As we look back at the past 12+ months, no industry came away unscathed by COVID-19. The most visible offshoot for contact centers over this period was clearly the pilgrimage of workers from the office to the home, which placed incredible pressures on companies to maintain a business-as-usual output under new and difficult circumstances.
In today’s digital and hybrid work era, contact centers represent the face of a company, which means delivering positive experiences, from the first touch to the last, is essential. As you can imagine, this was no easy task over the past year when agents moved to blended work environments where things like onboarding, training, and evaluating agent performance training was performed mostly remotely.
But a strange thing happened over this time—while naturally many expected this to result in a decline in effectiveness, many contact centers not only survived, but thrived thanks to artificial intelligence (AI). The AI these contact centers turned to was not a chatbot, and the goal wasn’t to sow automation into the contact center and ease the burden on agents. It was actually quite the opposite.
Contact Centers Are Growing Headcount, Budget, & AI Usage This Year
Rather than scaling back agent headcounts, companies recognised that customer needs were growing and to effectively assist, they invested greater resources in re-humanising the contact center by adding additional agents. Next, with teams in place they began utilizing AI to guide agents through these conversations, present personalised coaching and customer sentiment insights for them to tie into conversations, and more.
While this trend may have accelerated over the last year, it isn’t an isolated COVID-19 driven trend— According to a recent Zogby Analytics study of top technology operators, 75% of top technology operators will hire more in 2021 as we move beyond the pandemic. This hiring is part of a reawakening to the importance of contact centers and the need to ramp up budgets to better handle the growing number of interactions.
Contact Centers are Moving From Cost-Drivers To Revenue-Drivers
As the face of the business, flawless customer experience execution is essential. When achieved, it can deliver a major impact on the bottom line. According to the research, more than 60 percent of respondents view their contact center as a revenue driver today and 85 percent say they are optimistic that the contact center will be a revenue driver in the future.
Despite these numbers, contact centers can do more–only 34% of respondents feel their customer satisfaction rate exceeds their expectations, and less than half believe that the satisfaction rate is where it needs to be. When it comes to why these numbers are lagging, many (47%) attribute the low customer satisfaction rate to the lack of customer engagement technology.
This is precisely why tech budgets are on the rise, especially when it comes to AI. The study found that AI for agent analytics will be the top technology investment for 2021 and specifically identified four key technologies that topped the list:
- Agent Analytics (35%)
- Self-service (32%)
- Speech analytics (31%)
- Natural language processing (31%)
Automated Will Be Used To Improve Agent-Based Experiences
The goal of these investments further reinforces the shift away from an automated experience to agent based experience. Respondents stated that top goals are to do the following:
- Better measure agent performance and keep them more engaged through regular conversations (58%)
- Provide more personalised coaching and support (57%)
- Automate workflows to improve agent productivity and time management (54%), including quality assurance workflows.
There’s a good reason why areas such as quality personalised coaching and quality assurance are such high priorities. The research found that reducing customer frustration is ranked as the number one area to improve. The key to fixing this is agent coaching. When it comes to quality assurance, the findings found that while the vast majority of respondents automate their quality assurance, only 36% automate it fully with 57% automating it partially.
AI can monitor calls in real-time and immediately process interactions. Not just a smattering of them, but 100 percent of contact center conversations where it measures areas like tone, sentiment, pitch, speech rate and speaker volume in correlation with phrases that signify customer elation or frustration.
Speed & Accuracy of Data Capture & Customer Sentiment is Critical
This speed is significant because it allows agents to put insights to use in near real-time so they can improve in key areas such as demonstrating empathy, active listening, professionalism and more to raise customer satisfaction and ensure quality interactions. How does this compare that to older methods? Those turnaround times were closer to 1 to 2 percent and the findings were shared after the fact, when in many instances they were no longer applicable.
And it’s not just about speed. AI also delivers much more accurate speech-to-text and Natural Language Processing data, which is vital when it comes to guiding agents to meet the personalised, in-the-moment needs of customers. If a solution delivers a transcription accuracy rate of 63%, that means close to 40% of the data agents are working with is inaccurate. How can you deliver flawless execution with data that’s missing the mark? You can’t. AI can enable transcription and sentiment analysis accuracies of 90%+ today. This is especially critical when using AI to proactively uncover compliance gaps and fraud attempts — an issue that is keeping 75% of operators up at night who are still “concerned” to “very concerned” about their ability to protect customer data remotely.
AI-Powered Workflow Automation & Collaboration Tools will Make or Break Success
The past twelve months undoubtedly tested the resiliency of businesses and their contact centers. 86% of survey respondents say they felt at least somewhat resilient over this time. For respondents who did not think their contact center operation demonstrated resilience, 34% attributed their struggle to the lack of investments in new technologies and 34 percent to not prioritising agent experience.
This is why AI investment and re-humanising the contract center is vital to business success. By increasing your agent bench and giving them the tools to serve each customer as a true individual with unique needs and questions, businesses can thrive like never before. AI, specifically in the areas of workflow automation, customer sentiment and intent analysis, workforce engagement for improved agent experience in the areas of coaching, compliance, and quality assurance, and Natural Language Processing will undoubtedly help.
Swapnil is CEO and co-founder of Observe.AI. He comes with a strong background in Technology and Product at Twitter and Google. As the Chief Executive Officer at Observe.AI he focuses on product innovation.