The French writer and editor, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, created this wonderful phrase “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” which roughly translates to “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
I sometimes feel that way about contact centers. The core challenge of providing excellent customer service and enabling sales while managing the costs, both the people and the technology, has not and will not change. Even though the tools do. Like today’s hot chatbots to automate customer interactions are yesterday’s must-have IVR.
It is when customers engage with companies, i.e., inbound customer contact whether with live agents or self-service that the rubber meets the road when it comes to customer loyalty and revenues and to costs. So, to understand what is happening with it, I decided to list several questions that someone else would pose and answer them.
Q. What trends, including changes, are you seeing in (a) inbound live agent routing and (b) self-service solutions from industry vendors? And what are the factors driving them?
I would like to start answering this question with a suggestion for all companies, regardless of their contact center seat size, to start looking at how they are satisfying customers with technology and develop a strategy for the next three to five years.
Management needs to focus on implementing technology that will assist customers who want to do business with them, on their terms, when they want and on the channel/method of their choice.
Reducing customer effort with continuous technology innovation will deliver a memorable customer experience (CX).
My suggestion for vendors, do not assume customers want automated attendant or IVR technology with press option phone tree routing that goes on forever. Be proactive and suggest an interactive virtual assistant (IVA) with speech recognition, self-service, and integration to their business applications.
Vendors should be asking prospects and implementation team members what companies they have called and what did they like about the interaction. Remember, we are all customers of someone! I had one client say, “we want to be like Amazon!”
Consider the following high-level enhancements in the technology strategic plan:
- Legacy and “Out of Warranty/Support” systems need to be evaluated and changed.
- Cloud (UCaaS and CCaaS) will reduce IT costs, provide scalability, business continuity, automatic updates, monthly operation costs, for agents, supervisors, maintenance, support.
- Digital Transformation. Add non-voice routing channels (email, webchat, text/SMS, fax, video, social media) and mobile applications that will deliver marketing information, emergency notification systems, customer service answers, customer payments, inventory management, employee dispatching, travel directions, nonprofit fundraising.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI). Incorporate machine learning, “bot” ability to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as self-service and speech recognition, Internet of Things, translation between languages, IVA for customers and agents (visual pop-ups with suggestions for managing the callers, coaching), IVR, speech-enabled IVR, and Conversational AI.
All of these should begin with establishing a Governance Committee or Fusion Team with key influencers from every department. Develop subcommittees that will review all processes and customer journeys and work with line-staff to detail what must be managed by a live agent or can be processed by AI. This is where team members really need to “think like a customer” and companies need to survey their customers about technology changes that will benefit them.
The desired result should be personalization of the CX (trust, empathy, loyalty) and improved customer engagement by delivering innovative technology options which will improve the customer journey!
Q. There has been much conversation about AI-powered chatbots, notably their ability to deflect customer contacts and assist agents. But have they lived up to their benefits?
Yes, there is a lot of buzz centered around AI and Conversational AI which understands context. The term and concepts have been around for years.
Lately, AI has become a synonym for bots (chat and voice), and we all know this technology contributes much more.
Here is a quote from Max Tegmark, President of the Future of Life Institute, that I read years ago and would like to share:
“Everything we love about civilization is a product of intelligence, so amplifying our human intelligence with artificial intelligence has the potential of helping civilization flourish like never before – as long as we manage to keep the technology beneficial.”
The Economist Group 2021 AI Comes of Age Report, sponsored by Genesys, detailed the areas currently using AI or planning to do so in the next year:
- 80% Performance Insights
- 77% Post-interaction analysis and quality assurance
- 71% Marketing automation
- 71% Predictive analytics/digital engagement
- 71% Conversational AI chatbots
- 67% Forecasting/scheduling employees
- 67% Agent assistance
- 71% Interaction routing/segmentation and next best action
- 70% Sentiment analysis
- 66% Conversational AI voicebots
Those interviewed answered this question “To what extent has your organization’s use of AI in Customer Experience brought about improvements in the following business results? (%)”
- 68% Increased customer satisfaction
- 65% Increased customer loyalty
- 63% Increased customer lifetime value
- 62% Increased revenue
- 62% Increased employee satisfaction
- 62% Increased customer effort
- 59% Increased first contact resolution
- 59% Increased campaign ROI
- 59% Reduced cost to serve
- 58% Improved lead quality
For me, this study proves AI is finally coming of age and into the mainstream! It improves the customer and employee experience.
