AI in the Contact Centre – Round Table Discussion
Discussing the rise of AI in contact centres with Tollring, Avaya, Talkdesk, Mitel and Genesys
Artificial intelligence is no longer the technology of the future.
Today, everything we do is becoming more intelligent. With smart speakers, you can control your lights or switch on your favourite music with just a couple of words. On your phone, you have endless access to virtual assistants to help you find valuable information. Even in the business world, artificial intelligence is working to make employees more productive and efficient with quicker knowledge-base searches and automated insights.
Now, artificial intelligence is on its way to the contact centre too, where it has the potential to support some of the most important conversations a business has. In the CC environment, AI can enhance customer support, drive better client experiences, and even open the door for more efficient self-service. We spoke to Avaya, Tollring, Talkdesk, Mitel and Genesys to gather their insights on how AI is affecting the contact centre.
What is the Contact Centre’s Appetite for AI?
The general demand for artificial intelligence has grown rapidly in recent years. Businesses from virtually every industry are realising that intelligent solutions can enhance and improve their team’s performance. Even employees are starting to feel more comfortable about the idea of working hand-in-hand with bots if it means that they can get more done, faster.
Tony Martino, the CEO of Tollring, told us:
“There’s an appetite to improve customer experience here. AI is in the toolbox at the higher end of the CC market, but it needs to be quantified more than it is right now.” According to Tollring, AI isn’t something that’s easily packaged or understood today. “A small percentage of mid to larger enterprises are asking for speech and artificial intelligence. They are looking for automation around sentiment and scoring, the ability to transcribe, keywording, etc. But the market is very small and requires a lot of consultancy.”
Tollring is in the process of trying to make AI more tangible and “bite-sized” so that businesses can see clearly how the technology will help them to improve interactions with intelligence in their data. “It must be simple and have the greatest impact”
Natalie Keightley, Solutions Marketing Director at Avaya, said:
“We have just undertaken some global research looking into this exact topic and it’s revealed that the appetite is indeed very large.” Avaya has seen significant growth in the demand for artificial intelligence in their market lately, with 94 percent of business and IT leaders have said that they recognise the ability of AI to transform the performance of their contact centre.
Additionally, Avaya’s studies reveal that 81 percent of respondents believe failing to adopt AI now properly will cost their company throughout the next decade.
According to Jafar Adibi, Head of AI and Data Science at Talkdesk:
“The demand for AI is very strong in the contact centre market and, based on our success with – and demand for – Talkdesk iQ, the appetite appears to be insatiable,” Adibi noted that the market could be mapped on two axes: what people want to do, and what they’re capable of. While the appetite for AI is continuing to grow, contact centres that aren’t cloud-native will often struggle to use AI.
According to Adibi, if the data is already available to capture, then organisations need to plan to create the right AI strategy for their needs. While everyone loves to exploit advanced AI to “keep up with the Joneses,” businesses, need to do a reality check on their capabilities too.
Matt Clare, Director of Contact Center Solutions at Mitel, told us:
“With the rise in self-service CX over the last decade, and from my talks with our customers and attendees at industry events, I think there’s no doubt the appetite is extremely high, definitely the highest it’s ever been.”
According to Clare, leveraging Natural Language Processing and Understanding in AI to reduce the time required in building a virtual bot or agent is one reason for the growth in appetite. However, it’s early days for AI being used in production.
“As functionality like Google’s Contact Center AI becomes generally available and companies can see that AI no longer requires hiring special, and expensive talent, I think we’ll see a much larger rise in adoption”
“This “democratisation” of AI will also drive AI technology into a broader market segment, out of the enterprise and into the SMB and midmarket.”
Director of Strategic Marketing at Genesys, Brendan Dykes, told us:
“There is a clear appetite for AI in the contact centre. Part of the appeal for AI is down to customers’ behaviour having changed dramatically in recent years. Businesses need to keep pace with their ability to serve consumers across the various digital channels they are using today.”
Brendan noted that today’s customers expect that brands should be able to serve them on any channel, day and night, which makes AI a must-have in the current landscape. Additionally, AI tech has further appeal to offer beyond the self-service environment because it allows companies to augment and improve the efficiency of agents. “According to recent research we carried out at Genesys, 64% of UK employees say that AI technologies are making them more efficient in the workplace.”
Are End Customers at Discovery or Purchasing Stage?
Artificial Intelligence may well be one of the most exciting things in the market today, but not everyone is fully ready to adopt it. While some companies at the agile end of the market are ready to jump in and purchase the next big AI solutions, others are still in discovery mode.
According to Tollring:
“At the moment, there aren’t a bunch of AI tools that people can subscribe to.”
“We’re focused on providing solutions to the larger SME market in a more accessible way, like using analytics to understand customer interaction. We provide that intelligence through business intelligence into customer interactions”
Tollring’s Tony Martino told us that this BI is generating a lot of interest in the company’s roadmap. Businesses are beginning to understand that the customer journey isn’t simple. “They’re keen to get involved and see what’s to come. We’re mainly at the discovery stage, but with a bit of purchasing.”
