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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

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.

4 Contact Center Technology Trends to Pay Attention To

Knowing the tech trends that have been overtaking the market is different from actually making moves to adopt those trends. Don’t be like so many other contact centers out there that lag behind when it comes to customer expectations and contact center trends. Instead, stay on top of the newest technologies and solutions to improve the customer experience now and in the future.

Here are 4 contact center trends to know now and as you move into the new year.

  1. Migration to the cloud.

The cloud itself isn’t a new technology, but more and more contact centers are realizing the importance of migrating their system to the cloud. If you stick with your on-premise contact center system, you’ll limit your ability to manage several locations and to add more communication channels.

  1. Full adoption of omnichannel.

Just like with the cloud, omnichannel isn’t exactly a new idea, but now contact centers are actually taking the steps to make it a reality (instead of just educating themselves about its benefits). The silos that exist between billing, customer service and support have to be broken down, as do the separations between your assisted service and self-service channels. Slowly rolling out omnichannel solutions only keeps data siloed (and customers annoyed) for longer; instead, find the right technology that will let you marry all of your channels at the same time.

  1. Smarter IVR solutions.

IVR is one of those technologies that’s always seeing new innovations and improvements. These include:

  • Better personalization based on context to resolve more issues within the IVR
  • Identifying customers from caller ID to reduce the number of necessary identification steps
  • Speech recognition to determine level of stress beyond curse word cues
  1. Better testing methods for chat bots.

Chat bots are now being used by contact centers for first line interactions, which means you also need more advanced ways of measuring outcomes. A/B testing, which has traditionally been used just with digital marketing, is now used to optimize chat bots so they can continue to offer more advanced support.

By combining a willingness to be adaptable with a culture of constant improvement, your contact center can continue to keep up with technology changes, now and in the future. You’ll also set yourself up as a strong competitor in the industry while retaining both your workforce and your customer base.

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.

New Research Finds Only 12.5% of US Consumers Actually Hate Chatbots

A nationwide survey conducted in August finds that 94% of U.S. respondents considered their last customer experience positive – although they note there is still room for improvement on the margins. While high-profile customer service blunders by major companies gobble media attention, new research from Genesys challenges the notion that companies aren’t in touch with consumers and provides insight into how businesses can adapt their support options to meet evolving preferences.

Human Touch and Digital Channels Rank High

The survey bolsters conventional wisdom that consumers perceive the best and most effective customer service happens when a human is involved (75%). But almost equally, 76% of respondents want the option to access digital support channels when they choose.

When asked about the most irritating issue in customer service, only 12.5% of consumers cited speaking with a bot. A bigger frustration noted (for nearly 27%) is not being able to talk to a live agent when they want.

However, these were not the biggest customer service annoyances reported by consumers – out of the twelve options provided, the top three pain points selected by respondents are being put on hold (42%), being given incorrect information (37%), and being given too many automated options before reaching an agent OR resolving their issue (36%).

Automation, AI and Live Support Key to the Customers Desire for Fast, Frictionless Service

Genesys Chief Marketing Officer, Merijn te Booij said, “It’s straightforward – the results of the survey indicate consumers want a blended approach – they want the rapid access to a business that digital channels can provide combined with the human touch when they want it.”

Consumers put a timely response (64%) and knowledgeable agents (55%) at the top of their list for the type of customer experiences they value the most. Concurrently, 67% of respondents say it’s very important companies quickly route queries to a customer service agent who has background information and understands the customer’s needs.

“It’s clear from the research findings that businesses need to strike the right balance when deploying digital channels, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) in customer experience,” said te Booij. “We think it also means it’s safe to say that the role of humans in customer service isn’t going away anytime soon – unless a business is willing to sacrifice customer satisfaction. However, we do believe AI will continue to change the way humans work and how consumers get service for the better.”

He went on to explain, “Interestingly, businesses can use AI to alleviate consumers’ biggest pain points in service when applied strategically and in concert with human effort. AI really is the key for enabling consumers to have their cake and eat it too — in this case that means fast, efficient, knowledgeable service at the hand of a human or even a bot when they choose.”

Brand Reputation Matters

Today, brands cannot afford to ignore the importance of delivering the type of service consumers want. 72% of U.S. respondents say they have sometimes or always bought something from a business based solely on its reputation for customer service. Further, 89% of respondents have taken action as a direct result of poor customer service. A full 58% say they have switched providers as a result of poor customer service, and 49% say they have never done business with a brand again after a bad experience. Nearly 50% discussed their disappointment face-to-face with family and friends and 24% even spread the word via social media.

