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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.

 

The Importance of Chatbots for Customer Service

Consumers are getting increasingly comfortable interacting online with artificial intelligence.  As a result, more and more brands are using chatbots and, furthermore, chatbot technology is evolving. According to Adweek, it’s possible that a majority of customer service queries will be answered by chatbots instead of humans by the end of the year.

Big companies see the value in chatbots: Facebook now allows for Messenger to work with third-party chatbots and Microsoft’s Bot Framework is a tool for building chatbots. Retailers, customer service departments and contact centers all recognize the importance of chatbots and must keep up with emerging technology to ensure their AI is as up-to-date as possible.

Chatbots seem to be most effective when combined with social messaging, where many of today’s consumers are spending their time, even more so than on social media itself. Additionally, young consumers prefer text and messaging for communication, which makes chatbots even more appealing. The key is to present them with interactive chat where they already are – on the social media or social messaging applications they’re already using. Customers are hesitant to download and learn new applications when they already have their preferred messaging apps.

What exactly do customers want from chatbots, other than accessibility? Chatbots Magazine published the results of a Bentley University study on the topic and found the following:

· Face or icon for the chatbot.
· Single search bar where all questions can be asked.
· Single chatbot instead of one for each department.
· Comprehension even if a question is asked in a “lazy” way.
· Simplistic speech that is still highly useful.
· Anticipation of what the customer’s next question will be.
· Patience no matter how complex the query is.

It’s expected that a growing number of brands will build their own chatbots to ease the burden of customer service on their live agents. Social messaging is expected to continue growing, too, which will make those new chatbots even more prevalent in daily customer-company communication.

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.