Digital transformation has become somewhat of a corporate-speak buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, essentially losing its original meaning. But that’s not to say it’s not a crucial part of improving our organizations for the better. Put simply, digital transformation is about adapting to emerging technology in a way that best meets your organization’s goals. So, how does this relate to call centers?
Although call centers are made better by skilled agents, they are still extremely technology-dependent. The agent and the technology need to work in sync to provide the best customer experience and take the business to the next level. Both parts of this equation are critical. A bad customer service agent will negatively impact the business, but poor technology can cause just as much harm. Therefore, it’s so important to adapt to upcoming trends in the industry and utilize new technology to improve your business.
The concept that contact centers must engage with digital transformation is not a new one. In fact, back in 2015 Forrester titled a report called “Contact Centers Must Go Digital or Die that argued this exact point. However, as time continues to tick on, it’s becoming increasingly important that contact centers learn to adapt. Let’s take a look at the top trends for call centers in 2020.
1. AI Is Here to Stay
Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an integral part of the modern business landscape, and call centers are no exception. In fact, 83% of businesses say AI is a strategic priority for them, and 54% of executives say AI solutions have already increased productivity. Although AI can improve all parts of a business operation when done well, it’s arguably the most important when it comes to call centers. Call centers are the direct link to your customers and a forward-facing representation of your company.
For your customers, an interaction with a call center agent may be the first real interaction they have with your company. In the digital age, many of us prefer to order something in our own time, completing the whole process online without ever speaking to the company. It’s only when we realize there has been an error, we have an issue, or we want to add something to our order, that we even think to interact with the company. This interaction must go well because unhappy customers don’t come back. Customer experience is now a huge industry that has significant potential to increase an organization’s profits.
Your customer experience approach must be proactive and ultimately about making a customer feel good. One study found that 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience. This means you should be actively investing in customer experience or risk your customers turning elsewhere. This is where so many organizations go wrong. They view customer service as a firefighting operation tasked with keeping frustrated customers at bay, rather than as a way to get to know your customers on a deeper level and connect with them. In the digital age, AI plays a considerable role in shaping the customer experience.
How AI Is Being Used in Call Centers
Understanding Customers and Their Needs
The purpose of AI in call centers is to make the process more streamlined for customers and call center agents. Many people often mistakenly think that the purpose of AI is to replace call center agents. This is not the case.
With AI and machine learning, the automated processes that were once clunky, restrictive, and often frustrating to customers now become much more useful. One example of this is Interactive Voice Response (IVR) processes. IVR systems work like this:
- The caller calls customer service and is connected to the IVR system.
- The customer must pick an option to continue. For example, “Press 1 for English, Press 2 for Spanish, or Press 3 for French”.
- The caller will then be routed through to a queue to await an agent.
IVR systems can work well in some circumstances but they suffer from being too deterministic. Each input can only result in one output which means customers are forced to choose an option even if their issue doesn’t match any of the criteria. Most of us have probably experienced this in the past and it’s incredibly frustrating because it can often mean that the agent you are routed to will have to pass you on to someone else.
However, with AI and Machine learning some call technology software can now make these decisions without asking as many questions, or by basing their next steps on previous encounters they have learned from. For example, the software may detect what language you are speaking in, or which agent is the best person for the job based on keywords you say. This allows for a more natural interaction that customers find less taxing.
Building Customer Profiles
We can now train systems to utilize data to find the next “best steps” for a customer. This all sounds very impressive, but it all comes down to data and how much of it you have. Machine learning systems work best when they have a lot of data to learn from, and luckily, we now live in a world where data collection is at an all-time high.
Every customer interaction has a story behind it. Every interaction, purchase, and account has a wealth of information about the customer that can be used to more accurately understand the customer’s needs. This not only helps smooth customer interactions but also enhances the agent’s ability to upsell.
