In recent years, there has been a rising tide of interest in the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in contact centers. With the massive investments that have poured into our industry in the past few years, it’s most important to discover the truth about AI, so you and so many other contact center leaders can prevent regrettable decisions.
STOP: What are the truths of AI in contact centers?
As someone who started their career on the frontline in contact centers, and who continually seeks to discover the real-world realities you face, I stop and wonder. What about the uniqueness of your contact center, the work you perform, and your strategic positioning in your organization.
But most importantly, I try to think about your customers.
Are you ready for AI? Is your customer ready for AI? What is AI?
With the world advancing, and contact centers continuously seeking to be more efficient, it is realistic contact centers seek to implement AI. This is because there is a possibility of convenience, efficiency, and effectiveness with using AI when interacting with customers. In as much as AI has many advantages, it also comes with disadvantages.
Excellent customer service and support experiences are a critical driver in the survivability of your business. Technology or automation that damages those experiences will be costly to your contact center. It is, therefore, crucial to know where AI is useful and where it is producing the opposite result.
AI can be useful in various industry sectors and service situations. But which ones? In order to use AI in an effective manner, you need to know and understand your industry. You also need to know how to apply AI to enhance your customers’ experience effectively. Studies have shown that using AI in the contact center can either improve or diminish customer engagement and retention.
How can your contact center leverage the power of AI? You must pay attention to overall attitudes and preferences toward the use of artificial intelligence in customer service and support. You must identify specific segments of customers that have differing levels of willingness to interact with artificial intelligence systems. This way, you are providing a customer experience that is empathetic towards the customer (Learn More about the AI in Contact Centers Webinar Series).
Customer Attitudes Towards AI
What should you consider as a contact center before implementing any service? What is driving your decision to implement that service? Is it cost or convenience? The main factor when deciding whether to implement a particular service or support technology should be its impact on customer experiences.
If you value cost over customer experience you are most likely to risk customer loyalty. Your customer experience is a representation of your brand. This means that your contact center is a key element for your brand after the quality of our service or product.
Human-to-human (h2h) interaction is important. Human beings are social creatures; they are most likely to value interacting with another human being over a machine. When assistance is needed, most customers prefer to share their problems with another human being. This is because there is a level of empathy that a human can provide that a machine cannot. If your customer has questions or needs further explanation on a certain issue, an agent is more capable of providing that support.
But that’s not to say your customer will not find interacting with AI valuable. But do you know when and how?
It is important for your contact center to provide an option for the customer to speak with a real agent in cases where the h2h interaction is most valuable. Again, I am not saying that AI is not useful. There are instances where AI can be more convenient and that adds value.
However, you must test in which areas of your contact center is it useful and in which areas is it damaging customer loyalty. The loyalty of your customers depends mainly on how much they feel they are in control of their data and service experience.
How to introduce AI to your customers successfully
Customer-driven personalization of technology-enabled service and support experiences enhances customer loyalty. The term artificial intelligence diminishes the customer’s confidence in your services. To most people, it resembles a loss of control. When using AI it is important to still ensure that the customer feels in control of their choices.
Give your customers an option to decide whether or not they want to receive automated suggestions and offers rather than just giving it to them without their consent. This is similar to when your customer receives targeted ads based on their online behavior such as shopping habits or search history. There is a feeling of stalking that comes with this method of trying to capture your customer’s attention. This is most likely to cause a significant decrease in loyalty.
Most people are not ready for the full adoption of AI interaction in the service industry, especially contact centers. A general approach in your contact center should gradually introduce AI to your customers and the technology should be structured in a way that is empathetic towards the customer. This means introducing AI in the areas that can do without human interaction.
People are mostly concerned about the impact AI will have on the service industry. The top concerns being their data being collected as well as the loss of jobs for customer service workers. People are not open to the adoption of systems they deem unethical hence AI can result in a decrease in customer loyalty. Humans have a need to be heard and understood, something that AI cannot provide.
How AI in the Contact Center Can Build or Destroy Customer Loyalty
Time is very important to everyone including your customer. It is important to reduce your customer’s telephone hold time. If your customer has to hold for a long period of time they end up frustrated especially if they have an issue they need to deal with immediately.
This can impact your customer’s loyalty in a very negative way. Enabling your customers to access your service as quickly as possible, increases customer loyalty.
For instance, in the medical sector, there has been an increase in the use of virtual medicine. Health systems that offer virtual access to doctors can significantly increase patient loyalty while stemming the steady loss of patients to urgent cases, retail clinics, and virtual medical providers. AI should be used to compliment live agents.