The biggest problem I have witnessed, is that companies appear to be fast-tracking chatbot and voicebot implementations.
A pilot/test may not have been done at all or not done long enough for each customer journey. My pet peeve has been not being offered “would you like to speak with an agent” in a timely manner and the ability to automatically receive a transcript via email of the chat interaction.
Q. A few inbound solution suppliers have rolled in workforce optimization (WFO) applications into their platforms. But how well have these integrations worked? And are contact centers better off buying best-of-breed?
Most CCaaS vendors offer integrated WFO applications, along with a hefty price tag. Many of their offerings are third party integrations with the best-of-breed vendors.
WFO requires historical and live data to forecast and schedule employees and a department whose sole responsibility is to monitor and change staffing as required.
In my opinion, WFO is ideal for 75-plus agents. It requires integration with HR applications such as time clock, payroll for work schedules and time-off (vacation, holidays, floating holidays, sick days, personal days, continuous training, staff meetings, lunch, breaks) and with the ACD to review historical and real-time call volume and performance KPIs.
This is the most difficult part when a new WFO application is installed. It needs to “understand” the environment to do predictive analytics, like on call peaks and what agents are available to work and when. It is great for the agents as they can “see” their schedules, request changes, and/or swap schedules with others.
Q. Is there still an issue in linking inbound automated applications like from digital channels but also IVR with live agent routing? And if so, why is it occurring?
The issue is that many centers think they have an IVR when the technology installed is an automated attendant.
Automated attendant technology was sold as the answer to reduce staff by no longer requiring telephone operators to route calls to staff or departments.
With an automated attendant a caller can route themselves to any direct extension or listen to a menu with press options for a particular department. This technology does not provide press option analytics. Agent screen-pops using simple authentication from caller ID or caller input (account number) can be accomplished.
As customer personalization and digital transformation became a reality, the more expensive IVR became part of the solution with integration for the caller to get information without speaking to an agent.
In my view, the issue is financial with the higher costs for IVR. If you still have an automated attendant routing your calls and would like to have more robust integration for your customers (personalization, actionable data, AI, IVR, IVA) you should explore changing from a premise-based legacy system to the cloud.
Q. What are your recommendations to contact centers in selecting, deploying, and applying agent routing and self-service applications?
First, a short technology history lesson . . .
Humans answered all calls, telephones had one line, six buttons and then 24-buttons, and let everyone know the next line to answer.
Then there were automatic call sequencers that answered all calls, put them on hold, and flashed what line button to pick up next. Along came ACD that answered all calls, put them on hold and automatically routed to the next available agent, followed by skills-based routing, automated attendants, IVRs, and now IVAs and conversational AI.
My wish . . . Get rid of or drastically modify phone trees and offer live agent routing or self-service.
I was part of the team that installed the second Western Electric 2B ACD in New York City for a hotel chain in the late 1960s. It certainly was the latest in tech – each agent position had red/green beehive lights and manual registers tallied the number of calls for each line every hour that had to be manually reset. How our industry has changed.
My wish . . .
Get rid of or drastically modify phone trees and offer live agent routing or self-service.
No matter who I talk to, people do not like press menus!
- If an agent is available route the call and the agent answers “Thank you for calling ABC company, this is Laura, how can I help you?”
- If an agent is NOT available, technology answers “Thank you for calling ABC company. If you would like to use our self-service system, Press 1 (design appropriate speech-enabled IVR, conversational AI, IVA) or if you would like to continue to hold for an agent, Press 2” (Estimated wait time, targeted marketing messages and music-on-hold).
My research has found the following ROI from technology improvements:
- 20% Intelligent routing
- 15%-30% Self-service
- 4%-20% WFO
- 10%-30% Outbound dialers
- 20% CTI (save 26 seconds of talk time for customer authentication)