Let me paint a picture for you. A major retail company has nearly 2,000 customer service agents; but even so, customer wait times are long and frustrating. This is in part due to heavy agent turnover, approximately 70% a year, meaning one year from now only 600 agents will be left on the job. As a result, the majority of agents at this company are in training at all times, creating perfect conditions for a frustrating customer experience (CX), while forcing the company to face steep training fees on a regular basis.
This circumstance may sound implausible, but it’s not. A contact center executive shared this exact scenario with me the other day, and they weren’t the first. Meanwhile, a growing number of businesses aim to use customer experience as a competitive differentiator. According to a 2017 Gartner survey, 81 percent of CMOs expect to be competing mostly or completely on the basis of CX by the end of this year. A big reason behind this trend is that Industries from telecommunications to transportation are experiencing commoditization. With minimal differences across competitive product offerings—whether mobile carrier plans, airline tickets or rental cars—a number of companies are in desperate need of a competitive edge. With that, it’s no surprise that customer experience (CX) is becoming recognized as a crucial area of opportunity.
But this presents an obvious problem: how can a company differentiate on the basis of CX when the front line of that experience is the contact center—an area of business that’s increasingly challenged by heavy turnover, time consuming agent training, long customer wait times and shrinking budgets?
To solve this dilemma, a number of companies are turning to emerging technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) to power exceptional customer service. In particular, they’re looking to virtual assistants powered by conversational AI to address the contact center’s most frustrating roadblocks.
AI as a CX strategy
Today, conversational AI powers the game-changing virtual assistants behind truly productive customer experiences. Even better, its benefits exist without the burden of on-going staffing turnover at the contact center. Where early CX technology like Interactive Voice Response enabled computers to communicate with humans through a list of options,“press 1 for option A, 2 for option B”, and so on, AI-powered virtual assistants lead with open-ended questions, like “how may I help you?” This shift is an important one, allowing consumers to speak in their own words rather than communicate in code until finally directed to a human agent.
As a result, these conversational virtual assistants offer a materially improved customer experience that optimizes three major areas that consistently plague enterprise contact centers:
- Staffing: With virtual agents, contact center executives don’t have to worry about managing a high turnover environment, especially for tasks that are ripe for automation – the ones that often lead to boredom and dissatisfaction among agents. Not only that, but if an AI-powered virtual assistant is responding to inbound queries, a customer care team can respond to a higher volume of customers at a time, lessening the pressure to quickly end conversations and become available for the next one. With lessened bandwidth concerns, virtual assistants can take their time to productively engage with customers, and in the case of omnichannel assistants, continue to engage with them on whichever channel they choose.
- Training: AI-powered virtual assistants are efficient from day one, eliminating the cost and time needed to help an employee get up to speed. And while they get the job done from the start, the AI continues to improve with each conversation. For instance, our Intelligent Virtual Assistant is powered by proprietary tech that seamlessly combines AI with human understanding, so if the technology encounters a new phrase or muffled language and is unable to process what a customer wants, a human analyst determines intent, in real time, to move the conversation forward in a way that is seamless to consumers.
- Flexibility: An AI-powered CX strategy means businesses are able to scale up or down based on the unique needs of the day, month or year. This agility allows companies to focus on the content of each interaction rather than the operational lift, improving the customer experience at crucial times of year.
Not only does AI help deliver a dramatically improved customer experience, but saves companies significant time and resources in the process. As companies continue to use customer experience to fight for a competitive edge, AI will emerge as an invaluable tool for brands to keep customers happy, and coming back for more.