Increasing pressure on Contact Centres

The question of whether Artificial Intelligence (AI) will drive the future of contact centres depends on three factors: geography, talent, and the nature of the business the organisation is in.

Geography itself has a variety of impacts. For instance, in the UK, the impact of Brexit is starting to surface. In an already tight marketplace for talent, Brexit aggravated the skills drain. Fewer people with work rights in the region has led to fewer people being available for work in all industries, including contact centres. Now add to this the high churn in agent workforce numbers (up to 60% in 2018), and you are heading for a perfect storm.

Talent (or lack it) is possibly the most significant factor in bringing Artificial Intelligence into contact centres, In Australia, for example, the talent pool for contact centres is relatively small, thanks to a low population and high salary expectations. Add to this the problem of foreign worker immigration restrictions, and the problem starts compounding. Similar examples can be cited from contact centres in the US, India, and the Philippines: regions that were once a source of cheap talent are becoming more expensive, and the talent market more competitive. The causalities in each region might vary depending on the circumstances, but the end outcome is the same. Contact Centres need talent and talent often runs short.

Last but not least, the business you are in may accelerate the arrive of AI into your contact centres. ‘Business’ in this context can even mean the business of government: call centres operated by the public service. Australia public service is often compelled to keep talent within the country; wages continually increase, but the government of the day is still under pressure to contain costs and deliver a budget surplus. Similar issues can be seen in large, publicly listed companies with large contact centres, and even SMEs without the appetite or ability to scale to demand.

Contact Centres are under pressure to do more with less. Less staff; shrinking budgets; yet more and more people are doing business online – and expecting phone support when things go wrong. Contact Centres are going nowhere, but they need help.

So how can Artificial Intelligence (AI) contribute to solving some of these problems?


Artificial Intelligence as a solution for Contact Centres



Artificial intelligence can help Contact Centres achieve three key goals: reduced costs, increase customer satisfaction, and better talent retention.

AI can help ease the workload on every call centre agent’s shoulders and can supply information that agents need. When an agent opens an email, for instance, AI can anticipate what information is required from the intranet and put it in front of the agent, when they need it. This makes the daily working life of the agent much easier. When agents don’t need to scramble for information at the point of customer contact their job satisfaction improves. Rather, relevant information is served just in time, thus allowing for more satisfied customers and happier contact centre employees. Advanced AI and Machine Learning tools enable management, too, by detecting problem callers, providing insights into workforce management, and allowing faster, deeper analytics.


Contact Centres are evolving…


Contact centres are transforming from mere call centres that aim to resolve customer inquiries at the lowest cost, to Customer Experience (CX) centres that put CX first. CX centres aim to drive customer loyalty and build an ongoing relationship with the customer. Organisations understand that it is more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain one. Investments made in improving the customer experience are worthy investments. However, the expectations of today’s customers, and their needs, are constantly changing. Customers expect the best service in the least possible time. This introduces challenges to the contact centre landscape. For a contact centre to take the journey from merely being a call centre to an effective and efficient CX centre is fraught with various challenges.


The change in customer expectations



According to Verint Systems, a global leader in Actionable Intelligence Solutions, customer retention and customer loyalty are on the decline, globally. Research Verint conducted shows that only 44% of customers have stayed with their service provider for at least three years. This is a reduction of 39% since 2015!

We live in an ultra-connected world. Customers are more connected; to each other, to businesses and to information. They rely incrementally on technology with each passing year. It has changed the landscape of customer expectations. They demand convenience in the ways they interact, both at work and at home. 

The business environment today is an always-on environment. Social media, AI as well as chatbots make 24×7 communications between customers and contact centres a plausibility. Yet the landscape is a tough one to gain and maintain customer loyalty. Further insight from the Verint research surmises that demand for interactions via mobile has risen by 57% and video chat by 50%. A surprising insight from the research suggests that people between the ages of 18 and 34 are less likely to use self-service. This is contrary to the expectation that younger customers will always choose technology first. According to Verint, companies need to find the right balance between the always-on concept and human interaction customers demand.


The AI Opportunity


Although the moniker suggests it, there is nothing ‘artificial’ about Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI encompasses emotional intelligence, machine learning, a system of interconnected cognoscenti and customer analytics amongst a host of other technical capabilities. All of these combine to deliver predictable customer interactions most effectively while reducing expensive human interaction. AI can, in many instances, provide automated responses to queries, given that it can access a knowledge library and use machine learning. It can do it more effectively and cheaper than a human.

