How Artificial Intelligence Is Transforming Contact Centers

by Sohini Bagchi    Aug 16, 2017


The customer engagement or contact center industry as it is commonly called, is going through a major transformation, thanks to the advent of digital technologies. In many ways, contact centers are the heart and soul of the enterprise,  often the most intimate point of contact between a business and its customers that are capable of making or breaking the customer experience.

Today’s contact center agents are expected to communicate with customers not only on the phone but via social media, instant messaging, video conferencing and web chat. It is therefore obvious for leaders at the contact centers to deploy modern, digital technologies and not solely depend on manpower, unlike in the past. Many companies are therefore implementing bots powered by artificial intelligence or AI to work in their contact centers and communicate with their customers.

The power of bots, virtual assistants

Experts believe that AI is already dramatically changing contact centers. AI is even helping contact center managers to predict customer behavior, providing advice to customer service agents on how best to solve a particular issue. It is little surprise then that Gartner predicts that, by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions will no longer be managed by humans. 

Tech titans such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Google, among others, and several startups working in the area of AI are building virtual assistants and chatbots that can respond to voice queries and engage in a fairly natural dialog with users. Organizations across verticals such as banking, ecommerce, retail, healthcare and hospitality are implementing bots for making contact centers more efficient with bots that can quickly answer the questions most commonly asked by customers. 

In theory, virtual assistants greatly improves the customer experience, because AI bots can store endless amounts of data and access relevant information at the right time to give customers exactly what they want. AI bots can also help organizations boost efficiencies and reduce costs, because organizations will no longer have to operate contact centers staffed 24/7 by employees around the globe.

Monitoring is the key

Conversely, the better AI gets, the greater the potential for risks. As AI handles more and more types of data, the complexity of its data interactions grows and so does the possibility for mistakes. Thus, as contact centers move toward automation, it’s crucial that companies be able to observe the effectiveness of their customer interactions and their AI solutions. They must be aware when interactions wander off-track—because their customers certainly will.

“Businesses can take advantage of AI while ensuring a consistently excellent customer experience. What’s essential however is constantly monitoring the experiences you deliver in order identify issues fast so you can take rapid action to protect the customer experience and in real time,” said Alan Trefler, Founder and CEO, Pegasystems Inc. For instance, with AI you still need to monitor the time it takes to complete a particular interaction and know if the customer was satisfied with the experience. This can be used to avoid issues and delays that come in the way of customer experience.

You will also still be required to record customer interactions if you are in a regulated industry. Aside from asking a human to check every recorded voice call, which defeats the purpose of using bots, you will need to invest in call recording assurance technology. This helps validate the physical presence of the recording files on the servers and then validates their audio quality using complex algorithms.

“Despite the gains, its most important function is to act as a platform to facilitate interactions between humans and machines. This would be most evident in sales and marketing processes,” said Suhale Kapoor, Executive VP-Co-founder, Absolutdata. Regardless of humans or bots interacting with customers, the quality of the communication remains very important, including voice quality. The best responses are worthless if they cannot be understood. Organizations considering AI and bots for their contact center first need to ensure that they are proactively managing voice quality, he believes.

human robots

Will today’s contact center cease to exist?

The contact center of today may however cease to exist, believe experts. The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and Oracle released a new research report, focuses on cutting-edge technologies that are rapidly infiltrating today’s contact centers and how they are changing the customer experience in new and positive ways. With evolving technologies come new expectations, and this research report explores how organizations are adapting to new advancements, including self-service options, artificial intelligence, connected devices and more. [Click here to read the full report]

By analyzing survey data from over 300 contact center professionals, mostly CXOs and head of the respective departments, the researchers stated that 41 percent of respondents expect their contact centers’ use of bots/AI to increase in the next 12-18 months. This change in perception is linked to the benefits of using new technologies. Organizations offering IoT/connected technologies reported a 50 percent increase in customer satisfaction, while 44 percent of organizations offering IoT/connected technologies reported satisfaction remaining the same.

“The increased presence of connected devices and artificial intelligence in the contact center is inevitable. Contact centers are wise to look toward the future and make it a priority to adopt new technologies that support these capabilities,” said Justin Robbins, group director, content & community, ICMI. “The benefits of adopting these new technologies will be realized from the executive office to the frontline employee to the individual customer and will have a major impact on the entire customer service experience.”

According to the researchers, as contact centers embrace advanced technologies they will have to accurately leverage the information that they collect. Currently, only about half of all contact centers surveyed are leveraging the data from connected devices and 51 percent of contact centers use data from connected sources to empower contact center managers with real-time metrics, KPIs and customer data. Furthermore, 47 percent of contact centers are unable to use data from their connected sources to identify or resolve a detected problem.

AI is poised to radically transform the customer experience. And even though we’re only at the beginning, in a 2016 worldwide survey by Xerox, 42 percent of respondents predicted that the contact center as we know it now will cease to exist by 2025. Indeed, the steady progress toward deeper implementation of AI in the contact center is inevitable because it will allow organizations to improve service levels and reduce costs. In such a scenario, those implementing AI and bots into their contact center would be the ones to stay afloat.