What the future holds for contact centers: talking to real people, AI, and other trends

When it comes to increasing customer satisfaction, customer service is the most promising place to start. But it doesn’t mean that customer service industry struggles less. Organizations providing customer service face challenges all the time.

Although the industry is not yet out of the woods regarding these issues, emerging technology already makes things less complicated for support agents.

Foundation of good customer service

Should we expect customer service to change dramatically in the next couple of years?

Technology will transform the way companies provide customer service, but customers will still want you to know their name and service history. They will want you to be polite and efficient. They will also expect you to take responsibility if the problem they face is a company’s fault.

Figure 1 The fundamentals and emerging expectations of customer service

You mustn’t stop once essential expectations are met. If you want to maintain a competitive edge, you should aim at top of this pyramid.

Useful statistics on customer service expectations

Customers have become more demanding. Take a look at some stats.

For 86% of customers, it is crucial that customer support representatives know their full service history. [source]

For 76% of customers, it is important that contact center offers a callback option as an alternative to being placed in a virtual queue. [source]

For 90% of customers, it is desirable that a company provides FAQ page or self-service support portal so that the information they need would be accessible online at any time of the day, preferably lightning quick. [source]

Finally, for 57% of customers, it’s essential that the company from which they purchase products or services is innovative. [source]

Expectations are much higher now. Companies must deal with more complicated issues and they need to embrace different communication channels.

Technology in contact centers: Customer expectations vs AI reality

Customers expect contact centers to be efficient, super fast, and available round the clock. At the same time, they want to talk to real people instead of IVRs. But where’s it coming from?

Interpersonal communication relies on a context, mood, emotions, and other nuances. Such things are hard to grasp for a computer. To illustrate this, think of a casual interaction with a friend or coworker. I bet a conversation went naturally and easily. And now recall the last time you called a customer service center. Wasn't it a little uncomfortable?

IVRs don’t have the adaptability of a real human being. That’s why our interactions with software are not always effective and somewhat creepy. At present, contact centers incorporate artificial intelligence into their operation and shift to cloud-based solutions.

Contact center development trends

The way companies interact with clients is now an integral part of the service. The latest trends in the development of contact center technology are driven by this idea. Hence customer support is now developing in the following directions.

Contextual communication

Human brain stores all the present, past, and future information. Based on where the person is, who they are with at the moment, what they are doing, etc., the brain recalls all the relevant details and facts, and shapes all interactions at that very moment accordingly. That’s why social interactions between people are contextual.

It’s becoming possible to reach customers at a deeper more humane level by teaching computers to do exactly the same. The advances in contact center technology already make digital interactions more human-like due to a couple of changes.

First of all, customers are now actively using web and mobile apps to serve their needs, which means that contact centers need fewer agents to provide high-quality customer service. Now, the apps can direct people more effectively and make virtual queues much shorter.

The best call center software already can observe customer behavior in much more detail. Based on that information, it becomes easier to foresee the most fulfilling outcome in a specific context.

Lastly, the mere delivery of telecommunication services has changed. Cloud computing gradually replaces inflexible, bulky, and costly on-premises systems, whereas rapidly developing API technology allows developers to embed voice calls, SMS, and other services into their apps. This is only the beginning of transformations in customer-business interactions that will definitely enhance interaction between customer and contact center.

Omnichannel conversation

Contextualized customer-agent interaction is the first step to developing an ongoing omnichannel conversation with customers, which is another trend in customer service to be seen in the near future.

Customers want to engage with support agents via the most convenient medium for them, and naturally, they don’t want to think about the way it shapes the message they are trying to communicate. Here arises a little problem. From the perspective of customers, their interactions with agents are perceived as a single ongoing conversation regardless of what channel they use. From the perspective of agents, such interactions with a particular customer look like a bunch of separate unconnected conversations that took place via different channels, and whereas some of them are integrated with their CRM, others are not.

Omnichannel conversation means that voice will soon become an optional channel, although it will remain a preferred medium for addressing more complex queries. So far, 58% of customers say that they would choose a phone over any other means when they need their query to be dealt with immediately. But no matter what channel customers might use to contact support department, it won’t affect the quality of provided service.

Technology will empower agents to have equal access to customer information regardless of whether they call on the phone or text in WhatsApp. First signs of this tendency can already be seen today, namely, it’s possible to consult chatbot to check the balance of a bank account or monitor package delivery status.

Experts say that we’re one service away from connecting various channels in one, which is good news since the industry is now missing a single service that would link different communication channels together. As soon as it is developed, agents will be able to continue conversations with customers in several mediums without losing track of it.

AI + human

AI is finally getting closer to enterprise settings, and it will be especially useful in customer service. It is predicted that in the near future, AI will turbocharge agents’ work by helping them do their job more effectively. Indeed, bots have the power to boost resolution of customers’ queries and make agent-customer interaction faster and more effective. Soon, most monotonous operations, routine q&a lookups and other similar activities that consume the majority of agents’ time will be handled by AI.

AI chatbots can prequalify customer issues and redirect them to a live agent if necessary. Also, chatbots are perfect digital assistants for agents as they can look up the necessary information (e.g. transaction history or receipts), suggest responses, etc. Currently, companies are experimenting with different ways to integrate chatbots in their contact centers to handle routine operations and help scale inbound call volumes.

Still, AI chatbots will not replace humans any time soon, partly because it will take some time for technology to get there, and partly because customers don’t want companies to do so. There are still numerous cases when clients need to talk to a real person instead of a chatbot because the latter doesn’t fully understand their concerns.

AI will function as an enhancement of a human agent, not the replacement of one. AI + human customer support will provide clients with the best of both worlds - swiftness and automation of a chatbot and empathy and understanding of a real person.

Implementing AI in contact centers: real-world practices

AI already improves the way some contact centers work. Google demonstrates a great example of how this technology can boost the work of contact centers. They have introduced a comprehensive development suite that helps to create conversational interfaces (conversational IVRs, chatbots, etc.) in order to enable more natural interactions between agents and customers. Their solution is called Dialogflow and it incorporates a number of impressive features, including Speech-to-Text, Text-to-Speech, and many more. All these components simplify the operation of contact centers as they empower both human agents who get an extensive support and customers that rely on their capabilities in solving technical difficulties they encounter. Currently, Google is working with their Contact Center AI partners to engage with them globally around the responsible use of their technology.

On a final note…

The future of customer support industry is bright. In the coming years, the technology will change the way contact centers operate, and many transformations in their work will be due to the implementation of AI. At this point, it is critical to understand that the greatest potential of AI lies in complementing and improving the work of human agents, not replacing them.

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