Recent research found that 97% of contact center organizations had remote workforces — a 45% increase over 2019. Further, 90% of the industry plans to continue operating with a hybrid model. No matter what the future holds, remote contact center work is here to stay.
Yet working from home (WFH) presents different challenges for contact center agents. Prior to the mass movement to WFH, many contact centers relied on legacy tech, such as VPNs and a patchwork of solutions to keep their agents connected and customers happy. But this approach has significantly increased friction and decreased satisfaction as digital adoption has accelerated. As a result, many contact centers have migrated to the cloud to solve for these issues, and just in time too. These days, customers are quicker than ever to drop companies after even a single negative customer experience.
So, how else can contact centers support and empower their agents? In a recent webinar, Paul Stockford, chief analyst at Saddletree Research, joined Michele Carlson, senior product marketing manager at NICE, for a discussion about how AI can improve every customer interaction.
Using AI to Improve CX
How do you get the right calls in the hands of the right agents? Stockford argues for a mindset shift. “When it comes to how you perceive the contact center, it’s a matter of moving from ‘How do we minimize these costs?’ to ‘How do we maximize the value of these customer relationships?’ Once you stop thinking of the contact center as a cost center and start seeing where it can drive revenue, this will help support your agents with technology,” Stockford says.
Everything in life these days is incorporating AI, from ATMs to streaming services. And for good reason: AI can be programmed to learn, adapt and handle tasks automatically at speed and scale. In this environment, deploying AI-driven routing into the contact center can ensure your customers reach the right agent every time. AI synthesizes all available data to make the best connection between a customer and an agent. It makes for a better customer experience than legacy queue routing — where customers were paired with the next available agent, instead of the best agent for their question. With AI gathering all the data on a customer’s current issue and past interactions, customers get the answers they need faster and more efficiently in every interaction.
Evolving Customer Service Practices to Redefine Satisfaction
Customer expectations are soaring. The shift to interacting with companies through digital channels (coupled with accelerating consumer-level service expectations) means customers want problems solved on their own terms instantly. In this environment, contact centers must do more to ensure customers are resolving their needs effortlessly on their own — allowing agents to focus on only the most complex issues.
From 2019 to 2021, more than half the industry experienced higher customer contact volumes, while two-thirds experienced higher Average Handling Times (AHT). Stockford points to multiple causes of volume and AHT increases. “One of the main volume drivers is issue complexity,” Stockford says. If your company has a robust self-service or resource hub, customers’ low-level issues will be solved before they ever reach an agent. The downside of this is the customers who do reach out to your agents will have more difficult challenges.
Once they encounter a problem, customers will frequently look for answers themselves online. But if customer issues can’t be resolved through AI-powered self-service, you need agents who are empowered to tackle the most challenging customer issues. “The old practice of handing off a customer to the first available agent doesn’t cut it anymore,” says Stockford. “Ideally, agent calls should optimize a customer journey that began in self-service.”
Multiple touchpoints. Higher customer expectations. Technological complexities. All these converge to redefine great customer experience. “Previously the contact center had to adapt to the technology. Today, technology has to adapt to the people,” concludes Stockford. And the right technology makes all the difference.
Unless otherwise noted, all data points come from Saddletree Research. Be sure to watch the full webinar The Role of AI-Driven Routing in the Post-Pandemic Customer Contact Era at NICE.com.