The Gist

  • Hello, this is your bot speaking. AI is becoming more prevalent in contact centers, with one in 10 interactions predicted to be with bots within three years.
  • Balancing act. Call center executives must balance AI and human interactions to ensure customer satisfaction, prioritizing technical competence, agent empathy and time to resolution.
  • Kinder gentler bots. A "kinder" AI approach involves prioritizing empathy and emotional intelligence, providing transparency and control, using natural language processing, and continually learning and improving.

AI Adoption in Contact Centers on the Rise

Artificial intelligence has become prevalent in contact centers today. These AI tools are considered vital in reducing labor costs and shortening call resolution times, ultimately resulting in increased customer satisfaction.

It is expected that AI applications will continue to improve and gain further contact center adoption. Research from Gartner says that 1 in 10 interactions with call center agents will be with bots within three years. That trend will be driven by advances in conversational artificial intelligence, as well as labor shortages and rising talent costs.

Despite the growing interest in AI by call center executives, many customers aren’t totally sold on the idea. They may express fear or frustration when forced to deal with an AI application instead of a human being, especially if they don’t get prompt and complete resolution to their question or problem.

“Customers judge their call center interactions on three criteria: technical competence, agent empathy and time to resolution,” explained Mark Settle, a seven-time CIO and author of the book “Truth from the Valley: A Practical Primer on IT Management for the Next Decade.” “In some instances an AI routine may be able to provide more superficial empathy than an overworked human agent. But if the AI routine lacks the necessary knowledge or takes too long trying to resolve a caller’s problem, it’s still a failed call,” Settle said.

This puts the burden on call center executives to create AI systems that are more engaging, welcoming and “kinder” in order to make the customer experience as rewarding as possible.

AI Applications in Call Centers: Basic and Advanced Uses

At its most basic level, AI is used to collect data that a service agent needs to address a caller’s concerns or issues, explained Settle, “It’s effectively shortening the time that a caller spends with a human agent and makes the interaction with the agent more efficient.”

At its most advanced level, AI resolves the call, Settle said. “The caller provides sufficient information, and the knowledge-base employed by the AI algorithm is sufficiently comprehensive to resolve the call with no human interaction.”

While AI is often thought of as a relatively “new” technology in terms of widespread use, call centers have been quick to adopt the technology, noted Alberto Roldan, founder and owner of Artificial Intelligence and Business Analytics Group, a business consultancy. 

Roldan cites the following as among the tasks that AI applications can perform in the call center:

  • Answer calls
  • Identify the number that is calling to the center
  • Match the record of the customer with the telephone calling
  • Profile customers
  • Keep metrics on the efficiency of the call center that can dig down to the call center representative or division level
  • Keep inventory
  • Prioritize customer preferences, including past purchases, returns and complaints
  • Keep track of complaints by type and geography
  • Sometimes recognize emotions, such as with an upset client
  • Direct customers to the correct resource within the organization
  • Perform analytics

Related Article: Level AI Debuts Generative AI Tech for Contact Centers: AgentGPT

Mixed Reviews on AI and Customer Experience in Contact Centers

Despite the wide range of tasks that AI can perform, the customer experience with contact centers in the last few years has been mixed, Jason James, an IT consultant and former chief information officer at Net Health, noted. Some customers have reported positive experiences, while others have reported negative experiences. 

To test his theories, James said he posed questions about “kinder AI” best practices to his ChatGPT AI-application for this article. The results confirmed his beliefs, which he shared in written responses. 

James said that some of the key trends and factors that have influenced the customer experience are:

  • Increased customer expectations: Customers today have higher expectations for customer service, including fast response times, personalized experiences and easy-to-use channels.
  • Growth in self-service options: Many contact centers have added self-service options, such as chatbots and knowledge bases, to help customers find answers to their questions more quickly and easily.
  • Integration of multiple channels: Many contact centers have integrated multiple channels, such as phone, email, chat, and social media, to provide customers with a seamless and consistent experience across all channels.

In all cases, the key is in getting a customer’s requests answered quickly and as accurately as possible, James stressed. 

“Waiting time for customers, lag-time between question and answer, not sufficient depth in the answer, and difficulty with accents are some of the common issues that I see frequently,” said Roldan.

