On Thursday 10th May, activereach hosted a webinar alongside its technology partner, Enghouse Interactive. The hot topic being discussed was how artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual assistants are being used to enrich the customer experience and their developing role within Contact Centres. It’s a topic that I feel really passionate about!
Being relatively new to the industry, I thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts on the content of the webinar and divulge the key takeaways so you can decide whether to dig deeper and watch the webinar for yourself. I will also offer my own views of where I believe this technology is going and how it is going to impact us on a day-to-day basis.
Customer service trends and predictions
The webinar began with Richard Brown (Customer Experience Director, activereach) going through the current customer service trends and predictions for 2018. One of the key takeaways from this part of the webinar is that the customer is getting smarter. With the volume of information users have at their disposal nowadays, they can easily research and educate themselves before requiring assistance. Therefore, if a customer does feel the need to call, the chances are it will be about something more complex and will require an expert to answer.
Self-service customer support is continuing to rise which means extra investment in this area is needed to keep up with the demand put on contact centre agents. Bots and AI will not only support the customer with what they need but also take the workload and pressure off the employee.
A final trend that Richard went on to highlight was that personalisation will help drive customer loyalty. If the customer feels that their experience is tailored to suit their specific needs and is personable, they are more likely to be satisfied and continue to use the company’s services.
To set the scene, Richard used some interesting statistics from various thought leaders such as Gartner, Forbes, IBM and Harvard Business Review. One point that stood out is the fact that for 75% of companies, improving customer experience is a top priority. Companies want to set themselves apart from the competition and hopefully be rewarded with customer loyalty. This can be reinforced by valuing peoples time, being responsive, offering convenient contact options and personalising the service. Customers don’t like or want to wait and they don’t want to hear about things that are not directly relevant to them and their situation.
Artificial intelligence in the contact centre – what does your business need?
The webinar then went on to explore the argument of risk vs reward. To us, there is no “one size fits all”. These solutions are unique to a company’s current customer service challenges and there needs to be a balance of automation as well as human emotion. Different companies and customers all have different requirements, needs and wants. Many companies adopt solutions with a layer of automation designed to help with basic routines and tasks – but it is key that the AI has the capacity to understand when a customer needs to be passed over to a live agent to be dealt with a sense of human empathy/emotion.
The key aspects to remember are:
- Use your regular channels
- Try to solve with automation
- Escalate to a human agent (if required)
- Provide dialogue context
You may also like: 2018 Contact Centre Predictions: It’s All About the Customer
So what is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant (VA) is a bot that can perform various automated tasks on behalf of contact centre agents. They provide a method for enabling self-service through digital communication channels and perform similar tasks to voice interactive voice response (IVR) platforms. VA’s can make use of 1) understanding natural language and 2) offering augmented intelligence. They fall into 3 distinct categories; a helper bot, an info bot and a task bot.
A task bot can be thought of as an automated process that will undertake common tasks on behalf of the customer. Examples of this might be checking a balance, resetting a password or organising an appointment. A key aspect to a Task Bot is that it will require integration into the business’ backend systems; e.g. a customer relationship management (CRM) solution which contains important details about the customer including which products they have already purchased and whether they have any outstanding payments.
The Info Bot is an enhancement to common web-based knowledge bases. A common customer frustration with online portals and knowledge bases is that they can be hard to navigate or you have to be very precise with your search query. They’re also not necessarily designed for access from mobile devices. So by enabling your knowledge base to be queried using natural language and via a streamlined interface such as messaging apps, customers can get the answers they need, when they need them!
A helper bot is designed to use AI to help your agents during their day-to-day interactions. The objective is to ensure customers get a quick and consistent answer to their problems. A helper bot is a natural progression from the ‘response libraries’ and internal knowledge bases that agents use today. However, now the bot is actively monitoring the customer interaction and suggesting appropriate responses to the agent.
For me, the most important finding from the webinar is the number of potential commercial benefits of using virtual assistants;
1. Allow customers to self-serve 24/7
2. Instant access to service, no need to wait for an agent
3. Can be used in conjunction with outbound notifications
4. Reduce unexpected peak call volumes by keeping customers informed
5. Reduce the number of repetitive tasks that are processed by contact centre agents
6. Reduce cost per customer contact by leveraging self-service
Artificial intelligence is a powerful tool
The webinar proceeded to debate where AI fits into the customer service process, and here are my key takeaways;
- AI aims to mimic human behaviour
- Fundamental to AI is machine learning – the ability to identify content, actions, behaviours and personal intent
- AI uses intelligence & self-learning to improve the customer experience
- Executed well, it can anticipate customer needs
- AI should be aimed at solving problems that are hard for people to resolve on their own
- AI should also be deployed to make employees more knowledgeable and better informed
I believe that the webinar will really help Customer Service, Contact Centre, & I.T. professionals gain insight into the practical steps and technologies required to implement customer service automation. Most experts agree that virtual assistants and bots will support customer service teams to be more productive in the future and the evidence is there now to support the fact that consumers are changing their attitudes towards digital service.
Now is the time to start paving the way for artificial intelligence – so why not watch the webinar and judge for yourself?
activereach offers a range of self-service solutions – please visit our automation & artificial intelligence in self-service page to find out more.