AI to the Rescue, as Call Centers Struggle

The digital explosion, accelerated by Covid, has not made life on the front lines of sales and customer service any easier. In fact, when customers are able to do more research on their own, salespeople face tougher unanswered questions, and more of an inquisition about competitive differences, granular product details, or use cases they’ve never considered.

Service reps have to handle the calls of customers facing challenges they could not resolve online, likely meaning customers who are more frustrated or who have very complex situations, often demanding special treatment or deeper investigation. And if they cannot work in a call center setting, getting help from colleagues or managers is simply more challenging logistically.

No matter what prognosticators say about AI automating away jobs, there will always be a need for front line roles (even if fewer people can handle many more calls) and AI can supercharge them by augmenting the capabilities available at the rock face of customer interaction. Reps will be more effective, and as their efficiency in “handling the difficult” goes up, they will become more scalable. The business cases are getting powerful.

The New Powers of Augmentation

In contrast to the image of AI lurking in a big, centralized cloud-based machine driving decisions all over a company, more use cases will likely focus on distributing AI power throughout an organization.  It will happen as AI augments the front line in three ways:

1. Discover: Service reps can use customer journey analytics tools such as Pointillist to immediately integrate and visually lay out the full journey of an inbound caller, or use powerful text-based research tools, such as SearchUnify to find the right answer to a detailed service question that needs input from multiple sources

2. Decide: A wide range of information about the caller (geo-location, phone usage, past history, recent behavior, topic of interest) and about the available service reps at that moment, can be smartly modeled by services like Afiniti to predict which rep is most likely to be successful with that specific customer

3. Drive: Nurses managing members of a health plan who are at home and living with chronic conditions can use services such as Icario to proactively send next best action messages to their patients, improving clinical engagement, augmented by AI prediction of best message, creative, channel, and timing

The range of applications that can be augmented by AI is almost endless, including LivePerson’s smart chatbots that go back and forth between handling a customer and bringing in a live rep, or using text analysis from CallMiner to give reps feedback on the quality of their conversations. Human-to-human interaction will become more effective, more scalable, and more brand-enhancing, based on the savvy use of AI to support the front line.

It’s a Brand Issue

The social connection between a brand and its customers will increasingly be determined by the quality of its AI augmentation. Value comes not only from happier customers, better business outcomes, and lower variable costs, but even from more satisfied front line workers who see that they are having more impact and who don’t have to struggle as they did before to figure out what and how to do something for a customer or prospect.

So, instead of frustrating your customers with a dated interactive voice response that forces them into your predefined categories, or making them wait forever for reps whose time is taken up by cumbersome manipulation of screens and fields, what’s your strategy for unlocking a whole new level of customer, and rep success, through AI augmentation?

Dig into what happens during a person to person interaction: Who is calling?  Why are they calling instead of getting it done another way? Who handles the call? Why them? What discovery needs to happen during the interaction?  What decisions could be made more easily?  What could drive complex execution more easily?

But the Tools are Not Enough

The odds are that there are now solutions for most of your needs across the CX flow that bring powerful AI capabilities to bear.  The tools are actually the easier part, and if used right, most will show positive ROI. But in a world of endlessly emerging new AI options, the challenge for managers will be to go further than just trying something new. These tools only work when CX leaders support them with data flows that are explicitly managed for completeness, timeliness, and accuracy.

Teams need to develop thoughtful designs for the full experience of a customer that turn the risk of “creepiness” into “valued recognition.” And those using the tools require training that is backed by a cultural spirit that recognizes the positive impact that AI can have for the front line rep experience, even as employees justifiably fear a degree of “replacement by robots.”

Life on the front lines is getting harder. Let’s not forget the opportunity to make it better for all in our post-Covid rush to digitize every interaction.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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