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AI Driving Growth, Efficiencies in Contact Centers, NICE Speakers Affirm

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While contact centers handle billions of transactions annually and increasingly use automation and artificial intelligence to increase efficiency, they can still go further in their use of machine learning and related technologies to further improve the customer experience, speakers said at the NICE Interactions 2019 Conference in Las Vegas in mid-April.

To demonstrate its commitment to AI, NICE used the conference as the launching point for the spring release of the NICE inContact CXone contact center suite, which provides end-to-end AI capabilities.

CXone’s new AI capabilities include new AI self-service bot options, new AI-infused forecasting and scheduling options, and AI-powered interaction analytics that detect root cause issues of customer frustration.

“Our latest AI innovations help companies stay one step ahead of customer expectations in the increasingly competitive experience economy. Organizations of all sizes can now leverage new and innovative AI capabilities across the unified NICE inContact CXone cloud customer experience platform to deliver better, more engaging customer and agent experiences,” said Paul Jarman, CEO of NICE inContact. “The NICE inContact CXone spring 2019 release demonstrates our dedication to continuous delivery of the latest innovations, like comprehensive AI capabilities and CRM integrations that help our customers achieve their business goals.”

Contact centers are the epicenter of many businesses today, said Yaron Hertz, president of NICE Americas, during his keynote address. Companies, he said, handled 3.3 million contact center interactions in the first five minutes of his presentation, and without contact centers, 60 percent of consumers would not be able to reach their banks, 70 percent would be unable to reach support for insurance services, and 50 percent wouldn’t have the tech support they need to stream Game of Thrones.

NICE works with contact centers with as many as 60,000 agents and with as few as 200, Hertz added.

Those agents, buoyed by the latest tools, including AI, are in a position to help drive a seismic shift in customer experience, said Barak Eilam, NICE’s CEO. “The time to join the customer experience revolution is now.”

The revolution is occurring thanks to the automation of more than 300 million tasks that used to be handled entirely by agents. Yet currently there is a great experience divide in the customer experience, according to Eilam. “It’s time to crush it or to be crushed,” he said.

Eilam recommended that contact centers ensure that their customer interactions are hyper-personal and robust, fulfilling customer needs in a way that ensures their retention and loyalty.

“Companies have implemented AI primarily to increase efficiency and quickly serve customers, aiming to address some of their top challenges with contact center tools,” said Art Schoeller, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Yet the reality falls short of the promise, with 60 percent of chatbot deployments providing poor escalation paths to agents.

Artificial intelligence and chatbots help contact center employees perform better, not only by taking over routine tasks but also due to the feedback that AI-infused contact center systems can provide, he said.

Advanced AI can provide efficiencies in handling customer contacts, but it also can be used to do so much more in the contact center to boost performance, said Barry Cooper, NICE Enterprise Group president.

Among its uses, the technology can provide agents with feedback, he said, pointing out that contact center employees typically aren’t very engaged. While they go to regularly scheduled meetings, they get very little feedback on their performance unless they are doing either very poorly or very well, because human supervisors have only so much time.

Data collected by the system can give contact center employees information on their performance without the need to hear it from a supervisor, Cooper added. Employees will typically use the feedback to try to improve their own performance; as they do, they become more engaged and the company benefits. Of course, there will still be those employees who don’t improve or follow protocols, and today’s systems provide better concrete tracking of activity.

“You can’t hold people accountable if you don’t know the data,” Cooper said.

AI can also be incorporated into workforce management, he added, noting that scheduling changes using traditional systems can lead to workforce shortages, overcapacity, and too much involvement from human resources in trying to fulfill scheduling requests. Advanced AI can handle these situations by empowering contact center employees to pick up shifts when available and to trade hours with other workers without involving human resources or a supervisor.

However, automation and AI in and of themselves don’t provide a total solution, Cooper added. “Robots are a journey,” he said, pointing out that companies are benefiting from attended, unattended, and hybrid chatbots.

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