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What happens when your contact center is ready to stop talking about chatbots or conversational AI and wants to move something into action?

The potential for AI and virtual assistance is vast and inspiring to executives and service leaders but knowing where to begin and how to develop an effective strategy is illusive and paralyzing to most. To understand how to best deploy these technologies in the contact center, we’re going to explore three fundamental elements to include in the development and implementation of an AI-inclusive contact center strategy:

  1. Contacts in traditional channels will increase in significance and strategic value.
  2. Artificial intelligence can, and should, be utilized in both the simple and complex parts of the customer experience.
  3. Live agents and machine intelligence must work together in seamless concert to minimize abandonment rates, increase channel adoption, and drive customer and employee satisfaction.

 It is through these fundamental elements that organizations will find success in delivering the future of customer experiences.

Don’t start making humans redundant

A common misconception in some circles is that conversational artificial intelligence will enable organizations to significantly reduce the need for live agents in the contact center. If this is one of the predominant drivers for making an investment in chatbots or a similar AI, it is most certain to backfire. In researching the adoption and usage of AI and other channels in the contact center, there is no indication that phone (or, more specifically, the fundamental human need to experience real sentiment and emotion) is going away.  What’s true is that channels where someone can speak with a live agent (phone, video, etc.) are increasingly receiving the highest value interactions. Whether it’s the complex, difficult, or otherwise ambiguous—some contacts simply require the human touch.

What this means for contact center leaders is that their intentions, training, and processes for live agents should be focused on elevating their skillsets, which includes ensuring that they’re equipped to handle cross-channel interactions. Long gone are the days when the contact center can (or should) have agents handle entry-level contacts in a single channel. The future is complex contacts that span multiple channels. This also means that agent-facing technologies should be intuitive, with a simple user interface and an ability to see across customer interactions regardless of the channel.

Furthermore, your agents and their knowledge of both the simple and complex customer interactions should play an important role in shaping when and where conversational AI is deployed in the customer journey. By engaging them early on, they’ll be more responsive and bought-in to your organization’s digital transformation plan and may expose opportunities that aren’t seen or felt at executive levels. So, the first place to begin is realizing that agents are an integral part of any successful AI strategy.

AI shouldn’t (just) be rule-bound

Contact center leaders have infinite choices when it comes to deciding where and how to leverage AI. There are thousands of examples of bots and automation in the contact center, but most are far from being truly ‘intelligent’. Virtually everything that’s in the market today is based on a series of rules; if-then formulas that can be finicky and limiting; processes that are really nothing new. But, what if there was so much more that could be done with them?

Could interactions between humans and machines be truly conversational? The short answer is, yes!

While this is not yet leveraged as a mainstream capability, the best designed AI interfaces don’t feel like robots at all. Yes, many sit at touchpoints where self-service is ideal, interactions are highly predictable, and outcomes are finite. But more could sit throughout the customer journey, augmenting an agent’s ability to deliver exceptional service and delivering moments of unexpected delight along the way. This should be the preferred future for artificial intelligence applications: integrated in both the simple and complex.

One of the most operative ways to ensure that these applications are effective is by conducting customer journey mapping sessions. This type of exercise should include the perspectives of frontline agents, contact center leadership, and even customers if possible. Customer journey mapping considers all touchpoints of an experience and enables contact center leaders to inspect and anticipate the best spots to deploy intelligent, conversational technology while avoiding some of the frequent AI mistakes. Just assuming where chatbots, or virtual assistants, should be used as a self-service function and where to utilize live agents is one of the common mistakes made when organizations do their implementation. The most effective organizations leverage journey mapping to make intentional pre-decisions about how customers will interact with technology versus live humans.  This also ensures that the entire experience is seamlessly blended together.

The future of the customer experience is a well-blended one

The braid between humans and technology will only grow more intricate as the years forge ahead and it would be mistaken to believe that organizations could develop strategies that include one but not the other. Yes, customers expect that conversational AI will be part of the service experience, but they also expect that humans will be, too. And even though this is something that customers are expecting, or even desiring, it doesn’t mean that it will be without its challenges.

According to Forrester research1, “customer satisfaction levels will drop as companies drive more traffic to chatbots, self-service, and chat that are not fully optimized to engage customers effectively.” In other words, if companies lack a well thought-out strategy, neglect to deploy effectively integrated technologies and don’t balance the roles of humans and AI in service, they’re going to experience negative results.

This has significant implications over the next five years.

Research2 by Gartner predicts that by 2022, 70% of customer interactions will involve an emerging technology such as machine learning applications, chatbots or mobile messaging, up from 15% in 2018. Contact center leaders simply cannot risk being unprepared for this next era of service.  They must prepare today by leveraging live agents and traditional channels in strategic ways, deploying conversational AI technologies that work in the simple and complex interactions, and leveraging a platform that pulls it all together for a seamless agent experience.

If you’re ready to get started, take your next step by talking to us today.


1 Predictions 2018: Blended AI Will Disrupt Your Customer Service And Sales Strategy, Daniel Hong

2 Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center 2017


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