AI and the transformation of the contact centre
Cloud & AI are changing the game
What’s driving this change? One of the most important long-term trends has been the rise of viable artificial intelligence (AI) technologies becoming available at the fingertips of organisations. Over time, a number of such technologies have emerged, one by one, that have added up to something special. These include foundational technologies like the cloud and machine learning, but also a number of discreet innovations such as natural language processing and automated text-to-speech conversion. Fuelling all of these has been an ever-increasing volume of data – the lifeblood of AI applications.
Businesses therefore find themselves with the tools to reimagine their contact centres – many of which have now been in place for fifteen years or longer. These traditional, monolithic contact centres have always been viewed as necessary evils: cost centres that need to be managed with ruthless efficiency. Thanks to AI and the cloud, businesses now have an opportunity to turn these cost centres into strategic, value-adding capabilities that sit at the heart of the modern customer experience.
From customer support to strategic enablement
Think of a model where human agents are empowered by instant access to deep customer insights. Where routine, simple enquiries are dealt with by bots, freeing human agents to focus on higher-value tasks. And where automated analysis of data identifies and flags when customers are becoming dissatisfied before it becomes a problem. Think of a customer experience where every person is given the VIP experience. One where omnichannel is more than a marketing term, it’s the day-to-day reality of engaging with organisations. One where companies no longer offer customer support, but instead deliver personalised customer care and attention. And think of all this being done without costs increasing. This and much more can be enabled right now thanks to AI.
The tech industry has been talking about omnichannel for a decade now, but so far it hasn’t delivered on its potential. By decoupling data from the channel of engagement, AI finally makes omnichannel a reality. And the development couldn’t have come at a better time. Consumers have got used to frictionless experiences and increasingly expect it from every company they deal with. That means that they want knowledge of their interactions to persist across channels and platforms and to be able to use any form of communication to engage with companies. Businesses that can’t do this will soon fall behind.
COVID-19 accelerates change
Before COVID-19, contact centre transformation was on the radar of many businesses. But even for the most forward thinking, significant change was still years away. COVID-19 has brought these timelines forward by making the case for transformation much stronger and more timely.
There are a number of reasons why. First, the pandemic forced companies to send their call centre staff home. Even when these companies were able to rapidly pivot towards remote working models, the crisis meant that many agents could not work at all. Those that could work faced productivity challenges.
For many organisations, particularly in sectors that were heavily impacted by the lockdown, such as insurance, travel, banking and communications, demand for contact centres surged just as capacity to service these enquired plummeted. This meant that many organisations were forced to rapidly adopt machines to fill in the gaps.
Those that did, have found AI to be particularly useful in providing information around the pandemic. Brands need to be able to answer customers’ questions, but this is challenging in a time when things may change hour to hour. But whereas human agents need to be retrained time and again with new scripts and on an individual basis, conversational AI virtual workforce need only be told once. With companies struggling to keep their heads above water that time saving was important. These are the companies that were able to quickly ramp up to meet the surge in demand, while many of those yet to implement AI are still struggling. These are also the businesses that are talking most seriously about further innovation now.
As contact centres evolve, we’re seeing a powerful combination of machine and human capabilities. Augmented by data and automation tools, human agents can do so much more that simply follow a script. They can instantly access information they need to serve customers and do so over any channel. As this happens, they are becoming an increasingly important part of the brand voice and a vital asset to their organisations. AI is improving the employee experience, the customer experience and the brand reputation in call centres and is now a core competitive differentiator, especially during challenging times like these.
Stride towards the future
Companies that invested early in AI are well positioned to lead contact centre transformation. But other businesses can also get up and running fast by collaborating with their ecosystem.
Businesses must rethink what contact centres can do for them in the age of AI and evolve strategies and operations to improve the customer experience through contact centre insights and services. The best ecosystem partnerships will also provide capabilities and expertise to test and model the impact of new capabilities across the customer experience, before helping to bring prototypes to scale.
It’s what Accenture and Google Cloud are offering through Cloud Design, our new collaborative solution which helps organisations to create customer-centric businesses through open, agile innovation. Cloud Design includes our proven approach to rethinking and revitalising contact centre operations by optimising existing assets.
In the wake of COVID-19, the contact centre is changing into a different and much more important business asset. Powered by intelligent technologies and agile cloud platforms, cloud-first businesses that successfully migrate to this new kind of contact centre will be much better placed to serve customers and build resilience in the years ahead. Those that fail to keep pace run the risk of being left behind when the economy rebounds.