AI Automation in 2021: CX Today Expert Round Table   

Carly Read
Senior Reporter

We asked experts to share their insights on how AI speech technologies drive the VoC, whether the role of AI in humanising customer interactions change and what the future holds for automation 

Koopid NICE Insights
AI Automation in 2021: CX Today Expert Round Table   

There’s no disputing that AI automation has been a buzzword in the few months since 2021 began. The incredible technology pairing are facilitating a level of CX across the board that could only ever be imagined before now. In mimicking human responses while sifting through incredible amounts of big data, AI is enabling companies to grow ten-fold and beyond in an environment where the economy is rife with restriction.  

In this edition of the CX Today round table, we welcome:  

  • Jonathan Allan, Chief Marketing Officer, Puzzel 
  • Gregor Campbell, Account Director, Odigo 
  • Dr. Venky Krishnasamy, CEO & Co-Founder, Koopid 
  • Ed Creasey, Director of Pre-Sales International, Calabrio 
  • Paul Jarman, CEO, NICE inContact  

Our panellists will discuss how AI speech technologies drive the VoC, whether the role of AI in humanising customer interactions change and what the future holds for automation. 

How do AI speech technologies drive the VoC throughout the customer journey? 

Allan: “Speech recognition and analytics is fast becoming a core component of agent assistance, humanised self-service and chat/voice bots, and personalised proactive outbound experiences .When used in conjunction with an AI engine, speech recognition and analytics ensures that what the customer wants and needs is fully understood, and can therefore be used to personalise the user experience.

Jonathan Allan

Jonathan Allan

“This counteracts the current issues of customers being ‘forced’ through pre-built journeys. Ultimately, speech recognition is just as important a tool for agents as it is for customers. Happy and supported agents mean greater productivity and, as a result, increased customer satisfaction. 

“When it comes to humanising the experience, instant transcription, analysis and machine-driven insights create the opportunity to service customers in an empathetic way and cultivate fully frictionless journeys. They key to optimising the user journey comes down to combining these technologies with more traditional data analytics to truly determine what the customer wants and needs.” 

Jarman: Digital channels are growing in popularity as users look for efficient and convenient experiences, and self-service is a key part of this. In today’s world, customers no longer want to be tied to only accessing support during traditional business hours. If a customer needs something handled at 3:00 a.m., they expect to be able to handle it via self-service options like FAQs, chatbots, and other digital services and technology. If they cannot resolve the issue themselves, they expect proper routing to a live agent who can be there to help them, even if it’s only to drop an email that will be answered as soon as possible. 

Traditional call centres are mostly a thing of the past and self-service must be part of the future digital portfolio offered by businesses to meet customers’ evolving needs and expectations. Although this option won’t be every customer’s preference for their interaction, it’s essential that it is part of the growing list of digital channels on offer. Contact centres must be prepared to adapt and embrace self-service at the heart of digital, omnichannel CX experiences. 

Creasey: AI technologies are a powerful tool when combined with traditional employee coaching techniques. For instance, Quality Management (QM) helps to identify the phrases that keeps cropping up in customer conversations to flag up issues, categorise contacts and then prioritise them. However, to be able to make decisions to truly improve customer journeys it is necessary to use AI-driven QM to analyse 100% of calls and interactions, not just a 2% subset.

It isn’t possible to effectively track service quality if you are only evaluating a small percentage of what is being said. The beauty of VoC analytics is it provides contact centres with the near real-time data they need to re-engineer complete customer journeys quickly and efficiently as expectations and behaviours change. 

Ed Creasey

Ed Creasey

One of the UK’s leading health food retailers applied analytics-enabled QM to accelerate customer contact resolution and restore service levels when demand for online orders soared and telephone, Web Chat and email volumes rocketed during the pandemic. It is also possible to get really creative with analytics, integrating customer survey platforms like Survey Monkey directly into the contact centre and using AI machine learning to capture and analyse the results. This vital CX intelligence can then be used to pre-empt and predict future patterns and improve Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and CSAT levels. 

Krishnasamy: Leveraging the right technology and processes centred around AI, speech and automation allows you to create deeper value-adding relationships with your customers. By bringing a richer level of contextual understanding to the customer journey helps to increase retention, spending and advocacy—all of which boost top-line revenue. 

Specifically, transcription capabilities provide a rich source of conversational truth to VoC programs which yield benefits to the customer experience in a few important ways. The context of voice calls is available to other systems for use in actively managing the customer journey. An example of this is using content in the text transcription to suggest the next best action during or after the interaction. The transcription becomes part of the entire VoC data store that is available for analytics and optimisation, providing greater context than the data that typically exists in a company’s CRM.  

