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The rise of digital: conversational interfaces, virtual assistants & bots

Conversational interfaces (AI) and virtual assistants are facilitating the rise of fully integrated digital channels. As an industry we’ve been talking about the move to omni-channel for years, the panacea where a customer can have a conversation that flows across multiple channels, where the contact centre agent can see all the different interactions and respond appropriately. We’re still not there yet, but AI is playing an increasingly important key role.

Pressure to change

This year the pressure on contact centres has been immense with customers desperate to speak to suppliers, at a time when the suppliers had fewer agents to take the calls. By opening up more digital channels and harnessing conversational AI, contact centres have been able to route incoming calls more intelligently, taking pressure off voice and facilitating more digital conversations and self-service. Straightforward queries can be routed to self-help or knowledge base/frequently asked questions (FAQs) sections online, or can be answered by virtual assistants using AI. Bringing these additional channels online provides the customer with an instant answer and frees up contact centre agents to deal with the more complex enquiries that require human empathy.

AI in Action

We’ve seen numerous examples in recent months of how contact centres have adapted to meet increased customer demand, even while agents have been working from home.

One high profile animal charity has stepped up its use of conversational AI to answer routine questions and improve operational efficiency. This approach allowed agents extra time to handle more of the urgent contacts, enabling them to focus on the higher value contacts. This resulted in 46% more calls being taken since June 2020 with a corresponding 50% reduction in lost contacts and average handling times have been reduced.

A high street retail group is now processing 62% of customer contact through digital channels. 45 seconds saved on average per interaction means agents can take an extra 10 calls per day, resulting in better customer satisfaction.

A nationwide supply and servicing company is now using intelligent call routing for 94% of calls. This has resulted in a 15% improvement in agent adherence and a 10% increase in agent utilisation.

One well known manufacturer and retailer now dynamically changes wording and links on its website to encourage customers to use the channel that will be the quickest for them at that particular point in time. Again, this has resulted in increased customer satisfaction.

Business Benefits of AI in the Contact Centre

As well as providing customers with more choice, using AI to manage additional digital channels removes the pressure from contact centre agents, but that’s not all.

  • Giving customers more choice, makes it easier for them to make contact using channels that they choose
  • Dealing with customers more efficiently leads to better brand sentiment and reputation
  • More efficient use of contact centre agents saves costs
  • Agents are more engaged and motivated because their work is more interesting, therefore they are more effective and provide a better service to those customers that really need it

There is still a way to go

The COVID-19 emergency has acted as a catalyst for change and many contact centres have risen to the challenge. Enabling agents to work from home, virtually overnight, was not a situation that anyone expected at the start of the year. Some have done better than others.

The next challenge for most contact centres is to integrate new digital channels with existing legacy systems. Powered by technology such as conversational AI and virtual assistants that are already proven, they will empower agents to provide an even better service to customers.

Blog written by Andrew Tucker; Success Manager at Cirrus