The AI Contact Center Is Finally Here

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Now that the pandemic dust has somewhat settled on the contact center floor, administrators are turning their attention to making things better and more efficient. While these goals were already omnipresent, the lift and shift to the cloud that occurred when suddenly the world adopted work-from-home (WFH) models pushed many to refresh or start afresh with what is possible in customer contact.

Use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the contact center has gone mainstream. Being a serious contender in this space entails building research-and-development teams with talent gleaned from the speech technology and AI communities and providing natively integrated capabilities across core areas of customer contact. At a minimum, it involves deepening partnerships with core speech and AI partners, such as Google, LumenVox, or Microsoft. Examples of cloud contact center provider offerings abound in the following areas:

Self-Service for Customers and Agents Alike

This is now the preferred channel for digital natives; the front door to the contact center includes a cavalcade of products featuring conversational AI, a term that only recently took hold in the industry. Supplanting the voice-enabled interactive voice response (IVR) of yore, conversational AI is appearing across self-service, with most cloud contact center providers both building and partnering on enhanced IVR, intelligent virtual assistants (IVA), and web and voice chatbots. For example, LiveVox comes pre-integrated with LiveVox bot and VA technology. Similarly, the Five9 VA and Vonage VA are natively built intelligent assistants, with others employing VAs using Google Assistant as a base.

Process Automation

Perhaps the area with the most promise is process automation, which is permeating the contact center landscape. Having a personal VA or bot as a coworker may soon seem normal as businesses seek to automate functions across customer interactions. Having started a decade ago in the back office, robotic process automation is being applied to the contact center as well, with numerous providers using personalized VAs to help guide agents; automating processes in the front and back office; illuminating next best actions to take; acting as research assistants to dip into knowledge bases; making calculations; filling out forms on the agent desktop; and taking notes, transcribing interactions, and doing post-call wrap-up, just to name a few functions. Early movers in this area include Cisco, Five9, NICE, and SharpenCX.

Blocking and Tackling

When it comes to day-to-day contact center operations, AI shines. AI, speech technologies, and machine learning are supercharging management through automated quality management, forecasting and scheduling, and analytics. Enhanced operational analytics feeds AI-enhanced e-learning and training modules for ongoing improvement. Companies such as Genesys, NICE, and Verint provide broad capabilities for streamlining business operations.

Customer Feedback

A solution set that got its start with surveys, voice-of-the-customer (VoC) has broadened to encompass evolving analytics solutions such as sentiment analysis and emotion detection, just at a time when customer appetite for filling out surveys is vastly waning. And to be realistic, VoC results overwhelmingly have been represented by the customer experience outliers, consisting of responses from those who are either very happy or ready to churn, so adding increased interaction intelligence is a welcome addition. A good example is 8x8’s Conversation IQ, with transcriptions and evaluations for all user roles and AI-driven sentiment analysis. Alvaria, Bright Pattern, Five9, Cisco, Dialpad, LiveVox, Mitel, NICE, Thrio, and others have all embedded a wide variety of capabilities across their platforms as well.

Workforce Hiring and Employee Engagement

Best of all, AI is also helping contact center stakeholders tackle the ever-persistent issue of hiring and retaining talent. Verint Intelligent Interviewing, for instance, automates the process of winnowing down candidate pools to find the best ones, applying predictive analytics to automate elements of the interviewing process. The process improves new-hire job satisfaction and reduces the likelihood of the wrong person being hired and then leaving, which starts the costly hiring cycle all over again.

Alvaria Motivate provides a comprehensive gamification solution that can take those new hires and streamline the onboarding process, and then improve performance and keep employees engaged over time to raise agent competency and reduce churn.

But all of this is just the start. Across contact center functions, AI-enhanced solutions are rapidly being adopted as the technologies have matured and return on investment is now being realized. 

Nancy Jamison is a senior industry director in information and communications technologies at Frost & Sullivan. She can be reached at nancy.jamison@frost.com, or follow her on Twitter @NancyJami.

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