The conversation and fear surrounding the disruption that AI is causing in the world of business, is ramping up.
Ongoing innovations in automation and machine learning are particularly revolutionising the way that contact centres function, which has left many operators concerned about the security of their roles.
The worry is perhaps understandable. We only have to recall the Oxford University and Deloitte research which dominated many industry-wide headlines last year. When looking at the contact centre sector specifically, the likelihood of jobs being lost to automated technology was among the highest, at 75%.
This dichotomy between technology and labour-intensive jobs has been in play for some time. However, machines and humans can usually work in tandem with one another. Take the automotive industry. Car manufacturing plants have long ‘employed’ a variety of sophisticated machines to streamline the manual and monotonous tasks that need to be undertaken on a production line. Yet humans are still required to design cars and ensure the driving experience is a pleasure.
The present difference, however, is that, thanks to ever-emerging technologies, machines are now able to perform basic cognitive tasks too.
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So, should contact centre employees be fearful that a ‘robot’ is going to steal their jobs?
Admittedly, bots can currently tackle some straightforward tasks efficiently, often without a consumer even needing to pick up the phone. And, if that consumer does decide to make a call, pre-defined messages may be able to resolve a straightforward query without the need for a person to intervene whatsoever.
But the really clever tech – the AI that we’re reading so much about in the media – still relies on intuitive human intellect, in order to reach its full potential.
Let’s think firstly about why a consumer reaches for the phone in the first place. A call usually represents a high-intent action, whether the driver is to make a purchase or – at the other end of the scale – a complaint.
Could a bot effectively handle this situation, to ensure an optimum outcome? Probably not. And research conducted by CEB – now part of Gartner – supports this point. The optimum level of customer service comes from a rep who can understand the needs of the individual caller, take control of the situation and lead them to a mutually-agreed outcome, without the need for a script.
We also have to think about the geographical location that many brands select for their (UK) contact centres. South Wales was the well-reported choice for a major funeral care firm, for example. Studies have found that callers deem the accent more trustworthy, understanding and empathetic, when compared to the somewhat generic Received Pronunciation (RP) – which non-linguists would call ‘the Queen’s English’. Local dialect heightens the perceived personal nature of the call, something that machines cannot mimic – certainly not as yet.
But this commentary should not be perceived as doing AI a disservice. Quite the opposite in fact. Because, whilst many contact centre operators are fearing technology, they may be overlooking the fact that, actually, it could be a helpful aide.
Take Call Intelligence – sophisticated software that uncovers every individual’s behaviour or actions, prior to them picking up the phone. This tool isn’t trying to replace the job of the operator. It’s trying to enhance it.
Armed with previously untapped data insights, for instance, the operator can ensure more personalised, contextual conversations, that enhance the customer experience and increase the likelihood of swift resolutions or successful sale conversions.
This isn’t the only scenario. Contact centres are increasingly being judged on call outcome, for instance, which often sees operators having to listen to lengthy IVRs to record the upshot of every conversation. Whilst the importance of this process is clear, the methodology seems archaic and inefficient, especially if further calls are queued, waiting to be answered.
This is undoubtedly an area where speech analytics will play a growing role moving forward.
At present, many people consider speech analytics little more than a buzz term, largely because the market is in its relative infancy. This currently renders the technology far from perfect, as it cannot reliably compute accents and local dialects, for example.
However, Natural Language Processing is progressing quickly, with machines increasingly being able to analyse, understand and derive meaning from language. As developers iterate NLP to consistently achieve topic segmentation, relationship extraction and sentiment analysis, the opportunities for contact centres will grow. If – no, when – calls can be transcribed in real time, for instance, and the value/outcome of the conversation can be auto-summarised, the effectiveness of even resource-light teams will be significantly boosted.
So, should we fear the ‘robots’?
Well, never say never – who knows how far technological advancements will evolve. But, at the moment, if used cleverly, AI can act as a complementary tool for contact centre operators, meaning there’s more than enough room for both players in this industry.
Established in 2008, ResponseTap is a Call Intelligence specialist, with offices in Manchester, London and the USA. With more than 2,200 worldwide clients, the company continues to be run by its two founders Richard Hamnett and Ross Fobian, with investment from Eden Ventures, Beringea and Enterprise Ventures.
Published: Wednesday, July 5, 2017
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