Gregor Campbell

Gregor Campbell

This granular data yields a depth of understanding not previously available. Finally, as the vast majority of customer journeys now begin in a digital channel, the detailed content of calls that occur after a customer has exhausted their resolution options in one or several digital channels – provides invaluable insights to better construct digital conversations, refactor the digital properties and optimize the channels that are offered at each step in the journey. 

Campbell: Capturing Voice of the Customer (VoC) enables an understanding of customer goals, reduces experience gaps and leads to differentiation that drives loyalty and increases engagement. For organisations to fully understand the VoC, it is essential to capture data from a wide variety of sources. In the gathering stage AI Technologies combine data into a comprehensive overview of the customer, where intentions, desires, concerns and habits can be identified. After the capture stage, advanced analytics enables actionable, data-driven decision making. 

Key areas of investment that support customer journeys can be found at desktop level where AI augments the role the agent performs. Natural language processing (NLP) allows real-time agility in understanding a customer’s challenges, as well as key topics that are being raised across all experience channels a company offers. 

Will the role of AI in humanising customer interactions change as nations come out of the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Allan: In today’s ‘always on’ environment, customers expect 24×7 service through their preferred channel, and chatbots play a key role in delivering the real-time, on-demand service that customers expect. That said, good customer service starts and ends with people, and the pandemic has only highlighted that. Although technology has altered the way customers interact with customer support services in the last year, when it comes to complex interactions, person-to-person communication is still the channel of choice. Innovations such as digital personal shoppers or virtual showrooms are immersive experiences that span both the physical and digital worlds, and clearly illustrate what we can expect the future of customer journey to look like beyond the pandemic.” 

Creasey: “To AI or not to AI? Is not a straight forward question with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. As we emerge from the pandemic bridging the digital and human worlds will become vital. If AI is seen as a way of replacing humans the road ahead is fraught with danger. However, if it is used to create a more agile customer service team by the use of better analytics than there is an opportunity to focus on CX with a human touch. 

“While customers have been forced to use different communication channels as a result of the pandemic those organisations which adapt fastest to “normal” levels of service will benefit most. Contact centres know they need to find the right balance: customers want convenient self-service options, but they’re also looking for the empathy, personalisation and complex support only a human interaction can provide.” 

Krishnasamy: “AI will be utilized by companies to empower consumers to be able to get things done when they want, where they want, and in the way they want. Now and in the future, personalization will be vital for brands that want to create competitive market differentiation through customer experience.  

“The challenge is that many customer-facing systems are not set up to consume AI and contextual intelligence to deliver more personalized, targeted and humanised experiences across channels such as voice, text, bots and social media. This is a significant undertaking considering most contact centres were built on legacy technology and platforms.” 

“The benefit of having your customer-facing systems integrated with AI is that it already knows your customers past experiences—across all digital channels—and can start the interaction at a higher, more human-like level. The effect for customers is that they feel as if they are interacting with a robot, but a very smart, aware robot. From the customer’s perspective, the personalised system now “knows” them. 

Cambell: “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformations across all sectors, driving cloud migration, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) at contact centres around the world. Dealing with unexpected spikes in volume required cutting-edge technology to deliver the access, convenience and speed that modern customers expect. 

“AI, in particular, continues to present enormous opportunities for organisations to deliver rewarding experiences to their customers, including secure self-service through conversational agents (chatbots, voicebots), advanced analytics and real-time sentiment analysis. 

“Despite these overwhelming advantages, AI solutions should be used to augment human agents, not replace them. By deploying AI to manage basic tasks, contact centres can allow agents to concentrate on high-level, complex interactions that require skill, agility and empathy.  

Paul Jarman

Paul Jarman

“Additionally, real-time analytical capabilities empower AI to provide next best action recommendations to assist agents. Combining the speed and convenience of AI with human trust and empathy produces an augmented agent who provides the humanity an increasingly digitised world needs.” 

Jarman: “One thing that has become clear throughout Covid-19 is that the future of AI in customer service is conversational. Next-generation AI technologies have a key role to play in enabling natural and personalised forms of self-service, in turn providing customers with better and more human-like assistance.  

