Post-COVID, Here’s Why Contact Centers Should Keep AI Around

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Misconceptions around AI in the workplace have existed for as long as the technology itself. And to this point, the dominant narrative around its role in the contact center has been negative, often associated with job displacement for agents and frustrating phone trees for consumers.

Even so, COVID-19 forced many companies to increase their use of AI-powered solutions in the contact center to meet customer demand. Now, with vaccination rates rising and restrictions lifting, companies may not need AI like they did before—but there are several reasons why it should remain a fundamental component of the enterprise contact center.

While we’re at this inflection point, it’s critical that enterprises recognize the truths about AI’s impact on the customer experience and put any lingering misconceptions to bed.

When utilized correctly, automation can augment agents’ work

We’ve all heard the fearmongering narratives about robots replacing us, most often in sci-fi stories. The reality, particularly in the contact center, is a little less theatrical—and a lot more reassuring. If implemented correctly, AI-powered systems can actually augment agents’ work (and even create new kinds of jobs) by collaborating to produce quality customer experiences (CX) at scale.

Importantly, augmenting humans won’t lead to replacing them, all thanks to the human touch. In industries where empathy is paramount (like insurance, where contact center agents regularly handle crisis situations), compassion will always be valued as an integral component of a quality customer experience. So while virtual assistants can help streamline and augment workflows, they’ll never replace the uniqueness and emotion of human agents.

My company’s podcast recently featured The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for the LGBTQ community. After seeing demand double their pre-pandemic levels, they leveraged AI to simulate realistic conversations with struggling youth in order to prepare human counselors for real interactions. Their natural language processing (NLP) capability also analyzes pre-chat questionnaires to prioritize the highest-risk chats. Ultimately, automation both enhances and scales The Trevor Project’s training program to help agents meet increased demand, which is especially important for a company doing critical, life-saving work.

Contact center automation helps with more than just call volume

When the pandemic took hold, contact center demand spiked rapidly, particularly for airlines, retailers, and financial services. For contact centers whose existing agents weren’t equipped for that kind of volume, automated systems helped plug gaps left by reduced capacities and physical center closings, ultimately ensuring consistent, exceptional customer service to stressed callers.

As COVID-19 cases drop nationwide, it may be tempting to predict that agencies’ use of AI will drop in tandem. However, the demand for automation in the workplace isn’t going away—it’s actually quite the opposite. According to a recent survey, consumers want companies to maintain or expand AI-powered customer service solutions post-pandemic. This isn’t surprising: now that consumers have gotten a taste of the benefits—including faster response time, fewer misdirected calls, and natural conversations—they want to continue experiencing them in the long term.

This is especially true when it comes to financial services like banking or collections, where it’s often necessary to discuss sensitive personal information. For many consumers who prioritize risk- and judgment-free transactions, the option to bypass a human agent entirely will continue to be appealing.

Contact center automation doesn’t require customers to shout “speak to an agent” over and over

When we think about automation in the contact center, we might think of dated, ineffective IVR systems that require you to repeatedly shout “agent!” or “billing!” until you’re finally connected with the right person—or dropped from the call entirely. We’ve come to expect incredibly frustrating interactions with automated phone trees that inevitably lead to dead-end conversations.

Fortunately, we’re now experiencing a revolution in AI-powered virtual assistants. By implementing them to work in harmony with human agents, companies are making huge strides in producing natural, efficient conversations for callers. Rather than ending up with a sore throat after repeating “billing” for the hundredth time, customers can now express themselves naturally, complete with ums and ahs, slang, and idioms. This is the next generation of automation in the contact center, and it’s poised to change the way we think about the digital transformation of the industry at large.

Regardless of what’s going on in the world around us, expectations for customer care will continue to grow. So as we begin to conceptualize a post-pandemic world, understanding the facts behind COVID-era automation will be critical to driving efficiency and delivering the streamlined experiences that customers crave.

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