From minimising call waiting times to freeing people from the maze of menu options, the use of artificial intelligence in contact centres has already gone a long way towards transforming the customer experience.
Software platforms with the ability to understand language in written or spoken forms and, in some cases even master regional accents, are providing efficient and powerful ways to interact with customers across multiple channels.
However, businesses should not get too carried away in their quest to speed up customer service processes. Until automated virtual assistants develop the ability to listen and the emotional intelligence to calm an irate customer, there will always be a place for human interaction.
Most companies understand the importance of getting the balance right. After all, customer experience is most commonly identified as a number one strategic priority, and as the issue most likely to secure sales or retain loyalty.
At the same time, it’s clear that advanced technologies such as chatbots and speech recognition software are playing a much bigger role in our lives. Advisory firm Gartner predicts that within the next year or two 30% of our interactions with technology will be through "conversations" with smart machines.
What started with Apple’s Siri is now developing fast, with the voice-connected Amazon Echo released in the UK in 2016, for example.
Amazon Echo’s voice-controlled personal assistant, Alexa, resides in a cylindrical speaker and is programmed with more than 5,000 skills – from reading out your bank balance to dimming the lights in your house. With such technology now in our homes, it’s no wonder that Gartner also predicts that within five years over 80% of inbound contact centre interaction will be handled with no touch needed.
Benefits of contact centre automation
Adding automated virtual assistants to your workforce represents more than an opportunity to reduce costs - important though that is - or make your response times consistent at any time of day or night.
Automated virtual assistants have an important role to play in leading a customer through an automated business process or asking further questions to pass the query to the right department. They can work across multiple channels — voice, web, live chat or mobile — and they are always faithful to your corporate image and message.
Through their ‘conversations’, virtual assistants can harvest massive amounts of consumer data and thus provide a real-time understanding of trends and customer behaviour.
By dealing with a range of common requests, simple applications and transactions, they also allow more time for contact centre staff to handle those complex customer issues that require human interaction. This changes the dynamic of contact centres, placing greater focus on building a workforce with problem-solving skills and emotional intelligence in order to maintain a high level of customer satisfaction.
Importance of customer service
Because the reality is that most consumers still need help with complex matters, such as unpicking an erroneous meter reading on their dual fuel account, and would rather let off steam about a service issue with a real person rather than a robot. A complaint, if handled with due care and sensitivity, can actually increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
In reality, most customers will choose multiple channels to achieve what they want — depending on where they are, how they are feeling and what happened in their previous interactions with that provider. Social media will always be one of the most attractive methods for customers to make contact, particularly as an estimated two-thirds of UK adults are signed up to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
This means that providing mobile access and the right self-service tools is just as important as advances in contact centre automation. In all cases, customers will expect the experience to give them a consistent answer, irrespective of which channel they’re using, based on a single view of their relationship with your organisation..
Don’t neglect the human touch
For firms who hit the sweet spot, the rewards are significant. In July 2016, the UK Customer Satisfaction Index found that 96% of those rating an organisation nine or ten out of ten for customer satisfaction also gave them the highest levels of trust.
Having technology that manages customer relationships securely, conveniently and efficiently in any language, with no extra effort from the customer, will tick a lot of boxes when it comes to contact centre automation.
But companies should never forget that customers will be quick to punish those who take them for granted by neglecting the personal touch. There’s still no substitute for human experience and empathy, for the time being at least.
Consumers use multiple channels to achieve their goals.
Focus on hiring problem-solving, emotionally intelligent staff.
High customer satisfaction usually means a high level of trust.