According to Avaya, experts in business communication technologies, customers require increased, more contextual, end-to-end service experiences. Businesses must cater in lieu should they wish to gain loyalty and provide improved customer satisfaction. Organisations serve to benefit from improved business processes, conversion rates and agent satisfaction, in the way of increased profitability.


A practical example


Imagine this scenario…

  • A contact centre receives an incoming call.
  • Instead of the call being received by a human Agent, it is received by an AI service app.
  • The AI app lines up relevant information on a visual dashboard for the customer.
  • The AI app is extracting information real time from internal and external sources like databases, CRM, demo- and psychographics and is serving it in a visual dashboard that is tailored to the customer’s visual preferences.
  • Based on the customer’s history and relevant information, AI analyses past consumer behaviour and responds to the customer’s queries in a highly effective and efficient manner.
  • The customer now has deeper questions and would like to progress the call.
  • The AI app then pairs the customer up with the most appropriate subject matter expert within the organisation and lines up the necessary information for the human agent so that the human agent can take the call further without the need for repetition by the customer.
  • The AI app also provides the human agent with a summary of whether the client is likely to buy or churn.
  • The call is answered with the human agent saying “Hello.”
  • While on the call, the agent can receive relevant information that allows the agent to answer queries quickly. The customer has an improved experience, and the agent has more job satisfaction. Everybody wins.

The benefits don’t stop there. After every customer contact and each interaction, AI can provide productivity improvements. It can help management improve performance and customer satisfaction with complete visibility of calls. Compliance improves because all conversations are recorded and transcribed. Managers know exactly what was said and when it was said, delivering supervision on demand.


AI challenges


Consumers are looking for a seamless, effective and efficient experience. AI can deliver this when deployed aptly. However, with where we are in our evolutionary cycle, there is still a place for the human voice and human interaction in contact centres. Especially when the query is complex, requires empathy or when the customer isn’t familiar with technology or won’t accept it, the human engagement becomes obligatory.

Customer contact centres and customer service must not be perceived in isolation. A brand that promises the human touch and claims to understand customers at a deeper level must be very careful when implementing AI.

Ask yourself, “What will we lose if we sacrifice personal attention and human touch?” You need to take the importance of customer retention and the lifetime value of your customer into account to map out an extensive plan to integrate AI and humans. The exchange between virtual and live agents to deliver a smooth customer experience, must be seamless.


Will AI replace human agents?



At least in the foreseeable future, the answer is – ‘no’. People want to talk to people. It is essential to understand when it is appropriate to replace humans with technology, in entirety. Organisations must balance the advantages AI with personalisation that can only be delivered by humans. Technology is undoubtedly going to improve various aspects of call centres. AI solutions must be built with the lens of assisting human agents, rather than replacing them.


A deeper dive into AI assisted solutions in contact centres


Virtual Customer Assistants (VCAs) and chatbots reduce the burden on agents

According to Gartner, less than 2% of customer service operations used chatbots or VCAs in calendar year 2018. This number is expected to increase by 25% this year. Companies using VCAs have reported a 70% reduction in call, chat and email queries.

Organizations are also realising that their customers are more satisfied, and they are saving significantly on voice-based engagement. The stats are impressive and show that AI can go a long way to alleviate the burden on contact centres. It does not mean that VCAs and chatbots will replace front line teams. Specific queries are better resolved by people, especially when they are detailed and nuanced. Chatbots, on the other hand, are more appropriate for more predictable tasks.


Real time customer analytics increases CX

The investment on real-time customer analytics solutions in contact centres is increasing. A study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, SAS, Intel and Accenture Applied Intelligence found that 70% of enterprises have increased their spend on real-time customer analytics solutions. As a result of this investment, 58% of enterprises have seen a significant increase in customer retention and loyalty.

Analytics plays a significant role in the personalisation of customer experience. In a recent article by Forbes, 60% of enterprise business leaders say customer analytics is of the utmost importance. It is predicted to jump to 79% by 2020 with a critical focus on personalisation at scale. Organisations that use unified communication solutions (UC) in contact centres are starting to focus on customer communications. The insights will help them understand the customer journey and experience better, thus allowing them to refine their play and deliver a superior CX.

Gartner further predicts AI will manage 85% of customer interactions by 2020. This demonstrates the pivotal role that AI will play in the CX landscape. The most significant use case is AI’s ability to provide human contact centre agents with relevant, real-time insights into the conversation they are busy having at the time.


