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Synthetix

AI: It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new way of customer support and engagement

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With headlines stating that AI will be ‘the death of the contact centre’, it’s understandable that Contact Centre Managers might feel like the world is against them. 

AI-driven technology is not new, in fact people been talking about it since the summer conference at Dartmouth College in 1956, where the attendees became leaders of AI research.With predictions of an AI-first world since 1956, why is that AI-powered technology is causing more and more confusion, hype and fear this decade with trending headlines stating that robots will take over our jobs, causing concern about the long-term impact of AI on the employees?

Well firstly, it’s this shorthand referral to AI that is causing a lot of confusion, hype and fear around this subject.Like computing, it’s hard to distinguish between classifications for AI, the broad term, used to describe the ‘smart’ human-like capability within software such as machine learning, natural language processing, robotics and computational intelligence, which all refer to a wide variety of algorithms and methodologies under AI.

So where does AI fit into the contact centre?

Businesses can no longer afford to rely on archaic siloed channels for customer support and experience. As consumers grow more and more comfortable with messaging, AI applications offer the contact centre some dramatic benefits that stretches way beyond customer support.AI can play a vital role in making better business decisions, many of them positively impacting the customer.

Many brands understand that their customers will expect support across multiple digital channels, regardless of business hours and that site search, static FAQs and info@ email options have become archaic.Businesses must be ‘present’ on their customers’ preferred support channels and respond swiftly, no matter the means customers use to get in touch.

Investing in AI might sound like a daunting task, but it is imperative in our evermore competitive world where businesses need to win the CX war to remain relevant and profitable. For AI to introduce new value and break fresh ground, strategists must take an innovative approach to CX and consider its impact beyond its novelty.

Smallsteps are key to preparing for the ever changing CX landscape.The light in this confusing artificially intelligent world of darkness are that there are ‘modest’ AI-powered solutions that can translate into cost savings, increased productivity and improved customer experience with minimal demands on IT resources.

Commonly known as Natural Language Understanding (NLU) – a machine algorithm to process and analyse large amounts of natural language data to ‘understand’ natural language – it’s easy to underrate the powerful impact this science can have on business processes and the contact centre.

Although human language is extremely complex, full of contextual rules and nuances that we take for granted, the advances in Natural Language Processing today means the complex processing of the NLP system’s back-end is effortlessly encased within a user-friendly interface without requiring users to have technical expertise.

NLU is a supreme AI engine particularly when it’s integrated into services such as conversational Virtual Agents (chatbots), dynamic FAQ self-service, Intelligent Web Form and agent assistance in the contact centre through channels such as Live Chat. can be key to deflecting calls, reducing costs and improving customer satisfaction. Consequently, market movements are already showing strong signs of businesses within a variety of sectors moving towards this type of AI technology to remain applicable and competitive.

How NLU makes sense in the contact centre

NLU can offer a lot more to the modern-day contact centre. As a toe in water into the world of artificial intelligence, when integrated with unstructured data – such as handwritten documents or notes by contact centre agents, text messages, photos and videos – AI-driven NLU can add considerable gains in workplace efficiency.

A contact centre knowledge-base integrated with AI-driven NLU can automate the processes of searching, modifying, and rating knowledge-articles, which could be any of the above-mentioned examples not only saving time in having to manually find information, but a dramatic increase in contact centre productivity. 

It enables new or temporary agents to serve customers almost instantly with reduced training times and access to instant, correct and consistent information over the phone, during a live chat or through email. NLU algorithms often can contextualise information to find mentions of subjects even when the relevant keywords are absent. 

Gartner predicted that in 2019, 20 percent of user interactions with smartphones will take place via virtual personal assistants.

The truth is they were not far off. Advances in text analysis and natural language processing has grown the list of queries that can be answered, and tasks resolved without human interaction. And since 2016, the popularity of using NLU in the form of chatbots to drive sales, qualify leads or to provide customer support, have had analysts forecast that conversational commerce will automate up to 85% of customer interactions by 2020.

Smartphones have changed the way in which people communicate and engage with each other. Messaging apps and social media are driving the exponential growth in the intelligent assistant landscape because it feels intimate and personal, encouraging customer transactions such as buying a product, present targeted promotions and product recommendations based on the customer’s enquiry, profile and history incorporating real-time analytics and business reporting. Bots are unmediated in a way that most digital interface still entirely fails at. 

