Contact Center to World: Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

Guest Blog by Dan Miller, Lead Analyst and Founder at Opus Research

A popular meme on Twitter and in the blogosphere states that the growth of digital commerce and messaging networks is eclipsing the need for live contact center agents to assist prospects and customers. And these contact centers, which are configured historically as the windowless rooms with rows and rows of agent workstations and “butts in seats,” are squarely in the technological crosshairs. They’re forced to circle the wagons as the bulk of conversations between brands and their customers migrate to bots and other forms of intelligent assistants or artificial intelligence (AI).

On closer look, don’t be fooled. Artificial Intelligence is fueling new life for contact centers and the resources that inform agents and IVRs, alike.

Yes, the ranks of digital denizens are growing. Two billion new smartphones will be sold around the world this year, placing them in the purses or pockets of nearly 5 billion people. And social messaging and digital commerce platforms like WeChat, WhatsAPP and Facebook Messenger each laid claim to user populations of more than 1 billion earlier this year. Meanwhile, the number of individuals installing and using smart speakers zoomed past 50 million by mid-2018, placing them among the fastest growing examples of intelligent digital endpoints in all history. The proliferation of these devices and the applications and activities they support is a testimony to the fact that customers’ lives are already digital.

Businesses, especially global brands, are scrambling to keep up.

Companies who run existing customer interaction infrastructure don’t want to believe this shift is happening. The purpose of “going digital” is to give a customer or prospect the ability to communicate with their brands of choice, through their device of choice and at the time (or times) they choose. While this is perceived to be an existential threat to contact centers, especially among the much sought after 18- to 34-year-old crowd, using your voice to talk to an agent in a contact center holds its own as the number of choices shoots up—from six to nine and soon 11, according to 2017 findings from Dimension Data. System integrators and vendors also confirm these numbers.

A 2016 Opus Research survey shows that customers, on average, used 3.5 different channels to complete digital shopping or customer support tasks. The phone figured into 70% of interactions with brands. Dimension Data assesses this number is declining, with the phone accounting for nearly 55% of the mix of customer contacts. And while respondents to the Dimension Data survey would prefer that figure be as low as one-third, empirical observations reflect steady growth in the number of minutes that people spend on voice channels in conversations with live agents.

Serving the Customers’ Moments of Truth

Brands are finding that their customers seek live agents at a “moment of truth.” They have searched the web or queried a chatbot and are ready to take action. Both customer service and sales representatives, in this context, are brand ambassadors who are expected to provide correct, personalized answers quickly. This translates into driving a multichannel, ongoing conversation toward a positive outcome for the customer. And that leads to improved business outcomes as measured by relevant KPIs.

Now, artificial intelligence (AI), particularly predictive analytics, natural language understanding and machine learning technologies, are being used to assist both customers and agents. Collectively, these technologies allow contact center infrastructure providers like Genesys to help companies leverage the big data they already have, such as interaction history, journey context, personalized information from CRM systems, and unstructured input from chat transcripts and call recordings. All of this is grist for the mill that informs conversations and speeds successful outcomes.

Genesys Predictive Routing takes a white box approach, allowing companies to use data they have already compiled on customers, agents, and outcomes.  It then uses a predictive model to evaluate each interaction and match it with the best agent to drive desired business results.

Forms of “intelligent routing” or “precision routing” have been offered to contact center operators for at least a decade, but AI changes the game. Coupled with machine learning, AI parses through the complex web of customer interaction and agent data to identify the relationships that drive successful outcomes, fulfilling on the long-standing promise of matching the most appropriate agent to the task at hand. It also can be used to prompt agents, or virtual agents, with the right answers and recommendations consistently and at scale.

Artificial Intelligence’s Moment of Truth: Supporting Business Outcomes

Contact centers once struggled to be viewed as cost centers by enterprise decision makers. Yet, according to Opus Research, those same decision makers continue to invest in AI for the contact center to improve the customer experience (measured in customer satisfaction scores and Net Promoter Scores). And, to a greater degree, they have a measurable effect on top-line results, reflected in customer loyalty (churn reduction), direct sales and agent productivity.

What comes through loud and clear is this: AI provides the business with the ability to understand the relationships that drive desired results, and then continuously learn and improve. They now the tools to deliver successful business results by offering accurate and correct answers, or recommendations at scale. And demonstrably provided tools and reports that directly affect profitability by predicting outcomes—positive or negative.

These resources are empowering leaders to transform their contact centers from a necessary expense to a strategic vehicle for customer acquisition, retention, and growth. And they’re establishing a customer interaction platform that provides accurate answers across the enterprise, regardless of whether the resource is digital or human.

The next step for contact centers and business leaders is to adopt models, methods, practices, and metrics that concentrate on business outcomes, in addition to improved customer experience, rather than old-guard KPIs.

To learn more, watch the Genesys on-demand webinar, Technology Insights: How AI is Driving a New Era in Customer Engagement.

Also check out the educational resource kit for predictive routing.