• November 13, 2023
  • By Donna Fluss, president, DMG Consulting

Real-Time Guidance: Practical AI Tools for Contact Center Agents

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The concept of real-time guidance (RTG) is not new—such solutions have been part of the contact center market for more than two decades. But it wasn’t until these solutions were delivered from the cloud, which provides the processing capacity necessary to power them, that they became truly viable for contact centers. While this IT segment is still in its infancy, its vendors are investing in these offerings now that companies are seeing the value of acquiring them. The RTG solutions in the market are proving that value by helping contact centers achieve their goals, and the applications are rapidly improving, with more innovations and new competitors on the way.

What Is Real-Time Guidance?

Real-time guidance applications utilize interaction analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies (including generative AI in an increasing number of solutions) to analyze, structure, and understand live conversations as they occur. RTG solutions use this information to deliver actionable alerts, recommendations, customized offerings, and more to agents and, in some cases, supervisors.

In order to provide in-the-moment guidance, these solutions rely on the ability to find and pull real-time information from disparate systems and databases (including knowledge bases) and combine it with contextual interaction data from the agent’s desktop and/or conversations (including intent data, linguistic analysis, acoustic patterns, timed events, etc.). Information about the agent (profile, tenure, skill proficiency, etc.) can be factored in via integrations with quality management, workforce management, performance management, human resources systems, and other applications. Insights about the customer and their preferences can be retrieved and incorporated through integrations with a customer relationship management (CRM) solution or other servicing system.

All this real-time data, collected while a conversation is ongoing, can be aggregated and compared with business rules and/or AI-based predictive analytics models/algorithms. Based on the real-time data analysis and client-defined rules, the application presents agents with the most appropriate content or recommendation for each customer (see Figure 1 above).

RTG Core Functions

There are three core capabilities in real-time solutions today: RTG, real-time coaching, and analytics-enabled quality management. All three capabilities depend on the solution’s ability to listen/read, assess, decide what needs to be done, and provide in-the-moment feedback. Real-time guidance solutions deliver straightforward procedures and information to agents that enable them to resolve inquiries properly, handle objections, close sales, and increase collections, while helping them enhance their soft skills, which include communication, active listening, and appropriate levels of empathy and professionalism.

These solutions also deliver a newer, more positive and practical approach to coaching and training. This is particularly beneficial for new hires, as it can expedite the onboarding and training process and help maintain quality standards by providing links to appropriate articles, knowledge bases, internet/intranet sites, or other training materials. Real-time guidance was important prior to the shift to working from home, but it is now essential for delivering continuous guidance and feedback to remote agents who may not have anyone else available to ask for assistance. And when these solutions are applied to recognize employees for outstanding performance, they increase agent engagement and reduce employee attrition.

With the introduction of artificial intelligence and automation into contact centers, there is a better and more cost-effective way of monitoring customer interactions: analytics-enabled quality management, also known as automated QM (AQM). Analytics-enabled quality management is an application and process that leverages interaction analytics technology along with business rules and automation to identify, classify, and score voice- and text-based conversations between agents and customers based on defined quality criteria. The objective of AQM solutions is to provide immediate insights about agent performance and to assess their impact on the brand, customer experience, and customer effort. The comprehensive findings from AQM solutions are even more valuable for contact centers because they are less subjective than evaluations performed manually by a QM specialist or supervisor using a traditional QM system and process. Additionally, AQM applications can evaluate up to 100 percent of voice and digital customer interactions cost-effectively. And since the process is fully automated, it can scale up and down as volumes change.

Next Best Action vs. RTG

An analogous form of RTG, often geared toward sales and collections environments, is next best action (NBA). Next best action leverages AI and predictive analytics to provide targeted prompts for new sales, upselling, cross-selling, retention, collections, or other purposes. NBA analyzes real-time data from the interaction (including intent, sentiment, propensity, etc.), the customer profile, and contextual information from other applications to present agents with call-outs, pop-up boxes, scripts, or step-by-step instructions that provide the most appropriate action to take or optimal offer to make. Next-best-action recommendations are also used to ensure agents say the right things at the right times—for example, the “mini-Miranda” in collections environments. The recommendations may also pertain to the necessity to properly verify a caller’s identity or to read a nondisclosure statement and/or capture consent for a sales transaction.

Practical RTG Applications

There is a growing recognition of the need to give frontline employees tools that will position them to rapidly find and access the information they need to do their jobs more accurately and effectively. Agents need applications that free them up to dedicate most of their time to assisting and interacting with customers instead of searching for information. Artificial intelligence and automation capabilities are combining to form highly practical solutions that provide ongoing assistance to agents. The market is in its early days, but many RTG solutions are already contributing to the success of service, sales, and collections environments, and they present a major opportunity to enhance the employee experience and increase engagement and empowerment. Here are some of the highly practical and proven ways that RTG is being applied:

  • Delivering pop-ups, call-outs, alerts, or notifications to remind agents of actions they should or should not take to properly resolve a customer inquiry.
  • Delivering procedures to agents so they do things right initially, to increase first-contact resolution and reduce operating costs.
  • Notifying agents when they are out of compliance with collections or other regulatory requirements.
  • Identifying and delivering context-based knowledge management articles, content, or links to help agents answer a question or perform a task.
  • Reminding agents to perform two-factor verification for interactions or transactions with elevated risk.
  • Providing upsell/cross-sell recommendations.
  • Warning agents when there is fraud risk on an account.
  • Making next-best-action recommendations to guide an agent to a successful resolution.
  • Reducing new-hire training and ramp-up time by providing an “always available” coaching/training resource.

RTG solutions have already proven to be effective at delivering demonstrative and quantitative benefits to the contact centers that consistently use them. They improve the customer experience by increasing first-contact resolution, greatly reducing the need for customers to follow up multiple times to get their issue resolved. When in full production and able to address a broad range of customer issues, DMG estimates that RTG solutions can reduce customer interaction volume by as much as 20 percent. They also improve agent productivity, reducing the average handle time of customer interactions by giving agents real-time access to needed information. Real-time guidance is expected to become a core component of the contact center and customer service toolset within the next few years.

Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting, provides a unique and unparalleled understanding of the people, processes, and technology that drive the strategic direction of the dynamic and rapidly transforming contact center and back-office markets. Fluss can be reached at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

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