Formulating an Actionable Strategy for AI in the Call Center
By Jen Snell
With 2019 just a few months away, trends, predictions, and prognostications for the year ahead abound. And when it comes to game-changing technology in the call center, you need not look far to recognize there’s a huge sea-change ahead being fueled by AI.
Leading industry analysts say by 2021, 15% of all customer service interactions will be completely handled by AI, an increase of 400% from 2017 … and by 2022, one in five workers engaged in non-routine tasks will rely on AI to do their jobs.
Another new McKinsey report predicts 70% of companies will have AI in place by 2030. They also add, if you haven’t gotten started, you’re already behind – a sobering warning that late adopters of AI might be left playing catch-up.
Depending on where you are in your AI journey, this guidance will either elicit a wave of elation or angst, uncertainty, and doubt. But fear and paralysis is not an option; call center executives know they must move forward putting in place pragmatic, progressive and informed strategies for the application of AI.
As the old adage goes, the 1,000-mile journey begins with a single step, but when it comes to AI, organizations often find that first step to be the hardest. But it doesn’t have to be.
Over the years, there has been a transition of the call center – as the keeper of the customer data – to transform into the organization’s intelligence hub. The good news is that contact center professionals – with extensive experience in the application of automation to improve business outcomes – are well suited to take the reins of AI initiatives. And digital enablement of the contact center has primed it for the application of AI.
Key ‘AI for Impact’ Areas
AI comprises a wide array of theories, approaches and enabling technologies. My advice is to focus not on what it is, but what it does – and specifically, the value it brings to your business. Start with the end in mind: define the AI use cases for your call center, starting small and focused, and then from there, you can refine, optimize and expand use of AI.
Innovative contact center managers already understand the value that AI can deliver, from making self-service smarter and more conversational so customers find it easy to adopt and use it more often, to predicting customer intent to help achieve their goals faster and with less effort.
The Contact Center of the Future will be about orchestrating intelligence for growth. And AI will play a vital role in helping organizations best leverage their workforce as they transition from transactions to complex, high value opportunities.
Here are a few scenarios:
Crossing the chasm from cost center to revenue generator. Chatbots driven by AI will play important roles in interactions with consumers, within the enterprise and in business-to-business service and support. They’ll also drive automation of context consumption that can then be used to financially optimize channels and personalize offerings with the right mix and appeal of live support for buying and selling.
The catalyst for improved employee experience. Churn in the call center is one of the biggest issues facing customer experience pros and organizations today. AI offers a very compelling value proposition in this area: AI does far more than automate away human labor; it can improve the nature of work in the call center. Providing self-service that delivers the same quality as much of the assisted service today, gives way to new and more meaningful roles for agents that warrants higher compensation and a much more compelling employee experience.
Cultivating collaboration. Moving from hindsight to insight and automation through AI empowers teams to deconstruct the way they work today and reconstruct themselves for strategies and action. Proper execution to deliver the experiences customers want requires talents from across the organization working together, including IT, data science, DevOps, marketing, and customer service. Data insights become the common denominator that galvanizes the organization in its common quest.
Practical Strategies for AI Application
While your AI strategy will be individualized to address your organizations’ specific needs, there are some practical strategies that should be employed when crafting your course.
Understand internal staffing/skill set requirements; embrace AI as the new teammate. As AI and machine learning continue to become ingrained in the way we work, a paradigm shift also needs to take place with employees regarding retraining and upskilling to take on new roles. To support ongoing upskilling, the investment must be made so that employees receive ongoing career coaching through robotic trainers that can support a virtual workforce in the gig economy.
Vendor marketing is good; references are better. AI is everywhere these days, but AI experience is not. This may be why we see so many enterprises trying to go it alone and buy talent. You shouldn’t be pressured into implementing an AI R&D lab when what you need most to move your business forward is a direct solution, such as a chatbot. Once you have your transformation strategy in place, identify vendors that are transforming innovation into real business results. They are the ones with the experience you need to implement the technology in the wild.
Know that AI isn’t an IT project; it’s the future of your business. What may have started as a point-solution for your business has the potential to be so much more. That point-solution is a great sampler for exploring, but it’s not the meal. This is about a transformation strategy with a long-term investment in the future of your business. This includes a corresponding and continued investment in human capital as machines automate more and more. Developing teams, skills and talents will become more important. Most technology has a finite purpose and a predetermined upgrade path. In contrast, intelligence and data grows and evolves with your business and customers bit by bit, day by day.
Reaping the AI Advantage
AI may seem daunting but call center executives must embrace the revolution for one very simple reason: There really is no alternative. Consumers continue to demand ever-more personalized and efficient service, and as companies level up their efforts to meet this challenge, consumers will come to expect this same type of service with every company they engage.
Knowing that your customer tastes and needs are changing by the minute means you must have a clear strategic intent and the ability to break down existing silos to focus on creating an intelligence-first customer-centered organization.
AI holds the distinction of offering the most versatile and powerful means to plot the paths to both top-line revenue growth and bottom-line cost reductions, leverage insight to optimize customer journeys, and create exceptional customer experiences that set you apart from your competitors.
About the Author
Jen Snell is a sought-after speaker in the area of Conversational AI, enabling natural interactions with intelligent assistants and chatbots that engage customers more effectively and make employees even more productive.
In her role as vice president, Product Marketing for Verint Intelligent Self-Service, Jen evangelizes Verint’s ongoing innovation in artificial intelligence technologies—such as machine learning, robotics and natural language processing—which help organizations modernize their customer engagement operations with greater automation.