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No matter what kind of work you do, it’s getting harder and harder to steer clear of conversations about how artificial intelligence is poised to change everything. If it feels like the mid-90’s all over again to you – when it seemed every conversation was about the World Wide Web and the Information Superhighway (thank you Al Gore) – I get it.
Here’s the plain truth: as real and as revolutionary as the Internet was in the 90s, so will be the case for AI in the coming years, in what’s being hailed as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Closer to home and much more practically, let’s take a look at how AI is changing the contact center and customer experience, and where the impact is most significant. Specifically, we’ll focus on three applications of AI that will forever change how we build and run contact centers: Chatbots, analytics, and the agent experience.
Chatbots – automated conversation programs designed to replicate talking with human agents in an effort to help brands eliminate wait times – are nothing terribly new, first appearing on the scene around 1966. The modern chatbot era began in 2010 with Apple’s Siri, and today they are more or less mainstream, with an Oracle report from 2016 stating that 80% of C-suite leaders and senior marketers have already implemented chatbots or plan to do so by 2020.
To be clear, there are chatbots and then there are AI-powered chatbots (read this to understand the difference). Chatbots that run on keywords and without the benefit of tools such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) are a dime-a-dozen, easy to spin up, and acceptable in the right context. Wire them up with AI, and now you’re into a whole new level of customer engagement. That’s because AI (or specifically the NLP branch) lets chatbots partake in far more natural conversations; they’re far better at understanding your customers’ intentions, and as a result can respond more accurately.
If you’ve deployed a non-AI chatbot before and had some success, well ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’. AI-powered chatbots interact better with your customers, leading to better experiences for them and higher satisfaction scores for you. When integrated with your core business systems, AI-powered chatbots are a huge step up from their non-AI ancestors. I’ll leave the human evolution analogies out of this one.
I deliberately opened this story with chatbots as they are the most recognized and most widely adopted form of AI. That’s because they’re also the most press-friendly AI implementation. But the reality is that the impact chatbots have on customer experience pales in comparison to the next two use cases.
If you remind yourself that AI is, in its simplest definition, the application of computer programming to human brain-like activities, then it becomes easy to think of AI involvement in areas other than speech or communications.
The human brain has an amazing capacity to process vast amounts of data simultaneously. How else can you explain how you’re able to recognize your best friend from 100 yards away just by the way she walks? Your brain has concurrently recognized height, build, gait, gestures, and loads of other data points to tell you ‘hey, there’s Sarah!’. To do this, your brain uses something called crystallized intelligence – the application of knowledge acquired through experience. A traditional computer’s equivalent would be its programming; it can do what it knows how to do, and not much else as it has no capacity to learn new things. AI is not burdened by this limitation.
Business intelligence is one domain already witnessing a massive overhaul thanks to AI. When you point AI at vast amounts of disconnected data – sales history, customer profile, website cookie data, chat history – it will be able to see patterns and deduce insights in ways that humans can’t, because it takes us much longer to ingest and store all this data. To put a blunt point on it, when you use AI applications to comb through your customer data, you will begin to identify key indicators of critical business traits including risk, revenue opportunities, churn, and much more. The deductive power of AI hooked up to the computational power of today’s business hardware puts more and deeper insights within short reach. Your ability to use data more intelligently will completely revolutionize how you run your business, let alone your customer experience operation. There are many examples of businesses already doing just that.
I’ve saved this one for last because to me it’s not only the most exciting to ponder, it’s also perhaps the most accessible. AI for your agents – for, not instead of – will change the contact center more profoundly than the first telephone switchboard or soft phone ever did. It will make your agents faster and more efficient, and will leave them more challenged and fulfilled on the job than ever before.
Here’s how that happens.
A customer starts a conversation with you via chat, social media, messaging, email, wherever. Your AI-powered agent assistant ‘listens in’ on the conversation, determines what the customer wants to do, and presents your agent with a range of answers or resources to resolve the question. The agent chooses the best option based on their sense of the situation and passes it along to the customer themselves (unlike a bot which would handle the conversation completely). Their problem solved, the customer goes away happy.
What just happened?
What else just happened?
I mentioned this type of AI application being more accessible, so let me explain that. Aside from offering substantial productivity gains, agent-facing AI is also the easiest and least risky to implement. That’s because when you take away the customer-facing angle, a whole lot of anxiety disappears. I refer to the naturally human hesitation and concern that you and your management team may have around adopting customer-facing AI technology like the chatbots mentioned above. Internal applications are understandably easier to swallow.
Now do you see why this AI application is the most exciting to me? First of all, any technology that makes the contact center faster and more productive is a good thing. Second, any technology that strengthens the role of human agents is also a good thing (yes, I know chatbots can be seen as replacements, but realistically, if all your agents face are the simple, boring questions then you’re likely experiencing considerable agent churn or at least having to constantly deal with poor motivation and productivity).
Lastly, and most importantly, there’s no putting this stuff back in the box. But you wouldn’t want to because then you’d miss out on all the amazing enhancements these technologies stand to deliver for your business. Chatbots aren’t your thing? I get that (sort of). Data analytics not in your domain? Fair enough. But AI applications that make your agents better? Why on earth would you not go there? Let AI find the answers, and let your agents deliver them with care and compassion. It’s a win-win.