Throughout the pandemic, one of the hardest-hit areas of business has been the contact center. Starting with the sudden, wholesale shift from brick-and-mortar to a work-from-home model, contact centers and agents were faced with enormous challenges to maintaining operations—all while being inundated with calls, texts, chats, emails, and even video interactions. The result was far from stellar for most consumer brands, with many experiencing drops in customer satisfaction.
A year after the onset of the pandemic, many companies find themselves still stuck in neutral, unable to scale and transform their operations effectively. What they need is a roadmap to the future of customer service, where conversational artificial intelligence (AI) and automation transform the customer and agent experience, enable scalability to handle greater volume, create cost efficiencies, and drive outcomes that fulfill the core purpose of the contact center.
The contact center world is at a critical inflection point in its application of advanced AI technology. Companies and contact centers must begin implementing conversational AI and automation now or risk emerging from the pandemic weakened and unable to compete effectively.
This is more so relevant for a country like Malaysia that saw increased adoption of digital transformation during the pandemic. According to the e-Conomy SEA 2020 Report, Malaysia’s digital economy is expected to grow three times, reaching a total gross merchandise value (GMV) of RM125 billion by 2025 across key service industries like e-commerce, healthcare, technology etc. Therefore, new and disruptive technologies like AI present a massive opportunity for the customer experience industry to address the rapid pace of transformation.
A commitment to make these technologies a centerpiece of contact center operations and bold steps to deploy conversational AI and automation will allow achieving strategic and transformational outcomes for the customer experience industry in Malaysia.
THE CONTACT CENTER GETS ELEVATED TO PRIMARY REVENUE CHANNEL
For decades, contact centers have tried to make the case for being an important revenue-generating function of the business instead of being viewed as simply another cost center. While some contact centers successfully changed the company mindset in this respect, most didn’t get the recognition or the support from the business that a primary revenue driver deserves. Times have certainly changed. The pandemic dramatically shifted how customers engage with brands, thrusting the contact center into the role of primary revenue driver.
According to Andrea Ayers, former president & CEO of Convergys Corporation, “The contact center just became the biggest revenue center for many companies. Going into the pandemic, most contact centers were focused on investments in areas such as the network to connect the customer to an agent. Now those contact centers must shift their investment to AI and automation solutions if they want to leverage the opportunity to return to and sustain strong revenue growth.”
In fact, to emerge stronger from the pandemic, contact centers need to move beyond their traditional system of engagement to a system of intelligence that automates, personalizes, and optimizes every conversation for better customer and agent experiences. According to McKinsey & Company’s survey The State of AI in 2020, “A small contingent of respondents coming from a variety of industries attribute 20 percent or more of their organizations’ earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) to AI. These companies plan to invest even more in AI in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its acceleration of all things digital.”
The best foundation for a system of intelligence is conversational automation (CA), which combines conversational AI, robotic process automation (RPA), and workflow automation in a conversation-centric platform.
With CA, contact centers can easily progress through the essential steps of deploying automation, from foundational to strategic to transformational, using cost savings from early projects to fund initiatives that deliver sustainable business value.
Starting with foundational automation
In the decade when the Internet first took off, it was viewed primarily to automate repetitive tasks such as order entry instead of entering orders manually. Now it is part of our everyday lives, delivering value in many ways that we never imagined possible in the early days. Likewise, companies getting started with conversational AI and automation can start by automating certain, lower-value interactions and customer journeys to improve scalability and agent efficiency while reducing contact center costs. These types of early projects often involve automating self-service to reduce call volume and average handle time in the contact center.
With the right CA platform, contact centers can achieve measurable and sustainable efficiency and cost savings without negatively impacting the customer experience. A CA platform understands customer sentiment and intent to drive higher self-service automation rates while passing the context from self-service to agents should customers need assistance. The platform reduces call handling times and creates a frictionless experience for customers and agents alike.
More importantly, a CA platform forms the operational backbone necessary for evolving and expanding automation beyond cost control. This capability is essential as contact centers cannot afford to stop at the first stage of automation. They must continue to apply AI-powered automation throughout the customer journey to achieve more strategic outcomes that drive revenue and customer satisfaction. The savings generated at the foundational level can be used to fund the next step on the roadmap.
Moving to strategic automation
The next step is to expand the use of AI and automation to achieve strategic business outcomes such as revenue, customer satisfaction, and customer loyalty. This requires advanced, conversational AI that can understand the nuances of human language and make sense of intricate human speech patterns to improve the agent and customer experience. Using the operational backbone of a CA platform, contact centers can optimize every conversation by enabling agents to be more productive and empathetic while personalizing the experience for customers. With a CA platform that can understand the customer’s real intent, emotions, and implied needs, contact centers can deliver a more conversational experience to improve customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score (NPS).
Achieving transformational automation
The first two phases of automation focused on automating activities and tasks that humans routinely perform within the contact center. The third phase takes automation to a new level: handling things that humans cannot. Such as predicting certain behaviors and patterns based on analysis of millions of calls, to drive the core purpose of contact centers, such as driving revenue or reducing churn through improved customer experience. CA uses natural language processing (NLP) and conversational AI to analyze 100% of interactions across phone, email, and text channels, extracting actionable insights on patterns, trends, topics, and more. The applications and use cases for using post-interaction and real-time analysis to transform operations and drive business value include fraud detection in retail environments, prevention of overpayment of claims by healthcare payers, insight into reasons for customer churn in telecom, Identification of claim denial patterns in insurance, Improved sales effectiveness for banking, et al.
According to a Bain & Company report titled A New Dawn for Automation, “Companies that invested more in automation before the pandemic have weathered the crisis better than others.” According to the report these companies generated higher revenues and experienced fewer disruptions to the supply chain, workforce productivity, and demand. “It’s no longer primarily about lowering costs. Companies are increasingly deploying automation to strengthen business resilience, reduce risk and generate useful business insights more easily.”
Conversational AI, RPA, NLP, and automation are changing the future of customer service—not because they are replacing agents, but because they enable them to deliver better experiences for both customers and agents. Using a CA platform to achieve transformative automation makes customer service more convenient, faster, responsive, and personal. It enables companies to gain business value in the form of greater revenue, higher customer satisfaction, and increased loyalty.
By Ravi Saraogi, Co-founder and President of Asia Pacific, Uniphore
2 November 2021