Evolve your Contact Center to an Omnichannel Experience, Encompassing Bots, AI

By Blair Pleasant
6 Dec 2018

Introduction

When it comes to interacting with businesses for customer service and sales, consumers have more options than ever before. Digital channels such as email, online chat, and social media are increasingly becoming the channels of choice, as the use of voice communications decreases.

Consumers are more discerning and demanding than ever before. They want to be serviced on their terms, on the device they choose, and the channel they prefer. They demand fast and efficient service, with the option of self service, any time of day or day of the week. To meet the evolving needs of consumers, businesses are evolving their call centers to cloud-based omnichannel contact centers, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), virtual assistants, and bot technologies to reduce costs and improve the agent and customer experience.

Omnichannel Experiences

While voice is the most widely-used channel for contact center interactions, digital channels such as email, web chat, social media, SMS, and messaging are quickly gaining and will surpass the use of voice in the next few years. According to AT&T, voice is still the most popular of all interactions, but is dropping over time as alternative digital channels take hold. Consumers, especially millennials, are not willing to wait on hold for an agent and demand immediate service and responses. If these customers don’t get the service they expect, they can be quite vocal about it.

Omnichannel contact centers, supporting all the available interaction channels, are quickly becoming requirements for many organizations and are key elements of business’ digital transformation strategies.

Digital channels such as email, chat, SMS, social media, and messaging, offer real-time and non-real-time options and are especially useful for noisy environments where voice interactions may not be optimal, while making it easy to share documents, photos, or web page links.

Social Media

Twitter and Facebook are rapidly becoming the new kid on the block as a way for customers to complain, get information, and provide feedback to companies. For enterprises that want to provide top-level customer support and service, integrating social media with the contact center is one way to serve customer service needs and help customers get solutions to their problems. While the use of social media for customer service is still relatively low, there’s a huge opportunity for organizations that monitor and selectively respond to social media interactions. Without the right tools to monitor, track, and respond to social media posts, companies may not be able to quickly and effective limit the damage of negative viral posts.

When part of a company’s omnichannel contact center platform, social media interactions can be treated as another customer service interaction, and agents can be provided with history and context about the interaction. Companies can route tweets and Facebook posts to contact center agents and handle these interactions just like they handle phone calls, email, and web chat sessions.

AI and Bots

As contact centers strive to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and enhance the customer experience, they have been turning to the use of AI and bots. Applying AI technologies such as bots, machine learning, and natural language processing helps businesses reduce the time it takes to solve customers’ problems, while improving both the agent and customer experience.

During a discussion with AT&T about their contact center offerings (which the company acknowledges is one of their best kept secrets), the company explained that the highest cost component of any contact center is the agent, representing 60% of overall operating costs. As companies try to reduce costs, they look to reduce agent headcount and “doing more for less.” That’s where bots and virtual assistants shine - they can help offload some of the traditional agent calls and interactions by automating tasks and interacting with customers for basic or repetitive inquiries. In fact, AT&T found that bots have become more trustworthy than humans, and in many cases millennials prefer to interact with a bot than a human.

AI is being used in various ways throughout the contact center. In some cases, Virtual Assistants can guide the caller or consumer through self-service processes. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) lets consumers access backend systems effectively without requiring human intervention.

Bots are not a panacea and aren’t appropriate for every situation, however. Bots are not human and don't have emotions; they generally can’t interpret the customer’s emotional state of what’s being said or input by consumer. When thinking about using AI and bots, businesses need to consider their customers and customer preferences. For example, when do their customers prefer to interact with a bot rather than a human agent? Some interactions and transactions are better suited for bots, and businesses need to understand customer preferences and map out which interactions can be successfully moved to a bot interface, as well as what types of bot interactions may need to be transferred to a human agent as an option.

A Frictionless Customer Experience

Going beyond features and functionality, look for partners and providers that can ensure quality and reliability. For example, AT&T provides a SaaS offering called Visual Network Analytics (VNA) to identify friction points in call journeys, troubleshoot issues, and remove “friction points” that can impede quality. Also think about the network and voice connectivity that the contact center rides over, which needs to be secure and scalable. Look for a company that offers global transport, IP Toll Free, SIP Trunking and routing services, providing a foundation for delivering contact center services.

Getting Started

One of the first steps in deploying an omnichannel contact center with AI and bot technology is to develop a strategy and methodology. Look for consultants, partners, and providers that can help you develop the right strategy, identify your requirements, evaluate various technology options, build the business case, and select the right vendors’ solutions. According to AT&T, it’s important to map out customer journeys and personas, and identify your top customer interactions or call flows to determine where various interaction channels, as well as AI, virtual assistants, and bot technology make sense.

There are many options to choose from and many decisions to make as you evolve your contact center to an AI-enabled omnichannel experience. Working with partners that have experience in designing, deploying, and optimizing these solutions can help you best achieve your desired business outcomes.


This paper is sponsored by AT&T.

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