With an intelligent bot handling high volume, frequently asked questions, your contact centre agents can focus on resolving complex customer issues. Additionally, due to working in the most efficient way possible, bots can handle spikes in customer contact to digital platforms, while dramatically decreasing the volume of physical calls which makes it easier to stay on top of demand and to record interactions on a CRM system or for analytics and training. Given its scalability, a bot implementation is a cost-effective opportunity for business improvement. An affordable, intelligent point of contact that can efficiently respond to an unlimited number of queries with relevant information, any day, any time.

Self-serving answers when customers need assistance across desktop, mobile and social channels is not a new concept anymore. This is not news to enterprises either and most will have incorporated – or are looking to integrate – a powerful intelligent FAQ system into their customer service/experience strategy. And although there appears to be an AI-uncertainty among business leaders, small steps need to be taken towards implementing AI to not get left behind.

NLU’s adaptability and usability make it an ideal first AI step for businesses of all kinds, generating quick win efficiencies in the short run, and more importantly preparing them for more complex AI solutions in the future. Are you ready to take the next step towards AI that can deliver quick-win business results?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

GUEST BLOG: Omni-channel – 3 ways to get there

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By Synthetix

The variety and choice of communication channels in recent years show no means of slowing down and keeping up with customers wanting to interact with you, over every conceivable medium is challenging, even to the biggest brands. To further complicate matters, each channel appears to need its own integration interface to be implemented into legacy or on-premise systems. And by the time a new integration is agreed, purchased, implemented and IT or contact centre staff trained to use it, the next advance in technology makes the realisation of creating ‘a single view of the customer’ seem to be nothing but an ideology.

But for those businesses chasing omni-channel deliverability there are 3 approaches that might help make the dream a reality.

Self-development

This is a great option if your team can maintain the resources necessary to integrate with a specific API of a new contact channel and are able to sustain the code especially when a service deprecates or update its APIs. Developer-savvy businesses can piece together its own omni-channel solution but using a load-balanced network that is fail-over tolerant, and able to auto-scale to as many servers as required is key to maintain brisk performance and keep data safe.

Employing PaaS

Platform as a Service offers a rich palette of technically integrated platform solutions designed to increase agility, lower costs, and reduce IT complexity. Customer service software vendors that offer omni-channel APIs enable businesses to build, deploy, integrate and extend their own online customer service applications in the cloud using flexible RESTful APIs.

Using ready-made integrated tools

Using a complete platform for automated, self-service customer experience and agent assisted channels will ensure you maintain high levels of satisfaction and engagement no matter how customers choose to contact you.  A vendor worth their weight will offer APIs to integrate with your CRM to allow for omni-channel deliverability. Look for a vendor that offers a ROI calculator to prove the impact of savings to be had using a complete online customer service suite, or those that offer risk-free trials.

GUEST BLOG: Three challenges contact centres should have overcome by now, but have they?

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By Synthetix

Unlike the uncertainty surrounding Brexit negotiations, the last ten years’ advances in technology (and especially AI) has helped many leading brands turn their contact centres into profit centres by improving first contact resolution, decreasing agent burnout and making their customers happy.

Technology has also changed customer expectations and customer experience can no longer be sacrificed for the convenience of the brand. Customer service is an essential part of contact centres, and with uncertain times upon us, delivering exceptional customer experience to customers via their channel of choice might have some contact centres feeling like they don’t have the right weapons to win the battle of delivering increased customer satisfaction whilst also reducing their cost-per-serve ratio.

But, there is hope yet for those who choose their arms wisely…

Bite the bullet with efficiency

Unpredictable call spikes cause frustrated customers and weary agents, resulting in lost revenue. Self-service options like Visual IVR, FAQ Search and Virtual Agent chatbots help to optimise agent contact, coping with spikes in enquiries and assisting with rapid contact resolution in the event that a query is escalated to an agent.

Plan of attack to retain and attract

Teams burning out quickly and high agent attrition costs time and money. Gamification programs promote healthy culture; performance data improves development and retention. Dashboards reporting on agent productivity will assist contact centre managers to identify staff needing more encouragement as well as identifying those to reward.

