This article by Peter Elliot, Senior Consultant for the Taylor Reach Group, Inc., looks at AI in specific regards to virtual agents, their impact on labor in the Contact Center, associated maintenance costs and more. These predictions may surprise you.
Mention Artificial Intelligence (AI) to most people and it conjures up visions of talking robots and Alexa - like appliances answering simple questions. Checking into a hotel can now be performed by a robot, and renting a car will likely be done this way soon as well. These bots are known as Virtual Agents and are certainly ideal for use in high volume, low complexity tasks. The delivery channel may be via an iPad-like experience in-house, via web chat online, or as a speech recognition application over the phone. They are recognized by a conversational approach to the transaction.
The drive to reduce the number of people in Contact Centers has been around since their inception. Contact Centers increasingly now operate in an omni-channel environment. Service can be delivered by phone, email, web chat, self-service, mobile apps and social media as well as virtual agents. Self-service by customers has already led to a reduction in agent numbers, but customer expectations have increased and immediate access to information is expected without wait times.
Contact Center Services Will be Augmented – Not Replaced
Virtual Agents provide zero wait times and will lead to fewer agents answering calls. Talking to a real person will become a premium offering, and a service differentiator. Additionally, where the virtual agent fails to resolve an issue, a people driven service must step-in. Contact Center agents will therefore be augmented, not replaced, by AI. Like many technological advances, a proportion of the investment will go towards improving the customer experience, such as 24x7 access and immediate response, while some will go towards improving efficiency by employing fewer people. One advantage will be that while fewer staff will be employed the work being done by those remaining will become less routine, more complex and therefore rewarding, and potentially more highly paid.
AI Maintenance Costs
In addition to the initial investment, there will be a significant ongoing cost to maintain the AI application’s capability. Whilst self-learning is inherent, they must still be monitored to ensure they are meeting customer expectations and be fed with information about business changes such as new products or compliances in the same way as a Contact Center agent would need regular training. This will increase the number of people required in back-office functions causing a shift of people away from the customer-facing roles and into administrative and support positions.
Contact Centers are increasingly being challenged to provide integrated omni-channel services alongside compliance requirements to do with data privacy, authentication and security. There is no doubt investment in AI will help to meet these challenges without employing increasing numbers of customer-facing staff, however, cost containment rather than an increase in profits is likely to be the major outcome, and an improvement in customer experience will be a welcome by-product.
Operating an omni-channel Contact Center in today’s environment of increasing customer expectations and compliance requirements and the continuing pressure to keep up with a fast-moving business, is a highly complex and challenging task. Different businesses have different Contact Center requirements, and there are a multitude of vendors offering solutions to these challenges. #contactcenterworld
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