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Supporting the Agent/Customer Experience

Supporting the Agent/Customer Experience

/ Operations, People, Technology, Staffing, Artificial Intelligence
Supporting the Agent/Customer Experience

An AI-first approach keeps contact centers—and their agents—running efficiently and effectively.

Earlier this year, the Harvard Business Review published 11 trends they believe will shape the workplace in 2022 and beyond.

These trends acknowledge a key reality for many employers right now: as the U.S. economy approaches full employment, competition for employees is critical. At the same time, the labor market is in the midst of a transformation. Turnover is high for many organizations while fewer people are participating in the workforce.

Employers must find new and better ways to attract and retain talented people. Which may mean considering new compensation strategies, implementing flexible/hybrid work arrangements, prioritizing employee satisfaction and well-being, and adopting more technologies that enable automation and enhance performance.

For contact centers, this means an obligation to support their agents, who are likely dealing with greater call volumes and fewer coworkers to assist them.

Intelligent contact center solutions can help alleviate stress on agents in ways that bolster employee experiences and satisfaction and create an environment where people can thrive.

AI as Your First Line of Defense

Increasingly, contact centers are deploying an artificial intelligence (AI)-first approach to supporting agent and customer experiences as a first line of defense.

For years organizations used AI like automatic speech recognition and text-to-speech in their IVR (interactive voice response) to better manage inbound call volumes.

The simplest level of AI would determine which persons or departments the customers needed and route them accordingly.

As speech technology evolved, words and longer phrases were better understood through natural language understanding. Now leading organizations allow callers to speak naturally, in their own words, to explain their queries.

These more advanced, conversational AI solutions—which encompass IVR, chatbots, and automated virtual assistants—can take on the first level of customer engagement, connecting people with fast resolutions to common questions and issues and allowing them to complete transactions without human intervention.

As examples, banking customers who need to check balances, retail customers who seek order status updates, telecommunications customers looking to pay their bills, and pharmacy customers who want to refill their prescription can all do so automatically and efficiently, without the help of live agents.

But not every customer request is so simple. When a human connection is needed, the AI solution effectively hands off the request to a live agent, transferring the conversation from self-service to assisted service.

Employing AI as the first line of defense helps to shorten wait times, reduce call volumes, balance workloads among available staff, and please customers while also optimizing agent efficiency and satisfaction. By giving agents the space they need to focus on high-priority, complex requests and sales opportunities, they’re free from the more mundane tasks.

Agent Guidance for Delightful Customer Interactions

While contact centers cope with a tight market for talent, agents may find they have fewer people available to answer questions and get support for customer interactions.

In the same way that AI can shoulder some of the burden from high call volumes, it’s also uniquely equipped for carefully guiding agents through these conversations, offering suggestions and insights to fulfill requests.

A conversational AI platform can be deployed within the contact center to monitor active calls and online engagements and then provide agents in real time with relevant insights and details to successfully resolve the issues or grow revenues through upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

With this platform it’s almost like having a coach dedicated to every agent, giving the tools to them in order to become the best agents they can be.

For example, a customer is live chatting with a sales agent, and asks whether a particular style of shoe is available in any other colors. The conversational AI platform works quickly in the background to serve up this information to the agent, who can confidently and accurately answer this question for the customer at just the right moment.

At the same time, the AI-first approach can proactively recognize opportunities to convert inquiries to sales, suggesting applicable promotions that can ultimately entice customers to complete the transactions for items in their shopping carts.

Using AI to Retain and Recruit Top Talent

Virtually every industry is battling the effects of what many are referring to as The Great Resignation, and contact centers aren’t immune to this.

Virtually every industry is battling the effects of what many are referring to as The Great Resignation, and contact centers aren’t immune to this.

According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report, released in January 2022, the number of American workers quitting their jobs hit a record high in November 2021, with 4.5 million people walking away from their jobs.

So, in order for contact centers to not only retain but also recruit top talent in a booming job market, they need to ensure that employees are equipped with the latest and greatest AI technologies that will help them complete their jobs swiftly and without frustration.

AI-powered solutions, like virtual assistants, can shorten call handle times by engaging broader audiences and answering seemingly recurring questions asked by customers.

With an AI-first approach, agents are able to deliver omnichannel experiences to their customers by combining automated and human engagements to achieve the best outcomes.

This way, agents can engage customers in natural conversations—via text or voice—to respond to requests with personalized responses in a self-serve environment.

If the virtual assistant determines a live agent is needed, for example, it can use skills-based routing to deliver the customer to the best agent able to handle their inquiry.

By enabling the virtual assistant, you’re not only delivering prompt, live assistance to your customers, you’re freeing your agents to handle the more complex, high-value calls that matter most and are most meaningful. As an end result, employees can conduct their jobs with limited frustrations and with greater ease, which can also decrease burnout.

Furthermore, these technologies can also help agents learn on the go and conduct successful customer interactions without asking for internal assistance from other agents.

For example, a contact center employee—new or seasoned—who is working remotely may not have quick access to contact center managers about where to take a troublesome customer interaction.

But with agent-facing AI, agents are automatically prompted with guidance from the tool that can lead them through the next steps to ensure customers are leaving with the answers they need and their problems solved.

Beyond supporting contact center agents with AI-powered technologies and tools that streamline workflows and support agent’s professional growth, these solutions can also contribute to a healthier bottom line.

From improved customer experiences and digital services to reduction in employee turnover and burnout, and ultimately making all agent-customer interactions superior.

Support for Hybrid, Remote Work Environments

As COVID-19 variants emerged and upended return-to-office plans, but even as signs emerge that there may be at last a hopeful end to the pandemic, a growing number of employees prefer to continue working remotely or through a hybrid model.

And that means contact centers need more support than ever in creating seamless, high-performance work environments for all agents, regardless of where they’re doing their work.

With cloud-first technologies, contact centers can feel confident that their agents will have all the tools they need to do their jobs effectively and securely.

Biometric authentication, as just one example, can verify agent identities seamlessly and securely and without compromising ease of access to necessary systems. It’s worth noting, too, that biometrics can help automatically identify customers, removing the need for agents to manually authenticate customers, a process that can often be frustrating and time-consuming.

As another example, AI-powered solutions can save agent time by automatically summarizing and transcribing every customer interaction, recording the status of each engagement (resolved, needs follow-up, etc.). It’s one more way to alleviate some of the burden on agents so they can focus on what matters most: providing the best possible customer service.

Regardless of how large or small your contact center, or which industry you serve, the challenges facing us in 2022 are many. But we’re not without hope.

Taking an AI-first approach to modernizing the contact center can make the difference in creating engaging experiences for agents and customers alike.

Tony Lorentzen

Tony Lorentzen

Tony Lorentzen is Senior Vice President and General Manager of Intelligence Engagement at Nuance Communications. With over 25 years of experience in the technology sector, Tony is a proven leader in working with the cross-functional teams, blending his in-depth knowledge of business management, technology and vertical domain expertise to bring Nuance’s solutions to the Enterprise market and partnering with customers to ensure implementations drive true ROI.

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