Natalie Keightley at Avaya said:
“The vast majority of businesses have already integrated some form of AI into their contact centre and using it to some degree. However, when it comes to rolling out a more developed AI strategy to the contact centre, respondents to our survey said they are on average, only 50% of the way through implementation.”
Keightley believes that companies are reaching a fork in the road when it comes to the rollout of AI. While one path will lead to failure fueled by uncertainty and misunderstanding, the other will lead to a full and effective AI rollout that transforms the contact centre and impacts essential enterprise functionality.
According to Adibi from Talkdesk:
“Since many end customers have seen AI products success stories in other fields, they are looking for real and operational AI products. So, they are at the purchasing stage. The benefits to AI are clear, numerous, and multiplying rapidly. By automating systems and simple functions with AI, adding agent assist capabilities with intelligent guidance and resolution recommendations aligned to an internal knowledge base through AI integration, and including intelligent chatbots for improved self-service; all contribute to improving customer experience through efficiency”
Adibi noted that contact centres and BPOs are hunting down sophisticated, yet simple solutions to address immediate needs, rather than just looking into the future.
Matt Clare of Mitel told us:
“It seems more like people are in the discovery and POC stage right now from my conversations with customers, prospects, and industry professionals. As the technology becomes more readily available, with quantifiable metrics to back up the ease of use, time to deploy, and benefit to the business, I think we’ll see a large uptake in terms of deployment over the next 1-2 years.”
Matt also believes that smaller companies will be able to access the benefits of AI soon, as organisations realise that there are tools out there to provide easy, affordable, and rapid adoption of disruptive tech.
Brendan Dykes of Genesys said:
“According to our research, 32% of UK employers say they’re already using AI-based technologies, while 47% say they plan to implement it within the next three years. The rate at which they are deploying it versus evaluating it just depends. Early adopters are embracing elements of AI, but we haven’t reached mass adoption yet. We are seeing businesses deploy specific uses for AI, like chatbots and automation at a steady pace. However, often, these organisations are in the discovery phase for other areas of AI technology, like voice bots or predictive routing. ”
Brendan told us that bots seem to be the first step on a wider journey to greater AI opportunities. Once a business has its first bot project set up, they can begin to look into more sophisticated AI tech. AI seems to be used best when it’s embedded into a company’s processes and orchestrated to deliver targeted outcomes. However, businesses can’t achieve these outcomes if their AI tech is siloed.
What’s Driving the Interest in AI?
Artificial intelligence has a lot of potential benefits to offer the marketplace. The right intelligent solutions will allow companies to access valuable data, make decisions based on useful insights, and unlock incredible outcomes.
According to Tony Martino of Tollring:
“Interest in AI isn’t about AI; it’s about businesses wanting to streamline and deliver more exceptional customer service. In a world where we shop online, it is all about improving customer interaction and services to end customers. Businesses are mindful that churn is now greater, so their biggest driver is keeping the customer. If AI can help to achieve this, then great.”
Martino told us that Tollring is focusing on how it can leverage the latest tools to deliver the best customer service. It’s about bringing intelligence into the forefront so that businesses can see what they need to do to enhance CX. Contact centres are an excellent way to improve customer service, but they can also be expensive. “We are looking to take the best bits from a CC solution and deliver it to the larger SME market but in a much more cost-effective way.”
Natalie Keightley at Avaya told us:
“There is a strong recognition among organisations that AI is a “customer-facing technology,” something that will directly and noticeably improve the customer experience, and it is in this capacity where organisations see the most benefit”
“After all, improving customer experience underpins a lot of what most organisations do.”
According to Keightley, the ability to predict customer behaviour and fuel more efficient CRM solutions are seen as beneficial use cases for the AI environment. AI is about more than just simple chatbots, in Avaya’s opinion. According to them, “40 percent of business leaders would like to predict caller intent with speech analytics and analyse caller emotions to optimise the experience of engaging via voice.”
Jafar Adibi at Talkdesk said:
“From a business point of view, C-level executives are looking for AI to help them improve customer experience in a range of ways. Contact centres want to use AI to improve performance and help them make more accurate, informed decisions”
“Additionally, teams are using AI to improve their inbound routing strategy with a comprehensive omni-channel strategy that ensures each interaction goes to the most skilled agent for that issue.”
Additionally, although the reduction of jobs isn’t a popular topic, the rise of chatbots and automation can help businesses to reduce headcount too, while improving customer experience by making human agents available to deal with complex issues. ” Automation is probably one of the low hanging fruits that everybody should look for. Even simple AI-powered automation can improve the overall contact center performance.” Talkdesk also believes that data analysis and monitoring will also be able to improve internal systems in contact centres.
