In this guest post, Olivier Cauderlier (main photo), chief of strategy and marketing at SecureCo, discusses why we can’t rely on AI and automation alone to improve CX…
As we approach almost two years since the beginning of the pandemic, it’s become a sink or swim situation when it comes to Customer Experience (CX). The good news for many is that 81 per cent of consumers feel their customer experiences have improved since the pandemic started. However, when things do go wrong, there isn’t much room for second chances, with 47 per cent of customers saying they would ditch a brand after just one or two bad experiences.
With most forms of physical interactions with brands on hold, contact centres became the front line of communication, often offering the only human connection to the brands that are integral to our lives. To this day, contact centres are still experiencing high volumes of inbound call enquiries, forcing organisations to rethink their approach to handling voice-based interactions.
Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer report found 83 per cent of people want “compassionate connection … that communicates empathy and support with the struggles they face”. As voice-based interaction is a primary influencer when it comes to CX, organisations need to be doing as much as they can to make voice experiences possible, positive, seamless and most importantly, empathetic. AI and automation alone won’t meet rising customer expectations. The empathy that contact centre staff bring to customer interactions has an immense impact on the CX that brands deliver.
Re-thinking voice services
In recent years, consumer behaviour has shifted even further towards digital touchpoints, and this trend is here to stay. This means the contact centre will continue to be the primary communication tool for a business to resolve issues. Recent Ecosystm research commissioned by SecureCo found that about a third of all interactions in a contact centre in Australia come from voice channels, usually related to complex or high-value enquiries. This is why it’s fundamental to ensure that voice-based interactions are effortless and personable.
We can no longer consider ‘numbers on seats’ as an adequate strategy for improving CX in contact centres. Shortened wait times aren’t going to make a difference if the person or Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) on the other end isn’t able to adequately resolve a customer query or lacks the ability to problem solve in an empathetic way.
Brands are taking a big bet if they think all interactions can be digital and text-based. Whilst AI and automation are important factors in identifying and resolving simple customer enquiries, it’s the human connection that is going to take a brand’s CX from good to great.
Why empathy matters
Contact centres everywhere are leveraging automation to reduce costs, which is great when it comes to resolving commonly asked and repetitive questions, but many consumers are finding it diminishes the personal touch that consumers are seeking for more complex situations. A study conducted by PwC found 59 per cent of consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of CX. When an automated service cannot handle a complicated query, customers will become quickly frustrated and want to speak with a ‘real person.’
Despite AI and automation technologies creating efficiencies, the human touch is still required to manage a customers’ feelings and emotions, which is more likely to be what the customer will end up remembering from the interaction with the brand. When customer service agents or other experts within the organisation demonstrate empathy, it results in increased customer satisfaction and loyalty. According to research discussed by the Harvard Business Review, “on a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers.”
Organisations need to be more discerning about how and when they deploy AI and automation. When it comes to voice, technology alone isn’t a silver bullet to improving CX. The empathy that contact centre staff bring to voice-based customer interactions can ultimately make or break your CX in the eyes of the consumer.
Creating a more empathetic technology solution
Unsurprisingly, the contact centre market in Australia is seeing an acceleration in the adoption of AI and automation. According to the same Ecosystm research commissioned by SecureCo, 55 per cent of CX decision-makers in Australia have rated AI and automation as a priority in their CX transformation efforts to drive process efficiency and reduce operational costs.
It is important to note that IVAs cannot be deployed in isolation. Organisations need to carefully manage the orchestration of their contact centre channels. Firstly, there needs to be a clear plan for what enquiries are going to be automated versus those that should be handled by agents. This can be determined in a number of ways, including identifying the complexity of the enquiry, the customer’s profile and other relevant factors. Listening to calls and understanding caller intent will help gather these insights so they can be built into the solution from the start. It’s then much easier to tell where automation is less likely to work and will also help in assigning the right amount of resources to the right channels based on demand.
In addition, conversational AI solutions like web chat, email and social messaging platforms need to allow for an immediate, seamless handoff to the agent when required. There is nothing worse than being stuck in an AI loop when your power is out or your internet goes down. The handoff from AI to the agent has to be seamless and has to be built right.
Whilst AI and automation are critical factors in improving contact centre CX, when it isn’t designed well it can end up only increasing customer frustrations. The last thing customers want is to be bounced from one agent or communication channel to another because the system hasn’t been designed in a way that adequately balances technology with human interactions.
With everything that has happened over the past couple of years, consumers are demanding more of the brands they choose to interact with. Brands need to build their CX to take advantage of new technology that caters to the need for convenience, whilst being paired with human interactions that allow for the empathy we all need.
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