Of all the businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, call centers saw unique challenges, with a huge increase in call volume and difficult calls, and many call centers moving their employees into remote settings for extended periods.
According to a 2020 study by Harvard Business Review, during the pandemic difficult calls increased by 50% overall. Call service reps were not equipped yet with more advanced technology solutions to automatically route calls, and as a result there was a 68% increase in escalations as reps tried to deal with customer complaints. This process of manual routing and escalation resulted in a 34% increase in hold times during early phases of the pandemic. Customer service reps were further challenged with remote work and unreliable internet connections, along with a lack of coherence with the rest of their team and leadership.
Advances in call center hardware and software technology have enabled support teams to cut down many common call center issues, allowing them to be more operationally efficient and profitable for the business. Call center technology solutions are designed to help customer-facing reps by providing automation support, customer relationship management (CRM) support, as well as predictive analysis of customer behaviors and relevant statistics. With the right technology solutions installed for your particular organization, your call center can not only improve your customers experience, but also increase internal productivity and reduce operational overhead.
More traditional call center technology trends like interactive voice response (IVR) and analytics capabilities will continue to be standard, while emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots will help alleviate overhead while giving service reps more actionable information at their fingertips without having to look for it.
Today, call centers must move to deploy more advanced technology solutions and make required internal process changes and policies to reflect the realities of the COVID-era in customer support.
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The pandemic has only served to increase the role of artificial intelligence in the call center. AI will move from being forward-looking innovative tech to standard issue for call centers. AI brings multiple benefits to the call center. AI-assisted software applications have helped reduce the need for manual call routing programming, as they can route conversations to the most qualified agent. This intuitive call routing can significantly reduce call wait times.
“Call centers can leverage several autonomous and semi-autonomous AI functions to streamline internal processes. Accenture predicts AI will increase business productivity by over 35% before 2040 in the US alone,” said CallMiner.
AI also provides predictive responses to agents in the flow of a conversation, giving an agent multiple responses to choose from to assist them in solving their customers needs quicker and more effectively. AI also allows full omnichannel support, as AI systems can collect and analyze information about a customer across all channels, giving call center employees a more unified view of the customer.
AI technology is becoming so popular, Juniper Research found that AI tech is expected to reduce business costs by $8 billion annually by 2022.
“Last year, chatbots were the preferred communication channel when making online purchases for 43% of U.S. online shoppers,” said Tytus Gołas of Single Grain.
Chatbots, or conversational AI, is a form of artificial intelligence that can recognize multiple languages, process what words are being said and even their cadence, and decide a path to respond in the most natural human way possible. Chatbots can capture the meaning of words by using natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) to determine the customers intent in asking a question. AI-powered virtual assistants can collect payment information, provide account updates, and help customers book appointments, taking some load off of burdened call center employees.
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“A major recent customer service trend is the demand for omnichannel service. Customers want a variety of channels to contact your agents,” said Julie Bai of Nextiva.
Customers today are interacting with brands through mobile, web, phone, text messages, wherever. And if they communicate with a business on one channel, they expect a cohesive experience when they touch from another. Customers increasingly want a personalized and relevant experience regardless of how they interact with a brand. Omnichannel support will become a higher imperative for call centers as they leverage unified customer profiles across the organization.
IVR Is Here to Stay
Call centers have been using IVR for years now, and it was one of the earlier trends in call center automation technology. The COVID pandemic only pushed this technology forward even more, as 42% of organizations already using IVR surveyed increased its use. When used in combination with conversational AI technologies, IVR employs speech recognition and the ability to determine mood, as well as the ability to pull up relevant behavioral and historical data to deliver a fully personalized experience.
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The more customer service representatives know about the customers they are dealing with, the more likely they will not only be able to assist those customers with their immediate issue, but be able to provide a more personalized and relevant interaction to improve the long-term customer relationship.
For the past few years call centers have increasingly relied on technology to support their operations and enable their service reps to address customer issues effectively and efficiently. While more traditional technology solutions like IVR and robust analytics capabilities will continue to grow in importance as standard issue, the pandemic has forced call centers to deploy more forward-looking technology solutions to address an increase in call volume and negative calls.
Advanced technology solutions like artificial intelligence, chatbots and omnichannel integration can not only route calls to the more qualified service rep, but provide reps cross-channel data on the customer for a full unified view. Modern AI technologies can not only provide more business intelligence to the service rep, but can help to make operations more cost effective with a higher ROI.