends that Improve the Customer Experience

When customer service teams want to differentiate themselves from the rest, they focus on improving and optimizing the customer experience. Companies are more than willing to go above and beyond for the sake of meeting and exceeding customer expectations. Here are four trends that will help distinguish your contact center.

Relying on Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere, from video games to the automobile industry. Customer service has been impacted by the increase in AI, too. This technology can be used to chat with customers about easy-to-solve issues, which frees up live agents for more difficult and complex matters. Automation with AI can reduce customer wait time, interact with customers and collect important data for the contact center to later analyze.

Implementing an Omnichannel Strategy

One major gripe that customers have is repeating themselves to various customer support agents in order to get an answer or have a problem solved. Channel integration isn’t the same as omnichannel service. Today’s companies can’t just respond to a customer, they have to know as much as possible about the customer and their problem beforehand in order to provide customized, relevant support. Customer service requires empathy and a human touch in order to connect meaningfully to the customer.

Analyzing Big Data

While much of the customer experience is about interaction and communication, big data still has a pertinent place in understanding customer behavior. Big data can actually help the contact center connect on a more personal level with customers. There’s so much information that can be tracked now, from customer behavior at every point of the journey to customer preferences regarding any number of attributes. Data helps customer support do things like figure out what a customer is going to want before they even ask for it and determine the best way to reach a customer on the channel of their choice.

Providing Real-Time Communication

Using things like AI, which can automate several processes, and ominchannel strategies, which can cut down on the length of time it takes to solve a problem, gives customer support agents the extra time to handle some queries personally. Real-time communication, specifically via mobile and social media, is in demand, especially by younger generations who are used to communicating in these ways. Being able to provide immediate support improves the customer experience and builds trust in customers.

Live Chat vs. Virtual Agents: A Story of Overcoming the Divide to Work Together in Perfect Harmony

live chat vs virtual agent

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

In the not too distant past it wasn’t uncommon to come across organisations struggling to decide between using live chat or a virtual agent on their website for customer support. The customer service marketplace took a very polarised view of these technologies with proponents of each making strong arguments for why their preferred solution was the best for cutting costs, boosting revenue and bettering the customer experience. Even today, some companies still view this as an either-or decision: either they give customers the option to get support online from human chat agents through live chat or they provide a virtual agent so that customers can self-serve online through automated chat.

However, this view is changing and the divide created by the live chat vs. virtual agent debate is disappearing into a discussion of how to bring these two technologies together to work in perfect harmony. Before going any further, let’s take a quick look at each of these solutions individually:

Live Chat – Live chat, also sometimes referred to as web chat, enables organisations to offer customers and prospective customers a one-on-one conversation with a live chat agent. Initially live chat was just used on websites, but now it is also utilised on other engagement channels such as messaging apps and SMS. In the past, supporters of this technology would often highlight the importance of the human touch provided by live chat as a key argument of its superiority over virtual agents.

Virtual Agents – Over the years these automated conversational systems have been given a variety of names, including virtual agent, chatbot, avatar, virtual customer assistant, bot, virtual assistant and chatterbot. In its infancy this technology was used by organisations as basic FAQ systems on websites, but today’s virtual agents are much more advanced and capable of engaging users in sophisticated natural language conversations across many contact channels. In the live chat vs. virtual agents argument, advocates of virtual agents would draw attention to the significantly lower cost per conversation, consistent responses, the ability to have unlimited concurrent conversations and the 24/7 availability of support.

A view within the marketplace of these two solutions being joined up certainly hasn’t happened overnight. Forward-thinking companies seeing the potential of bringing live chat and virtual agents together have set the stage for this change. For example, back in 2012 Creative Virtual was shortlisted for an Econsultancy Innovation Award in the category of ‘Innovation in Customer & User Experience’. Our entry showcased the integration of the virtual agent we provided for a leading telecommunications company in the UK with the live chat product offered by one of our partners. The integration provided a seamless handover from the virtual agent to a live chat agent within the same template. This handover was also signalled by the virtual agent avatar ‘walking off’ and a different avatar representing the live agent ‘walking on’. At the time, this was an extremely innovative approach to combining self-service with human-assisted service in a way that created an improved user experience. Around the same time another Creative Virtual customer, an online financial services company in the US, deployed a virtual agent in front of their existing live chat offering. Their goal was to reduce repetitive questions being handled by live agents which they easily achieved through an 80% reduction in live chat volumes.

These are just two early success stories that helped to draw attention to the potential benefits of bringing these technologies together. This narrative has also been greatly influenced by the evolution of customer expectations. While customers were once ok with simply having the options to communicate with organisations via multiple channels, now they still want those engagement channel options but with a seamless, omnichannel experience.

Widespread adoption of technology, such as smartphones, along with generational changes are having a big impact on how customers want to engage with brands. The future of the contact centre lies in a combination of virtual and real support. Organisations still viewing live chat and virtual agents as an either-or decision and as stand-alone tools instead of as complementary solutions are going to struggle to provide quality digital support experiences for their customers.

In order for live chat and virtual agents to work together in harmony, they need to be powered by a single knowledgebase and backed by a central knowledge management and workflow platform. This gives organisations the ability to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels which builds confidence with customers. Implementing a feedback loop that’s linked with the centralised knowledgebase and workflow enables live agents to provide real-time feedback on content that can easily be reviewed and used to action updates. Live chat agents become knowledge experts sharing the responsibility of keeping self-service channels up-to-date.

There is no doubt in my mind that the future of customer engagement is a blend of artificial intelligence (AI) and human thought. The combination of virtual agents and live chat powered by a single knowledgebase is defining current best practices and, with continuous innovation, will influence the future of customer engagement for organisations around the world.

Curious about how live chat and virtual agents can work together in perfect harmony for your organisation? Register to join me for CRMXchange’s upcoming Tech Tank – Customer Delight: Live Demonstrations of Breakthrough Innovations.

5 Tips for Improving Your Contact Center’s Virtual Agent

The brand-customer relationship has evolved to now include self-service support and today’s consumers expect it to be available and personalized. The virtual agent (VA) is a form of self-service that allows the customer to interact with an automated system, albeit one that simulates human interaction. Improving your contact center’s VA system will enhance the customer experience.

1. The VA are available around-the-clock. One of self-service’s benefits is that it lets customers find and digest information on their own time and at their own pace. If the customer has a complex issue – which modern VA systems are able to handle – they can sit down to deal with it when they’re best able to.

2. During normal hours when live staff is available, offer the customer the opportunity to speak with a live agent. They should be able to either connect to a live agent in the moment or request a call back instead of having to wait in the queue.

3. Don’t simply send the customer to a list of FAQ based on their keywords. Intelligent VAs can do so much more than crawl for SEO – they can analyze phrasing to truly understand what the customer wants and respond accordingly.

4. Invest in the latest technology. Not every VA will remember personal details about a customer, but companies are coming out with new intelligent assistants that are on the same level as technology like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Over time, these systems learn customer preferences and continually customize services to meet each customer’s needs.

5. Self-service should always be easy to find and use. For on-site virtual agents, like through live chats, the option should be on every page. When it comes to IVR, menu options should be clear and limited. If you find that people are quickly going from self-service to live support, reassess the self-service options you’re offering.

VAs provide an alternative, helpful service for customers that also lowers the operating cost of the contact center. When a customer can’t or won’t troubleshoot on their own, they turn to channels where they can have their questions answered quickly. Usually, that means interaction with a live agent. With a VA, though, the customer can access the information they need immediately, without waiting on hold for any length of time.