COVID-19 sparked a rapid increase in call center volume across industries, with some sectors like travel and hospitality seeing exponential growth overnight. At the same time, contact center capacities dropped dramatically in response to social distancing guidelines, and more agents than ever before set up shop to take customer calls and respond to support tickets from their own homes.
To keep pace, contact centers have been forced to jump into action. For the most resourceful of them, it’s been a prime opportunity to leverage technology–namely, artificial intelligence–to respond to surging demand while maintaining quality.
While the pandemic came with plenty of downsides, one definitive upside has been the ability to see the transformative power of AI in customer service in real-time. Here are four key takeaways we’ve gleaned about how AI is transforming the contact center in the work-from-home era.
1. Improving customer experience at scale
It’s hard to find a call center metric that’s not positively impacted by the introduction of AI.
AI-powered speech analysis, for example, evaluates vocal characteristics, word choice, nature of the inquiry, call history and more to make real-time recommendations and send alerts when intervention is needed, fueling positive outcomes. After adding intelligent speech analytics, call centers saw an average 19% reduction in repeat call volume and a 6% annual increase in one-time calls handled.
AI has the power to take the massive volume of data gathered by contact centers and turn it into meaningful insights. It can glean information from a wide range of sources–a customer’s call history, of course, but also their social media interactions, online reviews, support tickets, and more. This enables a rapid and holistic assessment of the customer agents can use to determine how best to address the call.
On a broader level, these insights can be used to optimize performance and self-service, resulting in faster response times, more first-call resolutions, and happier agents, all of which contribute to higher customer satisfaction.
In terms of availability, AI can exponentially expand it. Virtual agents can be accessed via live chat 24 hours a day, while interactive IVR helps customers self-resolve issues without needing to speak to a live agent. In a landscape where consumers demand near-instant access to the brands they spend money with, this is an essential feature if you want to compete.
2. Automating quality and risk management
We frequently talk about quality management in terms of one-on-one interactions–reviewing conversations, scoring them on quality metrics, giving agents feedback, coaching for better outcomes in the future, and so on. With such a large portion of agents working from home, these one-on-one interactions become challenging.
AI allows you to execute personalized quality management at scale, reviewing more customer interactions on more channels and using the results to give highly detailed feedback remotely. Create custom scorecards for any channel, then use speech analytics to automate the process of scoring calls on those channels. The result among call centers that enacted such a system was a 50% reduction in annual quality management FTE costs.
Another important area AI can help with is risk mitigation. With intelligent scripting, you can instantly populate agent scripts with the required language to remain compliant within your industry or with regard to a particular product. Automatic updates help you stay current with the latest requirements across all channels, minimizing risk and protecting your bottom line.
3. Simplifying training and development
Contact center agents thrive when they receive proper training and ongoing development. The rapid expansion of remote workforces calls for a shift in our approach to the way we nurture agents who aren’t physically on site.
Having personnel manually listen to calls is time- and labor-intensive and doesn’t provide the high-level insights needed to improve performance at the organizational level. Instead, we can harness AI-powered speech analytics to provide precise, highly targeted feedback to agents regardless of their geographical location.
This takes care of on-the-spot coaching, but what about ongoing professional development?
AI can help with that, too. In much the same way we leverage smart technology to build knowledge bases for our customers, we can use it to curate resources for our agents, creating custom e-learning libraries and managing training tasks across a geographically disparate workforce.
4. Fine-tuning people management
AI is unparalleled in its prediction capabilities—for our purposes, the ability to accurately predict volume across channels and forecast the appropriate staffing to accommodate it. This enables call centers to beef up their available human agents during peak call times and supplement with virtual agents to save on staffing costs during quieter periods.
Machine learning can account for variations like seasonal shifts and holidays, getting ever more accurate with time. This not only reduces costly labor overruns but helps keep wait time and handle time in check, which appeases customers.
Since its inception, AI has held a great deal of promise for contact centers. Now, with a vast portion of the call center workforce doing their jobs remotely, its capabilities in the way of automation, prediction, and personalization are more valuable than ever. With AI’s help, contact centers can continue to deliver the exceptional experiences customers are looking for while keeping up with ever-rising call volumes.