In today’s ultra-competitive business landscape, the most effective path to success requires surpassing your customers’ expectations every time. However, customer demands and desires constantly shift, especially amid big technology changes or tumultuous economic conditions.
The delivery of exceptional customer service is evolving from “nice to have” to table stakes. In a call center environment, customers expect outstanding service on every call, no matter what. Meeting these expectations, as other customer preferences and product needs change, requires adaptability and a focus on productivity.
Effective contact center agent productivity forms the foundation for many business benefits, including enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced operational costs, and improved brand reputation.
To maximize that productivity, companies are embracing technological advancements like artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to empower their agents to handle inquiries more efficiently and effectively.
The delivery of exceptional customer service is evolving...to table stakes.
Agile call centers are better equipped to offer customers seamless, empathetic, and effective interactions. By prioritizing adaptability, call centers enable agents to resolve customer needs with understanding and ease: even as demands change day to day.
Challenges Faced by Contact Center Agents
As most contact centers currently stand, however, human agents remain the first point of contact for customers who call seeking the answer to a problem.
While agents regularly resolve many of these calls calmly and completely, agents also bear the brunt of angry, frustrated customers who completely forget their manners. Dealing with an unpleasant caller can be emotionally exhausting for agents. But high call volumes rarely give agents time to recover from a negative call experience before they answer the next one.
Even if an agent encounters nothing but kind, friendly customers during a shift, high call volumes can be incredibly stressful. Agents must resolve issues as quickly as possible to reduce the next caller’s wait time and resolve their issue expeditiously.
Now, repeat this pattern ad nauseam, all day, every day. Longer hold times result in higher call abandonment rates and lower customer satisfaction scores because abandoned calls remain unresolved.
Many calls repeat the same pattern. An agent answers the call, looks up the customer’s information, listens to the customer’s problem, researches the answer to the customer’s problem, and resolves the issue.
When customers’ high expectations...are met or exceeded, customer satisfaction scores rise too.
While these calls may not prove challenging, they quickly become repetitive; pursuing information and answers consumes significant amounts of time. In fact, according to Forrester, agents spend about 35% of each shift searching for information. Other challenges agents face include:
- High customer expectations. Customers increasingly demand faster, more personalized service, which puts pressure on contact centers to improve agent productivity.
- Competition. Contact centers are competing with each other to provide the best possible customer experience.
- Regulatory compliance. Contact centers are subject to various regulations, which can add to the agent workloads.
These challenges present call centers with opportunities for improvement. When customers’ high expectations for customer service are met or exceeded, customer satisfaction scores rise too. Competition breeds innovation, and innovation in contact center technology and processes can help improve agent productivity.
The Role of AI in Transforming Agent Productivity
The standout trends bolstering call center agent performance and improving customer satisfaction include unprecedented automation capabilities, fueled by AI.
The days of hundreds of agents in one room constantly inundated with ringing phones will become ancient history, replaced by a frontline of intelligent voice assistants fielding calls. This technology provides customers with FAQ answers and resolves other straightforward queries, thereby freeing agents to focus on higher-level customer calls requiring an empathetic human touch.
According to a report by Allied Market Research, the AI market is expected to reach $9.95 billion in 2030, with an annual growth rate of 26%. As the use of this technology expands, contact centers must integrate AI tools into their operations or risk being left behind by competitors.
AI can revolutionize contact center operations by:
- Decreasing agent toil. AI can automate repetitive tasks currently performed by agents, such as routing calls, qualifying customers, and providing basic information. These high-volume, low-complexity tasks are tailor-made prime functions for AI to assume.
- This process enables call center staff to prioritize building relationships with customers, focus on complex problem-solving, and complete higher-order analytical duties better aligned with human capabilities.
- Tailoring customer interactions. AI can help personalize customer conversations by analyzing past interactions and outcomes to predict their needs.
- Over 70% of customers expect personalized business interactions, with 76% becoming frustrated when those expectations aren’t met. A company’s ability to personalize consumer touchpoints is paramount to success.
- Personalization also drives customer loyalty (78% indicated personalized content increased the likelihood they’d make another purchase from a brand) and can improve customer satisfaction.