Tone analysis provides real-time insight

Tone analysis technology is an AI solution that can contribute vastly to personalise the customer experience, hence enhance it. Tone analysis alerts the centre agent to their tone of voice. It applies to both voice and web chat/SMS conversations. The agent can then adjust their tone immediately to adapt to the individual customer’s distinctive tone and manner.

Tone analysis technology is being leveraged in health care. For instance, nurses can gauge tones and consequently sentiments in a conversation. Tone analysis can help nurses gauge how the patient perceives them. Insight into the tone and manner of communications affect the overall patient experience and ultimately results in better patient outcomes.

AI applies to almost every industry. It can be used to extend business hours, personalise customer support and customise the tone of communications in real time. On the other hand, AI will benefit customers through enhanced customer service delivery. They will also have more, and better, access to information, enabling them to make smarter, better decisions.

All the AI in the world will mean nothing if you can’t measure the effort customers have to put in, to get a result. Traditionally call centres measured the length of the call and relied on survey scores to determine how successful they are. These methods are tried and trusted, but they have not kept abreast of new technology, nor have they evolved as interactions have become more intricate. There has to be a better way to measure customer effort.

NICE Nexidia, a leader in AI-Fuelled Speed Analytics, managed to do just that. They stitch together customer effort across time and multiple interactions. Customer Effort Time (CET) captures and analyses every interaction with the customer. It also measures the effort a customer needed to exert to resolve their problem. You can do this without the customer completing a survey at the end of the interaction.

Let’s see how it works:

A customer calls in and speaks to agent A for 3 minutes, he/she is transferred to agent B and speaks to him for 6 minutes. The next day the customer calls back and talks to agent C for 10 minutes before resolving the problem. In total, the customer effort time is 19 minutes. Measuring it in this way gives a more precise understanding of customer effort. We can now also evaluate the performance of agent A by looking at the time the customer had to spend subsequently to resolve their problem. This method of measuring balances, efficiency and experience goals.

NICE Nexidia is implementing CET with Predictive Behavioural Routing that you can add to a long list of metrics optimised by intelligent routing. Through advanced analytics, we can create smarter connections that reduce customer effort significantly.


The road ahead



Contact centres are being disrupted and are set for further disruption. This cannot be refuted. We are entering an era of forceful disruption in the contact centre scene. Emergence of cloud-based infrastructure has given birth to new dynamics in the contact centre environment. New market entrants are bringing new capabilities into the mix. This is impacting existing operators and forcing them to reconsider their business operations and even business models.

Large and established organisations must offer a multi-channel contact offering to provide an end to end and seamless customer experience that provides high quality, effective and efficient service. This will not be a source of competitive advantage moving forward. This will be the norm. This will be expected by the customers. Customers will not deal with one channel the organisation communicates through, followed by another channel. Customers will engage with a company, across different channels, seamlessly and fluidly. The accuracy of interactions, the consistency across channels and the personalisation and contextuality of the communications will come into play.

AI technologies and applications will be highly contributory in helping contact centres take the journey from being a point of contact to a point of resolution. AI will perform the mundane and repetitive, transactional tasks. This will free up contact centre staff to work on more complex and intuitive tasks. This will help elevate the work life of the contact centre employee and it also offers the potential to create more stability in the contact centre employment ranks.

AI holds in its virtual palms, immense potential for the contact centre. When contact centre staff don’t have to get involved in repetitive, transactional and mundane tasks, they are set free to work on tasks that add more value and provide highly customised service, thus improving how an organisation engages with its client base and the overall CX.



If you need advice or assistance to incorporate AI into your call centre, contact us at CCNA. We have experience in Contact Centre solutions, with over 200 deployments in the last four years. Our track record includes the design, implementation and maintenance of Call Centre Technologies in the Enterprise, Education and Government sectors.

Contact CCNA to get help with Contact Centre technologies, including:

  • Voice (Elite and AACC)
  • Multi-Media (Email, Fax, Web Chat)
  • Voice Portal and MPS Solutions including Speech Recognition and Text To Speech
  • Customised Softphone and CTI applications
  • ERP and Database integration, WFM feeds
  • Reporting – Customised reports on CMS, IQ and AACC
  • Multi-Vendor Environments
  • Outsourced, Insurance and Government examples
  • Building highly resilient Contact Centre Applications in for DR
  • Call Recording, Quality Management, Workforce Management, Analytics
  • National/International Distributed Call Centre
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