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The Contact Center’s AI Revolution

By Donna Fluss

Artificial intelligence—the term itself conjures up images from decades-old sci-fi books, television, and movies of autonomous robots that become so smart they eventually try to overthrow humanity. But as recently as five years ago, AI was not really a thing in most IT sectors, including contact center technology.

And then in 2017, seemingly out of nowhere, software vendors everywhere claimed their solutions were AI-enabled. We now see the benefits of AI advancements in many industries, delivering practical applications to enhance the world in which we live, including self-driving cars, automated diagnoses in healthcare, smart appliances, smart home devices, anti-money-laundering programs, personalized online shopping, and on and on.

The inclusion of AI technology in contact center and customer experience (CX) solutions is driving the most rapid pace of innovation, improvement, and change ever experienced in the service sector. AI has introduced a basic form of human understanding and intelligence into self-service solutions, making them customers’ preferred method for service. At the same time, AI is being added to most of the systems and applications used by contact center agents, vastly improving the experience of delivering and receiving service. Although its addition is new, AI is already demonstrating its ability to enhance the CX while improving quality, productivity, and employee engagement.

The contact center market is in the early stages of the AI technology continuum; the vendors are introducing a stream of AI-enabled capabilities and striving to figure out what is possible in the future. Although DMG does not believe that agents will be made obsolete by AI during the next five to 10 years, there is no doubt companies will be able to scale while reducing the ratio of live agents to customers. 

AI’s Concrete Contributions

The innovations resulting from AI are making valuable contributions to most aspects of the service experience. Computer vision is being applied and embedded into many CX-oriented applications to “see,” understand, and take appropriate actions or make recommendations based on visual input from documents, images, videos, or other systems. Pattern detection software is using intelligent automation to identify tasks and activities that can be performed better and more consistently than they could with live agents. Speech analytics is structuring customer conversations, identifying the insights companies need to understand customer needs and wants, and improving their journey. Next-best-action capabilities are altering interaction outcomes by guiding agents to do things right during the first contact. Predictive behavioral routing solutions are identifying customers’ communication styles in order to match them with agents with similar characteristics to improve the CX. Predictive analytics is beginning its slow but powerful entrance into many contact center solutions, due to its foundational ability to identify propensities of all types of customer activities and employee behaviors. And this is just the beginning for contact centers. 

But AI is not magic. It is an expanding group of technologies that, when supported by a large data repository, are able to discern patterns in the way that humans think in order to apply these insights to improve future interactions. When it comes to contact centers, this means that once the processing steps for each type of inquiry or transaction are recognized, AI will be able to enhance—or potentially automate—their handling and resolution, freeing agents to perform more complex tasks and activities. Given that at least 50 percent of the actions performed by contact center employees are repetitive, even if they require some form of decision making, applying AI technology to accelerate their resolution is beneficial for customers, agents, and a company’s bottom line.

It’s already been an amazing few years in contact centers, but a complete (and needed) renaissance is expected during the next decade in most aspects of the customer experience. Driven by digital transformation and AI, two of the fundamental building blocks of this service revolution, enterprises are finally going to do what their customers have been asking for: deliver an outstanding CX throughout the customer journey. While this is going to take many forms, based on the needs of each organization, it’s a strategic necessity, as companies cannot afford to continue to deliver “service as usual.”