- Informing agents. AI can analyze large amounts of historical data, such as a customer’s previous calls, and provide agents with real-time insights into current customer behavior. Access to relevant information empowers agents to resolve customer issues faster and more efficiently.
- Compliance improvements. AI can help agents streamline compliance tasks. It automates processes to verify customer identities by cross-checking data points and documents to ensure data privacy regulations are being met.
- In addition to not being subject to emotional catalysts prompting social engineering, AI can also monitor agent-customer interactions to identify non-compliant behavior, sensitive data sharing or prohibited content. Doing so allows contact centers to take corrective actions more quickly.
A sophisticated voice assistant is one example of an AI-powered tool that can benefit contact centers. Rather than forcing a caller to say a specific keyword to move the call forward, these intelligent voice assistants can communicate with callers naturally and conversationally, understanding the caller. It does so regardless of accent, speech impediment, background noise, or interruption.
AI Implementation Challenges
AI implementation does not come without challenges, however. Potential downsides to integrating AI into call center operations include:
- Job displacement. AI could potentially displace some contact center agents. Successful AI utilization would ultimately reduce churn and lead to tiering up existing agents.
- Data privacy concerns. AI relies on data, and data privacy leaders have expressed concern about this data’s use, protection and storage. Existing data management guidelines and easy to control guardrails may see added security, as threats of social engineering are neutralized.
- Algorithmic bias. Training models with less than optimal data can introduce bias into AI algorithms, which could lead to unfair customer treatment.
With appropriate human oversight, these potential roadblocks can be mitigated, and contact centers can benefit from AI’s opportunities to grow agent productivity.
The AI Competency Center
An AI competency center is an internal team or department within an organization that builds expertise around the responsible and strategic application of AI technologies. It serves as a centralized internal body overseeing and enabling the safe, legal and strategically aligned incorporation of AI capabilities into processes.
Size and participation in the competency centers will vary. But within the call center they typically include senior operational leaders, experienced call center agents, software engineers, customer success/experience liaisons, legal counsel, and corporate IT as increased need for interoperability in the enterprise tech stack demands.
By establishing an AI competency center, contact centers can rely on AI to handle the bulk of frequently asked inquiries and route more complicated calls to human agents. While preserving oversight, development, training, and analysis of the system in the hands of competent, informed employees to ensure efficiency, efficacy, and compliance.
Train your agents on using AI tools effectively so they feel supported...
As organizations move toward the Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) model, an AI competency center will facilitate the transition of companies integrating AI capabilities into the work ecosystem: by keeping employees actively involved and informed.
A well-designed competency center will establish a scalable governance model, actively manage and fine-tune the prompts and flows on which the virtual agents operate. It will also ensure that local and industrial mandates are being adhered to.
Rather than full automation intended to completely displace staff, sophisticated AI tools will assume more routine and repetitive tasks under the oversight of knowledgeable employees. This human-in-the-loop approach supports the automation of tedious processes and empowers capable teams to handle complex matters, ultimately optimizing workflows benefitting employees and customers.
Best Practices for Using AI To Improve Contact Center Agent Productivity
For organizations ready to bolster agent productivity with AI, this list of best practices and operational prompts can be housed and disseminated by the AI competency center. These provide guardrails for call centers to leverage the technology responsibly and thoughtfully.
- Start small. Don’t try to implement AI across your entire contact center simultaneously. Start with a small pilot project and solicit and analyze feedback from participants to learn from your experience.
- Proactively provide information. Be transparent with your agents about how the call center will use AI — as well as its impact on their jobs — so everyone can manage their expectations.
- Provide education. Train your agents on using AI tools effectively so they feel supported; offer support to clarify its role and contributions to their work.
- Track outcomes. Monitor your results closely and make adjustments as needed.
This framework charts a course for AI adoption that places equal emphasis on augmenting human capabilities and achieving business results to drive positive outcomes for customers and agents.
By leveraging AI’s capabilities to uncover insights and automate simple tasks, human contact center agents are empowered to focus on relationship-building, creative problem solving, and providing the kind of customized support today’s customers demand.
Customer satisfaction will rise along with agent productivity. As the technology continues to develop and improve, AI implementation in contact centers will optimize processes and drive business success.