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Why Artificial Intelligence is an Agent’s New Best Friend

Let’s face it. The job of a customer service agent is not an easy job. In a typical contact center, agents are on the phone or communicating through other channels; email, text, web chat, Facebook Messenger, WeChat… When customers reach out to an agent, they need help and are often upset. They may be asking about a lost bag or debit card, a flight that was canceled or a delayed package.

What’s important to remember is customer service agents dedicate their daily professional career to helping people solve these problems. As a company’s brand ambassadors, they are the guardians of a business’s customer relationships. A customer’s impression of a company is directly related to their experience with the contact center and its agents. And since customer experience directly affects revenue, it’s about time an agent’s job got a little easier and more enjoyable so they can better serve the customer.

Unfortunately, in many contacts centers, customer service agents are asked to do more with less and do without the best technology. Imagine taking a calculator away from an accountant? They couldn’t do their job to the best of their ability. When we don’t provide agents with the best technology, they can’t possibly meet customer expectations. The result? Poor CSAT and agent attrition, which is very costly and part of what gives contact centers the black eye of being a cost center. It’s time things changed for both the agent and Customer Service departments.

Enter Artificial Intelligence (AI.) There’s a lot of hype about how AI is going to shape the future. It’s often portrayed in Hollywood as robots taking over the world and at the very least, replacing jobs. The truth about AI and machine learning is that when it’s implemented responsibly it actually allows humans to focus on the type of work they actually enjoy. Take for instance the factory floor. During the Industrial Revolution, automated machines began doing the repetitive tasks human get bored with. There are still many people working in factories, but with automation, people can focus on performing critical jobs where their intelligence is required.

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where technologies like AI are driving change, the trend for contact centers is similar. Rather than taking jobs away, AI is blending the best of human intelligence with AI, to provide improved, seamless experiences and at the same time improve agent’s job satisfaction.

How does AI help customer service agents? First, AI bots take the burden off agents with intelligent, satisfying self-service by resolving routine customer requests. And when a customer wants to talk to an agent, the hand-off is easy. The interaction with the bot is transferred into the agent console so the customers don’t have to repeat what they did with the bot. This reduces agent’s average handle time because all the agent has all the customer interaction history. And first contact resolution is increased because the agent can quickly resolve the issue with the proper information and context. All of this adds up to increased agent job satisfaction and morale by off-loading routine, boring requests to the AI bot.

Now let’s say a customer wants to talk directly to an agent without interacting with an AI bot. AI prioritizes and classifies cases to help your agents quickly understand what the customer needs to provide a more effective and efficient experience. AI collects information about the customer and the context of their request resulting in a more connected, personalized experience. And AI increases agent productivity with a world-class, omnichannel service experience with full context to customer’s request.

As a result, agents have a sense of accomplishment by working on more challenging customer issues because the AI bots handle the routine questions. And when agents directly help customers, they are able to build loyal relationships because they are enabled by the best technology possible. And at the end of the day, the customer, their needs and exceeding their expectations is what great customer service is about. That’s all a customer service agent wants to do and it’s time contact centers gave the best possible technology to make this real.

@DrNatalie, Service Cloud, Salesforce

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Five Steps to Strategically Choose AI For Customer Service

AI and customer service; it’s a hot topic! But when I talk to customers, they say, “I get there’s something to AI and customer service, but how do I deliver business results and value with AI?” If you are wondering how AI can move the needle on the metrics you get measured on every day, below is a short guide on how to get the best business results when considering AI as part of your Customer Service strategy.

Step 1: Focus AI on Metrics that Matter
Implementing technology without strategy makes us do the wrong things faster! Or at the very least, spend a lot of money without getting business results. Studies show while 80% of executives want to use AI in their business, only 20% have an actual strategy. (1) First step? List the strategic metrics you are measured on every day and then think about how AI can help you to:

    • Reduce call volume (call deflection via satisfying self-service)
    • Increase First Contact Resolution (FCR)
    • Reduce Average Handle Time (AHT)
    • Increase agent productivity, morale, retention (reduce attrition costs)
    • Improve CSAT, NPS, customer lifetime value (CLV)…

With that information, you can begin to strategically decide how to use AI to transform your customer service operations and KPIs, positively impact customer and agent experiences and directly affect your bottom-line.