A strong customer profile dramatically improves your ability to offer personalized recommendations to customers that will grab their attention. Leading floral arrangements vendor, Teleflora, did this. They first combined product data with individual customer data to build a profile of what products customers like to buy. They then implemented a machine learning system to use this data to predict the next purchases of customers. The final stage was to use advanced analytics to identify their best and worst selling items, so they knew where to focus their marketing. This is particularly important when you consider that one study found that 49% of buyers have made impulse purchases after receiving a more personalized experience.
2. An Omnichannel Contact Center is a Must!
Unifying contact channels is continuing to be a top priority for businesses in 2020. The omnichannel approach is all about consistency and centricity. Businesses want customers to feel like they are always talking to the same company, no matter how they choose to interact with the company. To do this, there needs to be a unified approach to customer experience and interactions as well as a central repository of data on the customer. Having siloed communication channels run by disconnected teams all working from distinct information about the customer is no longer good enough. An omnichannel approach isn’t just something that is recommendation, it’s now what 89% of customers expect.
A key part of an omnichannel approach is that all touchpoints must function as a stand-alone alternative. For example, a good omnichannel system will allow a customer to use live chat if messaging is their preferred method of communication. However, this option should be the only option they need to use if they don’t want to engage with a different channel. This is where many organizations are still failing when it comes to omnichannel integration.
Some companies will simply offer live chat as a “bonus”, but actually force the customer to call when the communication reaches a certain point. This may actually be more frustrating to customers than not offering live chat at all because you’ve now wasted their time.
In 2020, we expect to see the move to the omnichannel approach continue to grow and fragmented and antiquated technology be left behind in favor of more modern and integrated systems.
3. The Future Is Cloud-Based
Cloud-based services are now becoming the norm. A huge 96% of organizations used at least one cloud app in 2018 and more and more organizations are moving their whole operation onto the cloud. There are several benefits to call centers moving to a cloud-based operation.
Scalability and Flexibility
If you manage all of your own software and hardware, then you’ll always be limited by how much growth you can handle. You’ll either need to upgrade your hardware once the system starts to become overburdened, or you’ll find your software can no longer handle what you need it for. This is all taken care of for you with cloud-based services that are designed to adapt according to the scale of your business.
Security and Maintenance
New vulnerabilities are found in software and hardware all the time and without a cloud-based service, you’ll have to manage this all internally. This often requires having a dedicated team of engineers which can be expensive and inefficient.
If your IT team is spending a disproportionate amount of time on maintenance, then you’re not getting the most out of your team. Moving to a cloud-based model can free them up to engage in more creative pursuits that benefit the business’ digital transformation goals.
Keeping up with the latest compliance guidelines around data, IT best practices, and so on is hard work. Rules around compliance change regularly and you can often find yourself out of compliance without realizing, which may land you in trouble. Cloud-based services take care of this with their own dedicated compliance teams and strategies, so you don’t have to worry about it.
Call Centers are becoming increasingly reliant on analytics tools to shape their business goals and this is expected to continue in 2020. Collecting data is important, but you can only make use of this data if you have robust analytics tools that can identify the patterns in the data.
Omnichannel call centers have made the move to advanced data analytics more viable and useful. With an omnichannel approach, you have a complete picture of all customer interactions and data so you can be confident that your analytics are accurate.
Dashboards that feature key statistics about the call center are becoming increasingly common in the call center landscape. Real-time analytics is also a key part of this trend. For example, agents should be able to see in real-time what the average handling time is and whether they are meeting their targets. If an agent can see what targets they are meeting and which need some improvement, they can adapt their approach in real-time to get better results.
5. Recall Technology
Recall technology is relatively new but set to be a big thing in 2020. This technology removes errors or mistakes within messages without interrupting the flow of the conversation. It’s essentially a message filtering technology that ensures only high-quality messages are received by the customer. The technology is advancing rapidly, and we expect to see more call centers implementing it. Although the technology does cause a few seconds of interruption, it saves time on correcting erroneous messages which also saves money.
Organizations that fail to adapt to the latest trends often find themselves left behind as their competition continues to advance, don’t let this be you. Call centers need to modernize to meet the expectations of customers in the digital age by using the latest technology. Omnichannel platforms, AI, analytics, the cloud, and emerging technology like recall, are all an important part of this picture.