According to Matt Clare of Mitel:
“I believe the interest in AI all started with building a better virtual agent, or bot, technology. If you think of the way that traditional self-service bots were built (either in IVR or chat), it was a complicated Web of If and Then statements for example if the customer says sales, route them to the sales queue. The problem with the heritage way was the lack of Natural Language Processing and Understanding. Leveraging AI capabilities combined with NLP/NLU, dramatically reduces the time and complexity in configuring a bot.”
Mitel feels the biggest benefits here will be reduction in call email and chat volume, improvements in CSAT, and an increase in self-service accuracy rates. Clare also believes that the rise in AI for self-service purposes has helped to accelerate the interest in AI technology. ” For a long time, bots and self-service have been thought of as human replacements, but the reality is that live assisted human to human interactions are never going to go away. Those live assisted human conversations become more high value and important than ever. ”
According to Brendan Dykes:
“AI is fundamentally changing how businesses and consumers interact by ushering in a new era of personalization for customers and employees. It’s capable of driving unprecedented levels of operational and business efficiencies. This intelligent technology is increasingly being used to ensure great outcomes for consumers, employees, and businesses alike.”
Brendan noted that customers are being introduced to new levels of customisation where predictive automation allows offers to be built just for them. Additionally, employees are benefiting from having access to the resources they need to do their best work, while businesses have opportunities to achieve specific outcomes like better customer satisfaction, reduced costs, and increased revenue.”
How Does a Contact Centre Plan Their AI Strategy?
Just like any plan to embed new technology into a business environment, AI comes with high demands for businesses to be as strategic and cautious as possible with their adoption.
Tony Martino of Tollring told us:
“An AI strategy must involve measurement, the customer journey, and APIs. All the information must be in context, and you need to leverage the right AI tools to deliver the right analytics. We aim to deliver solutions that are out of the box for the end customer, tightly integrated at communications platform level. This means solutions that are cost-effective, reliable, and accurate, with the right localisation for different regions.”
Although Tollring believes that the market is in a challenging place, they also feel that they’re at the bleeding edge of the technology. “We’re working with partners on this journey too, which is important. There aren’t many options for service providers where they can use their own platform and continue to own their customer. Without that ownership, you’ll see less investment from service providers to integrate everything, which is detrimental to the contextual contact centre.”
Natalie Keightley from Avaya said that:
“Customer journeys and AI projects are, by definition, quite complex. Organisations need to implement them in a step-by-step, bite-sized approach. Most companies’ instinct it to do too much too quickly, and this can backfire. Show the benefits to addressing one point of friction, then move to the next. They will see the benefits much more rapidly and get more people on board with the benefits of AI within the organisation.”
According to the Avaya team, organisations also need to be able to invest in different models for cloud delivery depending on specific needs and applications. This should give businesses access to the unique functionality they need, without demanding a rip and replace approach to dealing with existing tech. “It’s also beneficial to explore an application ecosystem to create a contact centre custom-fitted with the right AI-based apps that meets the exact needs of customers and employees.”
According to Jafar Adibi of Talkdesk:
“The AI strategy should have two dimensions: the business needs and technological capabilities.” On the one hand, Adibi believes that the executives in a business will need to understand the most painful points in the contact centre that AI can address in the next one, five, or ten years. Through this understanding, businesses will be able to draw a roadmap for addressing crucial pain points immediately, while also understanding the long-term picture.
“Once a road map framework is established, companies must take a hard and honest look at their existing technological capabilities and determine if they have what will be needed. If not, they must be willing to make the necessary investments to achieve the goals set forth by their new AI road map.”
According to Matt Clare:
Businesses need to start by identifying the logical areas where they want to deploy AI in their organisation. This might mean looking at smart objects and sensors, predictive analytics, bots, and virtual assistants. From there, companies can map out the expected KPIs they want to achieve, and the metrics they can measure to assess the effectiveness of AI. This will allow them to determine which use case to POC.
“Companies need to Identify the internal stakeholders (IT, SMEs, etc.) that will be required to support the integration and POC activity. They also need to determine which executives need to give support and earn their approval, organise employee communication and training, and dive in. Companies need to be willing to experiment and get their hands dirty, train their AI on case-specific data, and text extensively to avoid customer dissatisfaction and failure.”
Brendan Dykes of Genesys believes that:
“For AI deployment, businesses need to know their strategic rationale. The following steps should be considered when planning an AI rollout. First, companies need to know the revenue potential across the project. Then they need to recognise the fear of missing out (FOMO), and what happens if their competitors implement tools before them. Next, they need to show where the small wins are and how the stakeholder will benefit.”
Brendan noted that the concept of AI could be enough to scare people in some cases, which is why it’s essential to focus on the benefits that the new tech can deliver instead. Additionally, businesses need to continually offer education on how AI will improve the company. “Once these questions have been answered, businesses can move ahead by determining where and how they should apply AI-technologies.”
“Any AI deployment is not a sprint to the finish but a journey. Start by a use case that seems straight forward, and once this is working effectively, you can expand it“
What do you think about the rise of the Artificial Intelligence trend in Contact Centres? Join our conversation in the comment section below. We’d love to hear your thoughts.