Ed Creasey, Global Head of Pre-Sales at Calabrio
Like many areas of the modern digital economy, contact centre operators find themselves dealing with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which promises to play a crucial role in shaping the way they operate in the years ahead. Many organisational leaders are currently looking at where it can be applied in the short, medium, and long term and are strongly motivated by the need to move quickly and deliver on its potential.
It’s this question of potential that raises some of the main questions for contemporary contact centre operators: how transformational will AI eventually become, and how will it impact the role of agents across the industry?
Anecdotally, it seems clear that many contact professionals believe AI will either replace jobs or will be used to support employees so they can focus on more complex tasks. For example, using AI to handle simple queries via self-service channels means organisations can re-focus the agent recourses on more complex tasks that require human expertise and experiences, enhancing performance and improving the overall customer experience.
Given the job of augmenting human skillsets and experience, AI technologies will be asked to take over a wide range of mundane and repetitive tasks. As a result, agents will need to shift focus and adapt to deal with complex customer enquiries to become trusted brand ambassadors and guardians.
There are, however, some significant challenges to overcome. In many organisations, agents are currently spending significant amounts of time rectifying mistakes made by the current generation of bots. To move forward, AI needs to perform more effectively – in contrast to today where many implementations are fragmented and siloed. In addition, agents should have full visibility of the bot-customer interaction, the quality of the conversation and the impact that that conversation has had on the customer.
There are two solutions that we recommend to all companies:
- Give visibility to agents – Making the whole customer journey, including any conversations with bots, available to the agent by the time a contact comes to them means they can analyse the information and be in a better place to address the situation and help the customer – an objective that many calls centres can’t currently address.
- Give visibility to your digital team – use conversational analytics software to monitor and improve the performance and quality of your AI bots. This means your teams that own the AI Bot experience can ditch the guesswork with real data insights, and make smart decisions with unprecedented visibility into conversation performance and bot responsiveness.
Practical Integration: AI’s Role in Enhancing Contact Centre Efficiency and Productivity
With all that in mind, how do contact centre managers see the technology integrating with the way they currently work on a practical level? Recent industry research is helping to provide answers to these major questions. With input from 400 contact centre managers across 10 countries, it offers a useful barometer for the way AI is likely to influence stakeholders in the short and long term.
There is a diverse range of use cases where AI will play an important role in the years ahead. For example, when asked to rank their top three responses as to where the future of AI will help the future workforce, the top result was increasing agents and manager productivity on 25%. This was followed by optimising forecasting and scheduling, measuring and understanding contact centre productivity, predicting customer actions and behaviours and providing a chatbot service to customers, all of which received a 20% response rate based on a 1-3 ranking preference.
Moreover, this strong emphasis on productivity is seen as crucial to customer experience (CX) organisations, many of whom are looking for ways to boost output post-pandemic. This challenge is brought sharply into focus by the fact that just 49% of managers believe that remote workers are meeting productivity expectations today, which is 24% lower than in 2020.
The Changing Workplace
As AI becomes more prevalent across the contact centre ecosystem, it’s vital that employers also continue to adapt to the needs of their workers. The impact and importance of hybrid working, for example, has shifted the contact centre dynamic significantly. In traditional office settings, a manager could gauge an employee’s stress or difficulty with a given call through body language cues. However, the remote or hybrid work environment has obscured these visual elements, underlining the crucial role of AI-powered technology in workforce engagement.
This cultural shift has also given rise to the concept of ‘contact-centre-as-a-service,’ an approach that depends on seamless integration of technology for effective management and oversight. A key challenge within this framework is the lack of consensus among managers regarding the essential skills needed in this new environment.
For instance, the research revealed that only 45% of contact centre managers believe their agents currently possess all the skills required for current and future success. As a result, comprehensive training initiatives will be needed to help bridge the gap for the majority of agents in the AI-powered contact centres of the future.
Clearly, effective agent development hinges on the quality of coaching and training. Inconsistencies in coaching effectiveness can lead to varied performance levels among agents, highlighting the need for a systematic evaluation of coaching methods. This will need to take into account the role and impact of AI-enabled technologies as they develop rapidly in the years ahead. There are also generational issues at play. Workforce management is essential in catering to the unique work-life balance expectations of Gen-Z and Gen Alpha and effective management strategies must balance productivity with these new generational preferences, ensuring both high-quality work and employee satisfaction.
In this AI-enhanced ecosystem, change is clearly going to feature in how the way contact centres develop in the years ahead. Success will hinge on the ability of leaders to prioritise AI so that it doesn’t just replace human agents but creates better conditions in which they can develop and thrive. The most effect contact centres will see employees and this transformational technology integrating to deliver outstanding customer experiences, driven by innovation and with the potential to benefit every contact centre stakeholder.