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Four ways contact centre technologies are rehumanising customer interactions

(Image credit: Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pexels)

Getting help from a company was once straightforward. Call the support line, wait in a queue if necessary, then talk to an agent.

Then, something started to change. New technologies seemed to dehumanise customer interactions. Contact centres popped up anywhere in the world, and when you called a company for help, agents often knew little about the company or products and just followed limited scripts to try to answer questions as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, email support was introduced, and support documents and FAQs appeared on websites, creating separate channels where customers might find help – but it was rarely clear which channel was the best option for finding the right answers. Furthermore, the wealth of customer self-service and online research options meant that customers often came to interactions with companies more informed than their agent counterpart – not a great balance to strike.

Over the last couple of decades, things have become more complicated. New technology developments have delivered online chats, chatbots, interactive websites and social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter. Although we have more choices and more help is available, it has become harder than ever to know which channel to use for what types of problems. This is a particular problem when being unable to find the answers you need on one channel means starting again from scratch with a different channel.

Fortunately, new technology developments are also now enabling contact centres to significantly improve customer experiences by better preparing their agents to interact with customers, while also humanising those interactions. The results are happier agents and more loyal customers – and all the business benefits that flow from this.

Here are four ways that new technologies are transforming the contact centre.

1. Omnichannel customer experience

Allowing customers to reach support services via their channel and device of choice is a laudable goal. However, forcing them to start over if they need to use a different channel to get additional help is unacceptable. It is essential that no matter how a customer reaches out, agents should immediately have a comprehensive view of that customer’s previous interactions with the company, especially regarding any current issue. Omnichannel customer experience technologies are now available to allow contact centres to consolidate all customer interactions – voice, chat, email, social, web – and present them to agents in a single dashboard.

2. AI-power speech analytics

By analysing the language that agents and customers use during their interactions, AI-powered speech analytics enables companies to gain insight into how effectively agents are responding to particular customer situations. This allows the company to offer additional training or other support services to help agents improve their interactions and thereby drive better customer experiences. More effective interactions also benefit the agents, who are more likely to be satisfied with their role and therefore stay with the company for a longer time.

Companies can also combine speech analytics with the analysis of interactions on other communication channels to develop a more complete understanding of what their customers think. This leads to deeper business insights that can support the efforts of product development, sales and marketing, support, and the supply chain.

3. AI-fuelled sentiment analysis

AI-fuelled sentiment analysis goes a step further and is one of the most important evaluation technologies being adopted in contact centres. Sentiment analysis enables a business to understand the emotional state of customers and empower agents to respond to a situation appropriately based on what customers say and how they say it. This knowledge helps agents determine the most effective next step, whether it’s an explanation, more sympathy, additional resources or an escalation to a higher-level support tier. This in turn drives better customer interactions and increases loyalty.

When Radial, a business process outsourcer (BPO), performed sentiment analysis on the language used during call centre conversations with customers, it found a high rate for neutral sentiment among agents. After conducting training to encourage more positive language, Radial saw positive sentiment jump from 17 per cent to 93 per cent – in just one week. Other key performance indicators (KPIs) improved, as well, including customer satisfaction, customer effort, representative knowledge and representative demeanour.

4. Agent self-scheduling

Happier agents tend to provide better customer service and stay with their companies longer, reducing the need to hire and train new employees. Self-scheduling, a new technology being rolled out in contact centres, is designed to give agents greater workplace autonomy by allowing them to modify their schedules – such as when organising lunch with a co-worker or needing to schedule a doctor’s appointment — without impacting service levels in the contact centre. Such self-service technology relies on sophisticated algorithms to automatically check staffing levels against KPIs, service level agreements (SLAs) and skills requirements, so agents can initiate actions without involving managers – while permission-based parameters allow managers to set non-overwritable activities to ensure compliance with special rules or situations.

Self-scheduling technology is a win-win for the contact centre. While the autonomy contributes to agent satisfaction, the reduced burden on resource planners and managers to ensure adequate coverage allows them to focus on higher-level tasks and customer-experience objectives.

As we look at the current context and future of technological innovation, it is crucial that with every advance we predict, we prevent any potential downsides that could accompany it. So, it is exciting to see the way new contact centre technologies are allowing companies to create win-wins by rehumanising their customer interactions, leading to deeper and richer customer relationships. The result is happier customers and better business outcomes.

Magnus Geverts, VP and Product Marketing Management, Calabrio (opens in new tab)