This helps build customer loyalty because your contact center is providing a wide range of service of delivery methods that best suit what your customer needs at any given time.
The Power of Combining AI and Live Agent Support
Service and support providers that use AI and automation to enable agent performance gain efficiency, better experiences and increased loyalty. Even though fully automated support can be convenient and cost- efficient, it may damage your customer loyalty.
This is because there are service needs that a live agent can provide that AI cannot. Using artificial intelligence to assess customer emotions during service interactions is not appealing to many people.
The use of voice recognition, for example, is not appealing to most people. It is a typical example of people’s data being collected without their consent and this can cause distrust. Automation lacks authentic and this can be off-putting to the customer.
Another example commonly used is automated mail. Similar to holding time, automated mail can be frustrating to your customers. While in some cases it is useful, in some cases the customer is hoping to interact with a live agent.
Service and Support Methods that are Effective.
In order to implement AI effectively, you need to consider in which sector is your contact center. Some service sectors require more live agents than others. While self-service websites are a suitable alternative for minor tasks, voice recognition, and chatbots are inferior in all situations. In general, most people prefer to interact with a live agent when it comes to solving an issue or addressing concerns.
There are certain areas where people prefer to deal with AI. Some of the examples where people prefer to interact with AI are when making payments, booking appointments, booking tickets, purchasing products, checking account status, and setting passwords.
Four Segments of Customer Readiness for AI in the Contact Center
According to the study conducted by Fedilun Partners and PACE, (See the Webinar Series: Real Truths For AI In The Contact Center) there are typically four distinct segments of customers, each with widely varying attitudes and readiness for AI. It does not matter which service sector your contact center is in. You are most likely to come across these different types of customers.
Two of these segments are modestly open to the use of AI in service and support. The remaining two segments remain mostly opposed to its use. Most customers indicate that AI would have a strongly negative impact on their loyalty.
The study shows that there are four different types of customers your contact center will deal with. This includes technology believers, cautious optimists, technology skeptics, and late adopters. Technology Skeptics and Late Adopters are far less optimistic about AI in customer service and prefer human support.
Even though all these groups have different views on AI, they all agree that interaction with a live agent is important. Technology Believers own and use significantly more digital devices and they are more open to using AI in customer service.
Late Adopters and Technology Skeptics are much less engaged with technology hence they are not kin on interacting with AI. Technology attitudes are determined by social media use. Technology Believers and Cautious Optimists use social media more often, while technology skeptics use little to no social media.
Cautious Optimists are the heaviest users of video streaming services, while Technology Skeptics use them less. This greatly reflects their technology attitudes and shows that Cautious Optimists are earlier adopters of digital services. Technology Believers are not very open to using digital services or interacting with AI.
Customers’ General Views on AI in the Contact Center
Most people are not ready for full AI support systems. The larger part of the demographic is still concerned about the safety of their data. They are also concerned about the job security of live agents.
They also value human interaction over AI interaction. Your contact center should therefore cautiously introduce the use of AI in customer interactions.
Also, when using AI, it should be used to complement the efforts of live agents without replacing them. As AI continues to develop and provide a more effective experience most people will be open to AI support. In the min time, it is important to give your customers an option to interact with AI or not.
Giving them the control to personalize their experience so that it best suits their needs increases customer loyalty. Your contact center should best serve customers by offering options that match their AI readiness. This can be done in many ways.
You can take customer surveys or provide questionnaires that can help you understand what your customers are looking for in their customer experience.
If you were to accept the information in your industry news feed, it might lead you to believe AI is in wide-spread use. I may make you believe that you must act now. This is because everyone is implementing AI, and you should have FOMO (fear of missing out).
- See hidden truths about AI building or destroying your customer loyalty – Click to Tweet
- Top truths for AI in the Contact Center industry you should know – Click to Tweet
- 4 Segments of Customer Readiness for AI See What They Are – Click to Tweet
- This is how you should implement AI in your contact center- Click to Tweet
- Consider this first! The reasons why AI is not so important – Click to Tweet
Jim Rembach is the Editor in Chief of the Customer Service Weekly and it’s Podcast host. He is President of CX Global Media and the creator of the Call Center Coach Virtual Leaders Academy. As the host of the Fast Leader Show Podcast, he has interviewed hundreds of experts, authors, academics, researchers, and practitioners on various angles, viewpoints, and perspectives for improving the customer experience. He has held positions in retail operations, contact centers, customer support, customer success, sales, and measured the customer experience. He is a certified Emotional Intelligence practitioner, Employee Retention Specialist, and recipient of numerous industry awards.