Business continuity dominated the contact centre agenda throughout 2020 as contact centre agents shifted to remote working en masse to keep customer-facing services operational. This has accelerated many digital transformation plans for businesses, bringing advanced technology deployments to the top of priority lists. Enter 2021 and despite the COVID disruption, customer expectations have returned to their usual high levels. Organisations need to turn to technologies such as AI and advanced analytics to maintain strong CX in 2021 and beyond and keep customers happy.
Rising customer expectations mean the spotlight is on contact centres
The digital era has placed more information and engagement channels at the fingertips of consumers than ever before, with many organisations offering self-service options as standard. Customers expect interactions with contact centre agents to be the ‘next step up’, providing a greater level of service and more detailed information in the shortest possible time. PwC analysis of customer service expectations shows consumers are more likely to be loyal to companies that consistently provide a great experience – and are more willing to recommend these companies and pay a premium for the privilege of high-quality service.
This has placed a burden on contact centres to serve customers both faster and more accurately.
The knock-on effect is a total rethink of how contact centres are managed. Many organisations now consider contact centres as a unique opportunity to establish and build direct relationships with consumers, demonstrating the value of their brand through a first-class service.
Contact centres are becoming the focus on greater investment and an ideal place to explore digitisation of previously ‘traditional’ processes and solutions, with a view to cementing customer loyalty and satisfaction.
The CX balancing act – compliance, regulations and brand reputation
Today’s contact centre challenges are not just how to deliver the consistently high level of service customers expect as standard, but ensuring that they meet the requirements of regulations before they seriously impact CX, quality management and brand reputation. And of course, the complexity of tackling these challenges scales in line with the size of business and contact centre – think any organisation that handles a very high volume of calls – insurers, banks and utilities.
Regulatory requirements such as GDPR, specific national legislation and an increasing focus in European Courts on data and privacy-related issues are intensifying the focus on contact centre compliance. Compliance becomes even more critical in sensitive industries such as financial services, which must comply with dedicated regulations such as MiFID II.
Simply hiring large numbers of new contact centre agents is not a viable long-term solution to these challenges. Seasonal demand, training and costs – all intensified by business disruptions caused by the pandemic – mean contact centres must embrace new technology for a rapid, cost-effective solution. Advanced technologies such as AI, deployed in the cloud, are leading the charge.
AI is now within reach for contact centres
AI has previously been viewed as highly technical, challenging or too costly to deploy. But a new generation of cloud-based deployments of AI solutions specifically tailored to customer service requirements and supporting multiple languages are now available – providing a rapidly available, fit-for-purpose contact centre AI solution.
Language engines can now leverage deep neural networks and machine learning algorithms that can accurately process speech to text and recognize specific keywords. When trained exclusively on real contact centre inputs, these tailored solutions become far more efficient at processing than generic AI solutions. The same technology can transcribe customer-agent interactions and analyse more subtle acoustic information – ‘understanding’ silent periods during conversation, speech rate and specific emotions. This allows agents to receive real-time analysis and suggestions to help steer the conversation towards a satisfying outcome. In the UK, customers such as insurance brokers are already using this technology to support customer-facing operations, analysing and transcribing all customer communications to detect emotions and help agents respond accordingly. The stage is set for a dramatic growth in the use of AI for customer service applications.
Technology holds the key to understanding customer and agent sentiment
Looking beyond the satisfied customer, this blend of AI and voice analytics can deliver benefits to both agents and management, boosting contact centre productivity and individual agent performance alike through automated quality management.
For example, if AI analysis identifies anger in a customer’s speech pattern and any references to leaving their contract, these calls can be routed to a dedicated customer retention team with specialist skillsets. Agents can also benefit from AI’s real-time assistance within the software, with remote supervision and coaching built in to help supervisors deal with specifically challenging interactions or identify upsell opportunities.
Business leaders gain detailed insights into their contact centre operations and agent conversations, highlighting room for improvement at the contact centre and individual agent levels. This means that management can set specific KPIs and gauge success based on processing agent conversations to measure factors such as language use and emotional resonance. AI voice analytics solutions can also be used for more targeted applications, scanning recorded conversations for specific phrases relating to regulatory compliance, such as ensuring personal details covered by GDPR are kept private.
AI-powered voice analytics is here to stay – and facial analytics will follow
The shift towards remote operations is set to continue in 2021 and beyond, and this has cemented the role of contact centre agents as a critical touchpoint for customers. Accelerated digital transformation efforts are providing the perfect framework to deploy contact centre-specific AI technology, providing contact centre operators with new ways of managing employees and gauging productivity – and agents themselves with the tools needed to better serve customers and ensure consistently positive outcomes from customer engagements.
What does the future hold? We are already seeing AI-powered facial analytics developments, and greater applications of this advanced technology across relevant customer channels to benefit customers and agents alike is already in progress by contact centre solution providers, but organisations should first look to future-proof contact centre performance and management with AI and voice analytics.