‘Omni-channelling’ successfully with Customer Experiences

Being there for customers when they reach out via chat, email or social media is challenging when the best skilled agents or a full customer history is not be available. Using APIs and CRM integrations, real-time data can be unified in one place across channels, enabling a 360 degree view of the customer, regardless of which channel they choose to interact through.

These quick reads provide some valuable insight to taking small steps to prepare for the ever-changing customer experience landscape and how it can create winning results in the contact centre.

GUEST BLOG: Why contact centres are declaring war against bots

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

By Synthetix

Managing a large group of loud personalities, having to forecast and plan resources tightly against projected inbound contact, meeting big targets and running countless meetings, if this sounds like your typical day, you must be in the profession of overseeing a contact centre.

Finding time to think about and plan what needs to be done to develop or improve performance is a tough task when most Managers spend their time battling to keep agents and customers happy. To further complicate matters, any big changes need to be run past upper management, which according to a recent report, still perceives the contact centre as a ‘cost centre’.

And with headlines stating that AI will be ‘the death of the contact centre’, it’s understandable that Contact Centre Managers might feel like the world is against them. However, it’s the dawn of a New Contact Centre. Businesses can no longer afford to rely on archaic siloed channels for customer support and experience. The time has come for businesses to fill their customer support armoury with new strategies and AI tech to win the war on remaining relevant and profitable.

As consumers grow more and more comfortable with messaging, AI applications offer the contact centre some dramatic benefits that stretches way beyond ‘Botman versus SuperAgent’. For those businesses looking to invest in AI, there is light in this confusing artificially intelligent world of darkness. There already exists reasonably priced and ‘modest’ AI-powered solutionsthat can translate into cost savings, increased productivity and improved customer experience with minimal demands on IT resources.

But for AI to introduce new value and break fresh ground, strategists must take an innovative approach to CX and consider its impact beyond its novelty. As a ‘Customer Experience General’ looking to outwit the enemy, the following quick reads provide some valuable insight to taking small steps to prepare for the ever-changing customer experience landscape and how it can deliver ‘super-powered’ results in the contact centre.

GUEST BLOG: How to deliver great customer experiences without the hype, politics or drama

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By Synthetix

2018 is not quite half way and already this year has many of us concerned about what the future might hold, with the UK’s Brexit date less than a year away. The volatile political events during 2016 has set the scene, ‘dominoing’ into 2018. And many UK businesses are operating in ‘limbo’ – not wanting to make any drastic changes to processes, staff or technologies –  waiting to see the what impact and lead up to Brexit might have on the future of their business.

Another dominating topic in 2018 is AI. Like political ructions, new technology can create fear, uncertainty, and doubt, until we understand it better. But unlike politics, were we can choose who we support, or whether to cast or vote or not, we are parading inescapably into a new generation of digitally enabled customer experiences and there is no turning back.

Waiting to invest in new customer engagement technology, could put you well behind the curve to compete within the digital future.

Fake News

Some leading organisations are already masters in this new world, already using AI to great effect or are actively planning for it. But most organisations still find it difficult to imagine how AI with its hype and science fiction drama can bridge the gaps between a customer’s diverse interaction points to help improve their journey and experience with services and answers they need.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you understand that consistently satisfying customer service is increasingly important as customer expectations are adapting and growing just as rapidly as the channels and technology consumers are now empowered to engage with.

Being open to new paths of communication, such as Virtual Agent technology, can up the personalisation and customer engagement stakes. Unlike the uncertain outcome of the UK general election and its repercussions, Virtual Agents, when deployed correctly, with a set of specific goals, can generate leads, increase sales, and grow a business in a big way, and this is only the beginning. However, just because Virtual Agents are part of the hottest topic of 2018, this does not necessarily mean it will be the right fit for everyone.

Polls

Self-service has become the long-term solution to meeting customer expectations. In a global report, ‘The Self-service Economy’, 70% of consumers expect a self-service option for handling commercial questions and complaints. And millennials especially expect companies to keep improving their levels of service, expecting everything to be just a click away – their social relationships, their retail relationships, even their banking and insurance relationships.

This isn’t a manifesto to try to convince you to invest in Virtual Agent technology, but rather to highlight how it can align with wider business objectives.

These free guides offer practical advice about investing in AI powered bots amongst other contact centre technology and how best to utilise these channels to deliver optimum return on investment.

