• April 24, 2020
  • By Gadi Shamia , cofounder and CEO, Replicant

3 Ways Conversational AI Can Make Contact Centers More Nimble

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The COVID-19 pandemic has tossed all industries, including contact centers and customer service, into a new world.

Contact centers are accustomed to spikes in demand for service. Tornados, hurricanes, snowstorms, the big holiday shopping days—are all short-lived situations that the best contact centers master with a minimal or short-term impact on customer service.

But COVID-19 sets a new bar for just how nimble contact centers need to be to ensure great customer service. Around the world, contact centers have temporarily closed, lost agent capacity, or are struggling to ramp up remote work. As a result, many consumers face long waits on hold—if they even get that far.

The airlines provide a telling example. Call volume is up as customers cancel or reschedule flights with fewer agents coming to work due to exposure risk or local lockdowns. More demand, less supply, and the results are tweets like this.

Some companies are fantastic at handling spikes in demand. Uber, for instance, rolls out higher prices during surge traffic times to lure more drivers into service. When the surge subsides, so does the higher pay. Driver supply naturally falls and equilibrium is again reached.

But contact center agents are not drivers. Driving a car is a generic skill that doesn’t require specialization. Google Maps gives drivers the ability to navigate any city regardless of whether they’ve been there before. Agents are highly specialized and require company-specific training. They need access to internal systems, constant updates on protocols and scripts, and high-speed internet access with a quiet work environment. To achieve the same elasticity as Uber, agents would have to train with dozens of different companies, which is not realistic.

Given the long-running prospect of COVID-19, contact centers face perhaps their biggest challenge yet to flatten the curve of disruption caused by spikes in demand or reductions in agent supply. The best ones will do so by doing these three things:

Deploying AI. Voice conversational AI—or a virtual contact center agent, delivering natural, human-like conversations on the phone—can be your first line of defense. Virtual agents are an efficient way to resolve repetitive calls, which are usually the exact types of calls that occur during call spikes. For example, a food delivery company may get hundreds of “Where is my order?” calls during bad weather. Or in today’s case, airline companies are getting bombarded by calls from customers asking to rebook or cancel their flights. These are precisely the types of calls that AI-powered virtual agents can answer with zero wait time regardless of call volume.

Elevating human agents. Removing mundane work from human agents will give them more energy and time to focus on more complex customer service issues, and to be more creative in doing so. Imagine you just dealt with 50 calls, each lasting less than 5 minutes, and provided similar solutions to all of them. How creative would you feel, when the complex 51st call comes in? Your brain will register it as “another one of those,” and take it on autopilot, resulting in an “another one of those” experiences for the customer as well. Using a virtual agent to take on your transactional calls will open up the opportunity for more higher-quality interaction between brands and consumers. ATMs did the same for banking. They now handle the most mundane tasks like check deposits and cash dispensing, which frees employees to provide higher-value services like financial planning and investment strategies. One unexpected impact of automation in contact centers will be less attrition among human agents because the work will be more satisfying, saving companies a fortune in hiring and training fees.

Enhancing service with greater insight. With conversational AI, contact centers will amass more data and insight into each customer interaction. Human agents are focused on the caller, and not on note taking, but virtual agents can do both at the same time. They’ll capture everything, consistently, adding up to call transcripts that can be easily searched and analyzed. This gives companies full visibility into why people call, how they need help, and what types of responses work best. Virtual agents are, in fact, uber-agents, becoming smarter as more data informs their ever changing responses. When conversations between agents of any kind and customers get better every day, customer service gets better, too.

Customer Service Is Changing Forever

When people think of the ways in which technology will change customer service, they often think of human agents being displaced by chatbots programmed to answer frequently asked questions. But with the rise and refinement of conversational AI, look for faster customer service, improved customer satisfaction, and more personalized customer interactions. Just like the ATMs didn’t replace your bankers, virtual agents will take on some of today’s tasks for human agents  and free them up to perform more valuable tasks for their customers. 

Gadi Shamia is the cofounder and CEO of Replicant, a voice AI platform that solves customer issues over the phone. Prior to Replicant, he was the COO of Talkdesk, where he helped the company grow from a seed stage to a unicorn. The first company Shamia cofounded, TopManage, was acquired by SAP and today is known as SAP Business One, which is SAP’s core SMB offering. Shamia has also held senior leadership roles at SAP, Adobe, and ReachLocal. He has also held board level roles at EchoSign, Intacct, Algolia, and Talkdesk.

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