“For example, with today’s conversational AI technologies, long and complicated phone menus read by unnatural voice bots can be a thing of the past. Sophisticated interactive voice response (IVR) systems featuring integrated AI capabilities – such as Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Text-to-Speech (TTS) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) – are vital to humanising customer interactions. They make it much easier and more natural for customers to get the help they want, when they want it. Conversational AI services such as chatbots are continuing to become more popular among customers. But, to take this to the next level, contact centres must be prepared to adopt technologies that deliver the human touch customers still look for.” 

What is the future of digital self-service in CX?  

Allan:In most instances, digital self-service is being used as a static channel, which can be just as frustrating for customers as getting stuck on an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) loop. While self-service can definitely be a cost-efficient option, companies must ensure that sufficient groundwork and thought is given to matching the requirements of the customer demand to the benefits of the channel. At the moment, many companies are failing to effectively train chatbots, or are running them from a limited knowledge base, meaning customers are not reaping the full benefits of these technologies and may be left unsatisfied or frustrated by what should be a straightforward experience for them. 

“The next dimension in self-service CX is the ability to extend self-service across different channels and to transition quickly and seamlessly to support and serve the customer in the channel that is most appropriate. This can be done using either virtual or human agents, but the key is that a customer should be able to start a conversation with an email, and then quickly transition into a chatbot experience, and finally – if necessary – into a video call with an agent.” 

Creasey: The future of digital self-service in CX is more than just a customer-facing trajectory. Employee-facing self-service is a key initiative to embrace to help simplify their day, provide information during interactions, assist with training and development while improving work-life balance, all of which goes a long way to ultimately improving CX.  

For example, contact centres can use self-service technologies to create a virtual concierge for frontline employees and maximise the use of mobile apps. As remote working looks to be a long-term norm rather than a short-term reaction, self-service options need to continually evolve so as to offer agents advanced empowerment options wherever they are and with flexibility that work from home and modern life mandates. Today’s frontline needs to be able to check their schedules, communicate and have the ability to enter shift preferences, make independent lunch and break adjustments, swap shifts, apply for time off and sign up for overtime, all from their smartphone. 

Jarman: “Digital channels are growing in popularity as users look for efficient and convenient experiences, and self-service is a key part of this. In today’s world, customers no longer want to be tied to only accessing support during traditional business hours. If a customer needs something handled at 3:00 a.m., they expect to be able to handle it via self-service options like FAQs, chatbots, and other digital services and technology. If they cannot resolve the issue themselves, they expect proper routing to a live agent who can be there to help them, even if it’s only to drop an email that will be answered as soon as possible.

“Traditional call centres are mostly a thing of the past and self-service must be part of the future digital portfolio offered by businesses to meet customers’ evolving needs and expectations. Although this option won’t be every customer’s preference for their interaction, it’s essential that it is part of the growing list of digital channels on offer. Contact centres must be prepared to adapt and embrace self-service at the heart of digital, omnichannel CX experiences”

Krishnasamy: Digital is clearly where customers are. According to Forrester, about 79% of customers would rather self-serve than use human-assisted support channels making it critical for contact centres to give customers a path to resolve routine issues, queries or service requests as quickly and conveniently as possible.  

The penalty for under-delivering on the service experience on the web, messaging, bots and social channels are steep, including increased service costs, lower customer loyalty and higher customer churn. Many brands are reporting that 70% of their calls are with consumers who were just on one of their digital channels. The industry is too frequently making live agents ‘save’ the customer relationship by backstopping inadequate digital capabilities. 

There is no doubt that customers prefer to self-serve in the channel of their choice because they can eliminate time and hassle. In a recent Forrester survey, 63% of customers are happy to be served by a chatbot, if there is an option to escalate the conversation to a human. The key to successful deployment is to ensure the ‘bot’ is smart enough to know when the interaction and all its context needs to be elevated to a live agent for resolution. 

Dr. Venky Krishnasamy

Dr. Venky Krishnasamy

Campbell: Digital self-service will enable hyper-personalisation of customer service. By leveraging data and connecting all digital channels, organisations can achieve comprehensive customer views that drive rewarding customer experience. 

Having this insight will enable true appreciation of who customers are, where they are on their journeys and where they could benefit from help or guidance. Personalisation means recognising customers, understanding their previous interactions and providing the customised care they expect. 

Personalising self-service makes it possible to trouble-shoot issues before they turn into problems and offer products or services ideally suited to specific customers. While the future of digital self-service will harness the power of CRMs, data-driven approaches and AI-powered analytics, it will not be infallible. It will be crucial for organisations to recognise, in real time, when self-service is faltering and be able to support an empathetic channel switch. The future of digital self-service will be data-driven, personalised and tailor-made to give customers the quality care they need in a more accessible way. 


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