Steve ForcumMay 06, 2019

Efficiency vs. Automation: Effectively Implementing Contact Center AI

AI is driving truly revolutionary capabilities in the contact center that play into the sweeping trend of digital transformation. Organizations understand this, with 94% agreeing that effective AI can transform the performance of their contact center. Yet only 34% have recently made strategic investments in contact center AI, with most feeling they are not getting the best out of the technology in this area of business.

Several issues are at the heart of this matter. We sat down with Steve Forcum, Manager of Cloud Solutions Engineering at Avaya, to discuss the transformative value of contact center AI and how organizations can see success.

Q: Let’s start simple: Why AI in the contact center?

Effective AI takes an existing contact center environment and makes it that much better to drive new efficiency gains. It’s not a matter of replacing people with an army of contact center robots, which some reports would have you believe. In terms of customer experience, for example, it’s clear that AI can perform tasks faster than any human can. Yet humans have the ability to express empathy in order to make the right kinds of decisions that AI can’t. There’s a give-and-take dynamic at play. We need people and we need AI. Both are invaluable in the modern-day contact center.

Speaking to a human will not become a premium service in the contact center as some claim. Rather, AI has massive impacts on agent satisfaction and productivity, which translates into customer and revenue improvements. If you’re familiar with the world of Marvel Comics, I liken AI to Jarvis rather than Ultron. The technology gives agents omnipresence to suggest, listen and more intelligently handle customer interactions while reducing operational expenses in the contact center.

This is critical considering that calls are getting longer and more complex. Unlike 15 or 20 years ago, we’re no longer calling into the contact center for simple tasks like making a payment or resetting a password. We’re dialing in because we’re relying on a human to help us navigate complex or emotional interactions. We’re switching to voice when we don’t get the information or answer we need as quickly as we would have liked using digital channels. Yet there are only so many calls a contact center can handle per hour, and there’s only so much organizations can spend on increasing capacity. 

AI can help by intelligently expanding capacity and making existing resources (a.k.a. your people) more efficient, reducing burnout and increasing satisfaction and productivity. AI is the next logical step for organizations working to transform their contact center into a critical strategic asset, bringing immense efficiency gains that enhance the customer and agent experience. 

Q: The understanding of contact center AI is there, but adoption is not. What’s holding companies back?

There needs to be less focus on how AI will “replace humans” and more on the tangible efficiencies the technology brings. Do a Google search and you’ll see estimations of as much as 40% of human jobs being replaced by automation in the coming years. This is not effective AI. The technology becomes a practical reality when you start thinking less about automation (i.e. bots “taking over”) and more about efficiency and augmentation.

It’s easier to understand—and measure the return of—contact center AI when looking through this lens of efficiency. In fact, research shows that 99% of organizations using AI in the contact center have seen efficiency gains as a result. On the other hand, if you’re viewing AI as nothing more than an automated task-builder there will likely be roadblocks.

Chatbots are a good example of this. They’re widely considered the “be-all end-all” AI solution when it’s questionable if they can even be considered AI. Chatbot automation is not an effective AI strategy, signaled by the many problems that can arise from this standalone approach. 

Lack of transparency, for example, can affect brand loyalty and trust when customers discover they’re not speaking to a live person. The state of California is recently pushed through legislation (effective July 1st) for this very reason, mandating that customers be notified when they are artificially interacting with a solution versus a human. There can also be security and ethical issues depending on the industry in which an organization operates in (legal, finance, healthcare). Again, this is why it’s critical that AI is thought of more in terms of augmentation versus automation. Automation is “set and forget,” when effective AI is anything but.

Q: How can organizations implement AI in a way that makes sense for them depending on their contact center priorities and needs?

Think of it like devouring a whale bite by bite instead of trying to consume everything at once. Look at areas where you see inefficiencies in the contact center and start there. Identify those places where you can take those baby steps. There are so many great technologies on the market like speech analytics and sentiment analysis. Look at them tactically through the lens of driving efficiencies. If you find that one area of the contact center where inefficiencies can be improved and you see a return from that investment, it’ll open your eyes to what else is possible. Start with efficiencies, then evaluate what’s next.

Q: If you could leave us with one last takeaway on contact center AI, what would it be?

The fact is that contact centers were built for what are now past realities. Leveraging AI using an augmentation model can create truly amazing customer and business outcomes. Call wait times will be reduced without putting a single “tush in a cush.” Agents will be empowered with the information and accessibility they need to get the job done. Costs will be reduced with the potential of revenue acceleration. AI can check every box. If you approach it tactically, you can get amazing returns with little investment upfront. AI is no longer optional but a necessity and the contact center is the best place to start. So, get started. As in right now, today.

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Steve Forcum

Steve Forcum, an Avaya sales engineer, can explain complex technology in simple terms. Forcum is a trusted advisor to many of the largest businesses in New England and beyond. He has developed a platform of engagement, interacting with customers, partners, and other followers on all forms of social media.

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