Five Ways AI Will Support the Future of Customer Service

Automation tools and artificial intelligent (AI) assistants are high on the list of contact center investments this year, according to a recent Forrester survey.  But using automation to handle routine tasks makes it more important than ever to provide agents with the right training tools, and support.

“Agents are strategically important for organizations,” said Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst from Forrester. “As you roll out self service, the easy work gets picked off and it’s the more difficult customer inquiries, the emotional calls and the disputes that land on the agent’s desktop.”

Leggett discussed the interplay between automated assistants and agents in a June 9 webinar, “5 AI-Fueled Digital Experiences That Will Underpin The Future Of Customer Service,” hosted by Upland Software, an Avaya partner.

While the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of customer service, it also exposed technology gaps for many organizations, said Keith Berg, vice president of product and R&D, contact center solutions, Upland Software. “Now, customers want a seamless experience, such as being able to start with a bot, go to chat or email and then call the contact center,” Berg said. “As customer interactions grow, you need to leverage tools and technologies to provide that experience.”

In her talk, Leggett noted that Forrester’s research shows that a good customer experience (CX) can impact top-line revenue, building the three dimensions of loyalty: retention, enrichment and loyalty. She then pointed to five ways that AI tools can help organizations deliver a better contact center experience for both customers and agents.

1. Self-service powers customer service. For simple questions, customers gravitate to self-service channels, she said. They don’t have to wait for an agent to answer their questions.  Berg added that the search and navigation process needs to be intuitive from the customer’s perspective to avoid dissatisfaction right from the state.

2. Digital technologies empower customers to engage on their terms. They can use a channel of their choice, which varies by industry, Leggett said. Because the number of channels continues to grow, organizations are investing in chatbots, AI virtual assistants, video chat, social media, SMS and messaging applications, rather than phone, email and web. “Almost all the growth in contact center platforms is in the newer digital channels,” she said.

3. Automation is ideal for offloading routine tasks. But voice agents are best suited for understanding the emotional state of a customer and answering difficult questions, Leggett said. “Phone is the empathy channel, and it is not going away,” she added.

4. Knowledge management makes customer service more effective. Organizations with the tools to understand customer intent and provide them with answers based on available knowledge will have an edge on the competition, she said. “When they come back to access your content, you are well on the way to delivering a good CX.”

5. Choose metrics that help drive customer retention and loyalty. Leggett noted a clear shift away from agent productivity measures like average response time to CX metrics, like first contact resolution and overall customer satisfaction.  “Organizations need to recognize that agents will be taking longer to handle the difficult calls and look at the outcomes rather than the length of time,” she said.

Finally, both Leggett and Berg emphasized the importance of AI and automation to support their contact center agents. “We don’t make it easy for our agents to deliver good service,” said Leggett.  “They have to hunt through different applications and go from one system to another to find information they need, so it’s no wonder that they get frustrated and leave their jobs.”

Automating routine tasks – such as providing product information or filling out a form – can make it easier for agents, and accelerate their time to achieving proficiency, Leggett said. “Empowering your employees helps them feel connected to their work, colleagues, and customers and gives them a valuable sense of purpose.”

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