Learning Opportunities

James agrees: “Customers do not want to be on a call longer than necessary. Making sure their issues are resolved without additional burden aids in customer satisfaction and overall retention.”

Related Article: Connect Customer Service Reps With AI, Automation for Contact Center Efficiency

Best Ways to Use — and Not Use — AI to Engage and Endear Customers

Customers may often not even be aware they are interacting with AI agents when they reach out to a call center. That is how much AI has evolved with the last few years, James said.

“I often advise clients that their first line of customer engagement should use AI when possible,” James said. “It allows for faster response times while reducing the burden on current teams. There are no sick days, no time zone restrictions and no holidays for AI agents. Think of AI as a means to successfully augment current staffing levels by allowing those agents to focus on more complex issues while AI takes many of the common requests. 

Still, while AI can bring many benefits to contact centers, there are certain areas where it may not be appropriate or effective, James said. Some areas where contact centers should not use AI include:

  • Handling complex or sensitive issues: AI may not have the ability to handle complex or sensitive issues that require empathy, emotional intelligence or specialized knowledge. In such cases, it is important to have human agents who can provide a personalized and compassionate response to customers.
  • Resolving disputes or complaints: AI may not be well-suited for resolving disputes or complaints, as these often require negotiation, conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. Human agents who are trained in these areas may be more effective in resolving these types of issues.
  • Providing high-touch or VIP services: For customers who require high-touch or VIP services, such as premium support or concierge services, AI may not be able to provide the level of personalized attention and care that these customers expect.
  • Dealing with language barriers: While AI can be useful in handling routine inquiries and simple requests, it may not be effective in handling inquiries from customers who speak different languages or have different cultural norms. In such cases, it may be necessary to have human agents who can provide a personalized and culturally sensitive response.
  • Ensuring data privacy and security: Contact centers should be cautious about using AI in areas where data privacy and security are critical, such as handling sensitive personal or financial information. It is important to ensure that AI systems are designed and implemented in a way that protects customer data and meets regulatory requirements.

Training AI for a Kinder Customer Experience in Contact Centers

In order for contact centers to ensure that customers always have a positive experience, AI applications need to be better ‘trained’ to understand and react to human behavior while not mimicking human behavior, James stressed. 

“Unfortunately, human behavior is not always nice or kind. This is especially true for support calls,” James said. “Anyone who has ever worked in call centers has countless stories of abuse and bad behavior from irate customers. AI must adopt an empathic response to, and mimic listening, in order to calm irate customers, while not learning to replicate bad behavior. ‘Kinder AI’ replicates the most friendly, responsive and empathic customer support agent. All AI agents will be fluent in profanity, without repeating that same profanity to crass customers.”

Kinder AI in terms of contact centers refers to the use of artificial intelligence technologies that prioritize kindness, empathy and compassion toward customers, James explained. A kinder AI approach in contact centers involves designing AI systems that are focused on delivering a positive customer experience, building trust and fostering loyalty.

James noted that some ways that contact centers can implement a kinder AI approach include:

  • Use natural language processing: Contact centers can use natural language processing (NLP) to better understand customer inquiries and provide personalized responses that take into account the customer's tone, emotions and preferences. This can help to create a more natural and humanlike interaction, building rapport and trust with the customer.
  • Prioritize empathy and emotional intelligence: Contact centers can train their AI systems to prioritize empathy and emotional intelligence when interacting with customers. This can include using empathy-based language, acknowledging the customer's feelings and concerns and providing personalized responses that are tailored to the customer's emotional state.
  • Provide transparency and control: Contact centers can provide customers with more transparency and control over their interactions with AI systems. This can include providing clear information about how AI is being used, giving customers the ability to opt-out of AI interactions and providing the option to speak with a human agent if the customer prefers.
  • Continually learn and improve: Contact centers can use machine learning algorithms to continually learn from customer interactions and improve the AI system over time. This can help to ensure that the AI system is constantly evolving to better meet the needs and expectations of customers.

Prioritizing Kindness and Empathy in AI-Driven Customer Service

Finally, James explained that a kinder AI approach in contact centers can help to create a more positive and empathetic customer experience. That, in turn, will build trust and loyalty with customers over time.