Step Two: Closely Compare AI Solutions
Artificial Intelligence isn’t new, so what is? Exponential advances in AI capabilities, as well as, integrated and packaged AI solutions. These new capabilities are allowing AI to become a real business asset, but not all AI solutions are created equal. A classical approach to AI requires specialized teams of:

    • Data Scientists (to sample data, build the models, tune them for accuracy)
    • App Developers (to build it into the customer service application)
    • UX Designers (to make the interface to the AI user-friendly)

These dedicated resources are expensive and difficult to find. And AI development is not the core business focus of a contact center. The result? Wasted time and money and longer time-to-value. When choosing an AI solution, look to see how much work is required on your end to implement a solution. To make AI intelligent, all systems require some work. The question to consider is how business/user-friendly is the application? Do you need to hire a team of AI and UX specialists to get benefits in customer service? Or can you deploy the AI quickly and get back to focusing your efforts on delivering amazing agent/customer engagement?

Step 3: Consider an Integrated Solution
Data. Data. Data. AI is all about the data. So, consider where the data in customer service resides. The customer record data lives inside the CRM platform. And the customer interaction history lives inside the customer service application. Since AI is only as good as the data it interacts with, look for an “AI-inside” solution; one where the AI is built into the CRM platform and the customer service application.

And it’s even better if the same AI solution is also integrated into other applications that Sales, Marketing, E-commerce and other parts of your business. The more contextual, historical information about that customer across all your departments, the more intelligent the AI is and the better business results it can provide. With an integrated AI solution that’s built for business users, there is no need for specialized implementation teams because the:

      • Data is already prepped
      • Models are automatically built and
      • AI is already integrated into the CRM platform and the customer service application.

What does this mean to you? Faster time-to-value. With an integrated solution, AI can easily learn from the customer data to deliver contextual customer/agent answers. So, whether you are delivering self-service or agent-assisted service, intelligent AI service is satisfying service.

Step 4: Select an Agile Solution
How many times have you wanted to change something in your customer service application, but don’t because it’s so difficult — even though it would transform the agent/customer experience? This is where using an agile platform and application leads to faster, better business results.

As you are considering adding AI, ask yourself, “How quickly/easy is it to make changes to the AI solution, as well as to the agent and self-service application?” Look for a drag and drop integration layer that allows for easy configuration of process flows to set up customer service AI. This way AI isn’t some futuristic “ideal” that sounds good when you say it fast but in reality, it takes forever to drive business results. Consider choosing an integrated AI customer service platform/application that is agile – so you can make changes on the fly to quickly deliver on the brand promise of great customer experiences.

Step 5: Use a Solution with a Pre-built UI/UX
And while this step is listed last, it may be one of the most important. Why? New technology often becomes “shelfware,” i.e., technology that is owned or licensed but not utilized because it’s difficult to implement, use or change.

A solution with a prebuilt UI/UX interface makes the customer-facing interaction intuitive, which builds trust, so customers use it. The last thing you want is a throwback to “bots of yesteryear” that didn’t have the advantage of AI or a poor user-interface. If customers can get their answers using a bot, call and email volume will be reduced, while delivering a great experience.

And for the agent? Key to great service is empowering agents with the best possible tools. AI integrated into the agent desktop and console classifies cases and identifies key information needed to serve the customer even before the agent gets the case. And then enables the agent with the best possible next actions. AI is not meant to replace agents, it’s meant to empower them to deliver exceptional customer service.

The most important thing to take away? When considering AI for customer service, focus on what you do best, delivering great experiences. Avoid choosing systems that require you to become or hire a bunch of rocket scientists. Choose a solution designed to allow customers to easily get the answers they need on their own, your agents to intelligently engage with customers and for you to deliver business results that matter.

References:
Is Your Business Ready for Artificial Intelligence? MIT Sloan and BCG Study, 2017
https://www.bcg.com/Images/Reshaping%20Business%20with%20Artificial%20Intelligence_tcm30-177882.pdf

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