If you were to ask customer service and contact center executives for their opinion on artificial intelligence, you’re certain to get a mixed response. Some believe that AI will inevitably make live agents redundant, while others strongly oppose such technology, believing it ineffective at understanding basic human emotion. What if, however, the reality of maximizing AI existed somewhere in the middle? A place where process efficiency blends seamlessly with complex, omnichannel interactions and experiences are designed to minimize customer effort, optimize human resources and deliver happy customers as a result. It sounds like an ideal scenario, but what are the practical steps that organizations can take today to achieve positive results tomorrow?
The best first step is to create a plan for integrating your AI initiative into the omnichannel experience that you’ve already developed. It doesn’t mean that you need to change everything about the customer experience just because you’re implementing new capabilities. In fact, implementing artificial intelligence should be more about making enhancements to your existing strategy—not designing a new one. But, one of the most common mistakes made in AI implementations is placing the technology apart from the existing customer journey. In these instances, interactions occur in silos; data is disconnected, and – most critically – the transition points along each customer’s experience are noticeably fractured.
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No matter the maturity level of your organization, there are a few simple questions that will aid the integration of AI into your existing strategy.
This exercise is, in many ways, the foundation for enhancing your channel access strategy and customer journey maps. Organizations shouldn’t necessarily implement AI everywhere they can, just because they can. Companies with the best deployments of artificial intelligence assisting the service experience intentionally place it in spots across the customer’s journey that are most conducive to the customer already wanting to help themselves. Furthermore, they design them in such a way that the customer can easily connect with a live agent, should the need arise.
In other words, apply intelligence to situations that can be easily predicted and designed with a precise awareness of its own shortcomings and inabilities. Determining which situations are easily predicted, and how they fit into the full customer journey, however, can’t be a decision that’s made by a single department.
Customers desire ease and simplicity in their experiences, and they want to trust the people responsible for responding to their questions or concerns. When it’s noticeable that a machine is providing service, and it then becomes complicated to chat with a human, customers will (and have already) grow in their distrust of AI. For organizations to implement artificial intelligence well, it means integrating their AI and automation into their existing customer journey in such a way that the tech-assisted experiences happen alongside the human-assisted ones. Each organization must consider the unique needs of the business, the customers and the employees when designing their intelligence systems. Furthermore, they should evaluate each step of the customer journey and the nuances of those experiences that are best suited for AI. This should include representation from marketing, sales, product development, executive leadership, contact center and brick-and-mortar customer service teams.
From the perspective of your customers, their fundamental expectation is that they will receive service in their channel of choice, at the time they want it, and that it will be worry and error-free once they receive it. While this may sound like a simple concept, many contact centers lack the insights necessary to determine their blend of offerings and, as a result, make their choices by guesswork. This type of haphazard approach often contributes to unnecessary costs and complexities. Without conducting an exercise that uncovers the specifics of customer expectations across their many touch points, like cross-functional customer journey mapping, contact center leaders will often struggle to find the right mix of channels for their unique client base.
Mapping the touchpoints of the customer journey isn’t just for the customer’s benefit—it also enables companies to ensure that they’re delivering on employee and organizational expectations, as well.
For most organizations, their primary expectation for service is that it will be cost-efficient and maximize revenue. In terms of how this drives AI, a well-represented cross-segment of leaders can identify the relative value of interactions throughout the customer journey and leverage self or agent assisted-service to control the cost of service and demands placed on live agents. One such example is that an organization can decide to immediately route the highest-value customers to a live agent—circumventing AI systems entirely. Alternatively, entire industries whose business is based on predominately low-value interactions may choose to heavily leverage automated systems at their frontline. (For example, consider the increasing number of self-service kiosks in shops or grocers.) While there is no definitive guide to customer value and when to apply AI, or not, businesses should strongly consider the balance of cost efficiency and opportunities to maximize revenue, while also recognizing the importance and need for the human touch throughout the customer journey.
Ensuring that the human touch is delivered well requires an understanding of your agent’s expectations.
At the most basic level, agents want clearly defined expectations that make sense and aren’t designed to burn them out. They also want to have the tools, resources and training to perform their job to expectations. This means two fundamental things in relation to artificial intelligence:
Additionally, as contact centers address the increasing number of digital natives who are now consumers, they must find a way to provide an experience that meets customers wherever they may be. Even more importantly, they must find a solution that enables them to do so without increasing the cost of service. With its cost-efficiency and ability to deploy across platforms and channels, artificial intelligence and automation can be the remedy to this problem for an increasing number of organizations. The question then becomes, “Which interactions are best left for AI, and what should be addressed by live agents?” While there is not one correct answer, the highly repetitive or predictable types of interactions are universally appealing for automation or bots. It’s those interactions that often demotivate and bore agents when they complete them on a regular basis. By utilizing technology strategically, contact center employees are better leveraged and able to focus on the more complicated and complex interactions. In these best-case scenarios, the customer service team delivers a strategic advantage through elevated levels of both customer and employee satisfaction.
Despite having no cookie cutter approach to leveraging artificial intelligence, the organizations who thoughtfully consider the needs of their customers and employees across the various touch points of the customer journey, and are willing to refine and finesse as they move along, will find themselves getting closer and closer to the best blend for their unique situation.
Organizations intend to invest heavily in AI in the coming year. Customers are showing increased interest in leveraging tools that enable them to help themselves. Agents indicate excitement and enthusiasm toward the benefits and advantages provided by automation. The momentum is building for AI in the contact center and the stakes are too high to implement the wrong systems. Utilizing AI well in a complex, omnichannel environment requires technology that provides full context at the agent level. The best systems are seamlessly integrated together, ensuring that customers and agents alike can interact naturally throughout the customer journey as situations dictate the need for automated or assisted-service.
Through the careful design of their omnichannel strategy and the implementation of a tool that considers customer context and seamlessly integrates channels, contact centers can create a service experience that is a competitive differentiator. By blending the right mix of AI and assisted-service, and utilizing the latest technologies, customer insights and best practice techniques, contact centers will achieve success with their customers, their employees and their shareholders.