Contact centers are undergoing a rewrite. No longer seen as necessary evils, they’re being recognized as nerve centers of the customer experience, solving customers’ most immediate problems and managing their most personal brand interactions. What’s driving the transformation? Changing customer expectations and a suite of AI- and cloud-powered innovations ready to keep up.
Voice calls still dominate customer service—in a survey of 3,000 consumers conducted by BT and Cisco, 74% of respondents said they phoned a contact center last year.
But today’s customer also expects personalized, end-to-end solutions that suit the moment, their device, even their mood. More and more, interactions are held on digital channels, often across multiple platforms. In fact, according to BT and Cisco’s survey, 63% of consumers believe they should be able to switch between chat, voice and video calls seamlessly.
“Contact centers are increasingly becoming value creators,” says Dr. Nicola Millard, principal partner at BT.
Keep reading for insights on how modern contact centers can create superior, personalized experiences for both customers and the agents who serve them, with expert commentary from Millard and BT’s Andrew Small, managing director of global portfolio, and Riccy Sidoli, general manager of customer relationship management.
Technology: Augmenting Interactions
Cutting-edge contact centers don’t just answer questions; they understand customer behavior on a macro scale and anticipate customer needs on the micro.
Largely responsible for these vital new capabilities are two technologies in particular: artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud-based computing.
AI has equipped contact centers with powerful tools, from chatbots and virtual agents to speech recognition and sentiment detection. These technologies autonomously solve customer problems, augment live agents’ capabilities and help drive overall customer satisfaction.
The rise of affordable, on-demand cloud-based computing power makes it possible to serve customers wherever they are, day or night, in the language they speak. Contact centers can scale up quickly to meet unexpected demand, allowing agents to deliver their best work every time.
Building A Better Customer Experience
What, exactly, do customers expect when they contact a brand? “They want immediacy,” says Small. “Whether speech or messaging or anything else, they want to be able to keep the conversation going” on the channel that suits their needs.
Here are four examples of how AI- and cloud-powered contact centers are making that possible:
While voice dominates, it’s not right for every situation. If you’re sitting on a quiet train, interacting with an AI-enabled chatbot that can handle simple transactions autonomously may be more convenient. 75% percent of consumers say the primary benefit of chatbots is getting an immediate response.
When self-service doesn’t resolve an issue? The handoff to an agent should be seamless. AI can collect data from across the customer journey, giving agents a 360-degree view. “By the time the customer gets through to the contact center, we know who they are and what they want,” explains Millard.
“Being able to understand the customer’s intent” allows companies to reach out before a call comes in, says Sidoli. If a shopper has trouble with a company’s website, chatbots can offer assistance before the cart is abandoned. Restaurants can confirm or reschedule reservations via automated SMS.
Consider the impact on an electric company’s contact center during an outage. “When you have unexpected demand, it’s often when we get the worst experience; everyone wants to get through at the same time,” Small says. Cloud solves this with on-demand computing power, as needed, helping contact centers remain agile.
“Agents are critical in building brands—and they know that,” says Millard. Yet service agents face significant barriers to delivering their best work and, therefore, an exceptional brand experience.
According to BT and Cisco’s survey, roughly half of agents believe customers are kept waiting too long (48%); that they spend too much time trying to find relevant information (52%); and that it takes too long to identify and verify customers (46%).
Here’s how AI- and cloud-driven innovations are improving agents’ experiences while helping them close the service delivery gap:
Chatbots play a lesser-known role behind the scenes: helping “augmented agents” serve customers. “We’re using AI to make the agent better, not just the chatbot better,” says Small. By searching knowledge systems and analyzing customer intent, “the chatbot provides suggested solutions, which questions to ask next and makes the agent better informed.”
It’s a classic problem: How to ensure security without sacrificing user experience? Cloud-based AI security protocols are tackling this for both agents and customers. “Biometric verification, including voice recognition, reduces the time to authenticate [customers],” says Small. For agents, cloud-based security provides a single authentication protocol, so they’re not logged out of systems between calls.
By analyzing customer data collected through automation, centers can prioritize calls and route customers to agents who speak their language and have the skill sets to answer their questions. Triaging is particularly important in a crisis. If bad weather grounds flights, airline AIs can differentiate between fliers who need an agent immediately and those checking on tomorrow’s flight.
When asked to identify on-the-job frustrations, service agents often cite “typing the same information over again,” says Millard. AI-powered robotic process automation, or RPA, solves this by carrying important data across these different systems. “Reducing that amount of rekeying improves the agent experience,” says Millard.
Especially for global organizations, each point of contact with a customer is an opportunity to create a good impression. Customer service, then, must be seen as more than putting out fires as quickly as possible; contact centers are touchpoints for brand-building.
“The opportunity is there to provide more personalized service to your customers that gets them more engaged and sticky with your brand,” says Sidoli. That's effectively how the big success stories have done it.”
To explain how an end-to-end contact center ecosystem can support this, Sidoli and his colleagues offer these four takeaways:
Visit BT.com for more information on how to shape your customers' experience to deliver a brilliant outcome, and to find out how our contact center solutions connect everything.