GUEST BLOG: Are efforts to reduce contact centre volumes harming your customer experience?

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By Synthetix

Customer experience in one industry sets the bar and shapes expectations for all experiences. This has never been more true and applies to many aspects of our lives.

I wonder how many people have walked into a hair salon, clenching a photo of what they would like their hair to look like, just to walk out crying, disappointed that their expectations were not met in the mirror? And how many blame the hair dresser’s skill, not the fact that maybe the style or colour just doesn’t fit the shape of their face or skin tone? This begs the question: Should a stylist simply follow instructions from the customer or should they advise (as they are the experts) customers to try something more suitable?

Customer support is not exempt from customer experience or expectations. And businesses have responded offering a plethora of communication channels to customers for support. Why is then that managers are struggling to tie tech investments to improved operational outcomes or the growth of their business through efficiencies and improved customer experience?

It has become increasingly apparent that many channels are being bolted on with little or no consideration for how they are integrated with the rest of the organisation. For the customer, the existence of siloed channels can be apparent in a variety of ways, such as inconsistency in actions from channel-to-channel; different tone of voice; duplication of messaging; or having to start the conversation anew every time it shifts to a fresh channel.

With a huge 82% of customers having stopped doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience, the message is clear: Organisations that cannot provide a seamless experience across multiple channels are in danger of losing customers to those businesses that can.

These free guides offer practical advice from improving agent productivity, NPS or CSAT scores to busting the operational silos to deliver consistent customer experiences across multiple channels:

FREE GUIDE: The cure for the common call

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By Synthetix

No-one likes waiting. Untimely responses to customer queries are one of the hallmarks of poor customer service and precious time wasted. A recent study by the Institute of Customer Service concluded that the UK public waste millions of hours trying to resolve customer support issues from their workplace. This disruption in employee productivity cost employers £28 billion a year. What a pricey commodity time has become.

Jo Causon, Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service, said: “There will always be times when employees will have to take time out of their working day to deal with personal issues. However, the responsibility lies with UK organisations to ensure that, as much as possible, problems are prevented at source and customer service interactions are right first time — to protect both the productivity of their own staff, and those interacting with them.”

Tickly truths

The concept of serving customers over multiple channels is not new. Consumers are no longer reliant on local businesses to meet their needs with the evolution of the internet alongside portable tech such as laptops, smartphones and tablets.

Many customers call the contact centre simply because that’s what they’re used to, however many would prefer a self-service option if they understood that it saves them time and hassle. Forrester’s latest research shows online self-service to be THE preferred channel for customer service over any other channel including phone and email.

Enter the new challenge for businesses: Creating consistent and seamless customer experiences across multiple channels.

These free guides offer practical advice from improving agent productivity, NPS or CSAT scores, to delivering consistent customer experiences across multiple channels.

Multi-channel Online Customer Service for Dummies

Web chat – 5 killer reasons why you are doing it wrong

Virtual agents – to bot or not?

Synthetix Commute

FREE GUIDES: Agents unable to commute to the office? Here’s how to operate efficiently during a crisis

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

By Synthetix

For the love of Rudolph, Christmas now starts in March, not July? The recent weather would have had many of us think it could be Christmas if we didn’t know better.

Heavy snow not only had some commuters spending hours in their vehicles, and train, flight and bus cancellations resulted in an unprecedented surge in commuter enquiries, alongside burst water pipes, flooding and sink holes appearing. Thousands of people where left in distress, unable to commute, some without water and basic facilities.

With further weather warnings being issued by the Met Office, the increased demand on customer service departments is set to continue. And when contact centre staff are unable to commute to work, some businesses will struggle to operate efficiently.

24/7 support is within reach to those eager to achieve operational efficiency by utilising digital channels such as Virtual Agents, web chat or web self-service, especially during unexpected circumstances.

Digital channels allow businesses to maintain high levels of service during peak and off-peak times. Web self-service options and Virtual Agents don’t get snowed in. And kudos to those using web chat via agents working from home – an often-overlooked advantage of chat over voice.

These free guides offer practical advice from improving agent productivity, NPS or CSAT scores, to delivering consistent customer experiences across multiple channels:

Multi-channel Online Customer Service for Dummies
Web chat – 5 killer reasons why you are doing it wrong
Virtual agents – to bot or not?