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Time Has Come to Start Preparing for AI in the Contact Center

As a devoted watcher of CBS’ weekly investigative journalism program, 60 Minutes, it was ironic that on a recent Sunday night as I was packing to leave for Call Center Week in Las Vegas, an insightful report on artificial intelligence (AI) was featured.  This could not have been more relevant.  After all, the discussion among customer service professionals about the application of AI in contact centers has been fast and furious over the last two years.  To be fair, separating the marketing-speak from the true applicability of AI remains a challenge. But it’s clear that the green shoots of AI’s contact center potential are emerging, and outsourcers that want to remain relevant need to embrace the development of these solutions.

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While AI may seem like nebulous technology that is better suited to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, its practical use is being felt more in our daily lives.  For example, think of how many iPhone users you see these days asking SIRI for an address or the growing number of people using Amazon’s Alexa to manage their home entertainment platform.  What was considered unthinkable even a decade ago is now on the cusp of the consumer mainstream.  From a quantitative angle, a staggering $17B USD has been raised in venture capital by nearly two-thousand companies to develop new AI solutions.  So, as contact center professionals, we need to consider how this technology can be used in the long-term to both improve efficiencies and enhance customer experience.

When thinking about AI in today’s contact center, admittedly its impact is only just being felt.  One of the most obvious examples to date would have to be its ability to power chat-bots that act as the front-end of interactions with consumers who choose web-chat as a channel.  And, when these solutions have been deployed properly, the results have been promising.  There are also back-end uses for AI in the contact center environment.  Just consider how an agent could benefit from an AI-enabled platform in which discussions are analyzed in real-time and logic-based recommendations are provided, taking into account the consumer’s history, emotion and profile.

But as customer experience professionals, we have to be realistic in what AI can currently do for our own operations and for end-users. Deploying ‘cool technology’ that is still relatively immature in most aspects of contact center operations would potentially have serious ramifications on end-user brand loyalty.  Think back to those companies that put half-baked speech recognition IVR platforms in front of consumers at the start of the millennium, and the ensuing backlash that followed. Patience is needed for AI to show its long-term contact center value.

To be clear, AI is here to stay, and in the sense of all things CRM, it needs to be embraced.  However, solutions built on this technology need to be incorporated slowly, given time to percolate and to prove themselves in the context of customer experience delivery.  This approach will ensure long-term acceptance of AI-driven CRM solutions, which will help contact center operators improve efficiencies and drive better end-user interactions.

Written by Stephen B. Ferber