Automation and AI are Making Contact Centers More Human

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Contact centers are undergoing a digital transformation that reimagines customer engagement—but don’t count humans out. At ICMI Contact Center Connections, industry experts laid out the many ways that digital technology augments, rather than replaces, human associates. Here are the critical ways that technology can help companies be more human.

An IVR evolution

If one were to believe various publications, voice channels and contact center associates have been eradicated by chatbots. “The Phone Call is Dead,” declared TechCrunch. “Implementing chatbots is all but a must in most industries,” stated VentureBeat. Research firms also support these assertions: By 2020 customers will manage 85 percent of their relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human, predicts Gartner.

It’s true that customers don’t want to wait several minutes to speak with a human or navigate an outdated interactive voice response system (IVR). Customers want a fast and easy way to solve their problems. But automated solutions provide limited support and customers still prefer human communication for certain interactions, such as tense and emotional issues.

Which is why voice channels aren’t going anywhere, noted Rebecca Roemen, senior consultant of CX strategy and operations at TTEC and an ICMI Movers & Shakers honoree. “Voice is not dying—it’s changing,” she said. Roemen outlined the various technologies and capabilities that are improving voice in the contact center, such as voice biometrics, conversational IVR, natural language processing, and sentiment behavioral analytics. So, instead of trapping customers in a never-ending loop, IVR systems should simply ask, “how can we help you today?” and route customers quickly and accurately.

Voice channels such as IVR are evolving to be more efficient, personalized, and part of the broader customer experience via the Internet of Things, Roemen explained. While even advanced IVR systems aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it solution (they still need regular testing and monitoring), expect leading companies to usher in a more conversational experience.

Live chat: Beware of unforced errors

There are many things to love about supporting customers over live chat. If executed properly, associates can provide support to several customers at nearly the same time on different platforms and devices, and customers receive answers faster than other channels.

However, companies are undermining themselves with poor chat practices, said Leslie O'Flahavan, co-founder and partner at E-Write. “The quality [of live chat] should be better than it is right now, but companies are creating pointless hurdles at the start,” she said.

Those hurdles include being deceptive about wait times, asking customers for a lot of information before initiating a chat, giving overly scripted responses, and failing to train employees on how to interact with customers over chat.

“Chat is like written phone,” O'Flahavan said. As such, there are best practices that associates can borrow from other channels, like voice and email. To help associates deliver quality support over chat, O'Flahavan suggested using both open and closed questions to probe for more information, utilize links and visuals, and match the customer's level of formality. And most important, “if you can’t staff the channel, take it down.”

As business leaders focus their attention on growth, understanding customers’ needs and expectations, developing strong customer relationships, and driving loyalty are business imperatives. And the companies that deliver smarter customer support in the contact center will have a significant competitive advantage on every front.