Additional Key Findings from the Survey:

  • Keep those phone lines open! While voice is no longer the only game in town, consumers still want the option to call when they need customer service. In fact, 91% of U.S. respondents say it’s important to engage with a business over the phone, with 54% considering it “very” important.
  • Despite an increasing use of social media by businesses as a customer support channel, only 4% of U.S. consumers are fond of interacting with companies that way. Respondents cite discomfort, impersonality, unlikelihood of success and lack of speedy response as barriers.
  • People value good service, with 44% of respondents saying they’re willing to pay more to ensure better service. And yet the main reason to tolerate bad service? 42% polled say it’s related to a low price

Survey Methodology

The nationwide poll includes responses from 1,000 U.S. adults over the age of 18 and was conducted online and by email or text to mobile phones. Two-thirds of respondents were women. Genesys also conducted the same survey of equal pool size in both Germany and the United Kingdom (U.K.).

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.

Elevated CX Is Achieved by Empowering Agents Through Tools and Technology

According to Gallup, highly engaged customer service teams achieve, on average, a 10% increase in customer ratings and a 20% increase in sales. So, it should come as no surprise that three out of five of our top tips for elevating the customer experience in enterprise contact centers are related to agent engagement and empowerment through tools and technology. The following are our five favorite ways to boost agent productivity:

  1. Declutter the agent desktop with an innovative UI.

Provide agents with innovative contact center technology that dynamically selects the most relevant data elements to be shown on the visible part of the desktop. Such technology increases agent efficiency by reducing the time it takes for agents to respond to customer inquiries. Findings in our 2017 trend report show that 40% of the respondents use three or more systems to handle channels in the contact center. Consolidating technologies and information is a great way to empower agents!

  1. Give agents easy-to-use technology for automatic customer recognition.

Having a contact center system that automatically looks up incoming interactions across both internal and external databases to identify customers allows agents to deliver a more personalized response to customers. When your omnichannel system can perform recognition across all channels and federate data from multiple CRMs and applications, agents are truly empowered to solve customer inquiries.

  1. Eliminate mundane transactions with AI and provide agents with AI Assist.

Most industry professionals see adding AI and bots to the contact center as a beneficial strategy for cutting costs and improving the customer experience. There is also evidence that agents feel more engaged when AI and bots are introduced because as bots handle easier transactions, agents are freed to handle the more advanced customer interactions. You can even take this one step further and use your AI to assist agents with intelligent agent reply suggestions.

  1. Automate workflows.

Enterprise process automations allow contact centers to play a larger role in the company. Such automations can be powered by incoming interactions, outbound contact lists, APIs, and a number of triggers, such as customer sentiment, across all channels.

  1. Limit downtime with active-active technology.

Enterprise contact centers can lose thousands in profits when their vendor experiences unexpected downtime. Unique disaster containment is a must in providing top-tier customer support. An active-active approach ensures that all sites of the overall geographically distributed system share the transaction load. If a site fails, the other parts of the system pick up the failed site’s portion of the transactions immediately.

The customer experience and agent empowerment are directly linked. In fact, customer experience leaders have 1.5 times as many engaged employees as do less motivated customer experience providers.

How do you empower your agents?

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.

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.

How to Improve Your Contact Center’s Live Chat Service

There are several different customer service channels available to customers, but the winner always seems to be the one that responds the fastest. Since web chat is both time-sensitive and personal, it’s often a customer’s preferred mode of contact. Here’s how to optimize customer satisfaction using live chat.

Make sure the chat is visible.

There’s a lot of information for visitors to look over when they’re on your website, but the live chat option should be obvious and easy to find. A pop-up window on the bottom of the page lets customers chat while still navigating around the website. Since the window is going to be small, make sure the font is large enough to read.

Only send an invitation if an agent is available.

Offering a live chat option at the right moment is key to engaging the customer at the best time. However, you should never invite the customer to a chat session if there isn’t actually a live agent available. Customers shouldn’t have to wait for help, especially if you reach out to them first.

Go off script.

Even though you want to maintain a certain level of professionalism, live chat conversations can lean toward the friendly and personal. The agent should introduce themselves and refer to the customer by name. Also, it’s okay to go off script if the customer asks detailed questions or if they’re upset and need the agent to show empathy.

Keep chat etiquette in mind.

Even though live chat is on the informal side, agents should still write in complete sentences; pay attention to spelling and grammar; and avoid slang. Paragraphs should be short and digestible, and technical speak should be avoided so that the customer can keep up with the conversation.

Make it quick.

Customers want their issue handled quickly on chat. Agents should make sure to respond swiftly whenever the customer sends a message. Conversation should be limited so that it doesn’t get in the way of solving the problem. Also, if the situation will take too long to troubleshoot on live chat, the customer should be given an alternate solution, like self-service or the number to the right department.

Live chat is helpful for customers who need to multi-task or want to get fast service. In order to deliver the service customers deserve, it’s necessary to know what they expect.