While we may like to think of the twenty-first century contact center as a shiny, modern bastion of Web services, cloud-based solutions and the latest in data analytics, the truth is that a lot of companies are still lumbering along using last century’s technology. According to a survey by TalkDesk, nearly 80 percent of the contact center market is still on premise, which means that for the near future, customers will continue suffering from frustrating, largely unusable interactive voice response (IVR) technologies, and agents will continue trying to do their best with outdated customer support applications that are poorly integrated (if integrated at all) with other systems.
Still, impressive things are happening in the call center space and many innovators are taking advantage of them. Artificial intelligence, for example, is expected to take the leading edge of contact center solutions and push them out to places even beyond customer expectations. With Amazon’s recent addition to the contact center solutions space – Amazon Connect is a cloud-based contact center solution based on the company’s “Alexa” AI technology – the stakes have been raised both for contact center vendors and customers of their solutions.
Last month, Amazon Web Services announced Amazon Connect, a self-service, cloud-based contact center service for the enterprise. The service uses Amazon's virtual assistant Alexa to respond to questions over the phone or via text, its Lex chatbot building service and its text-to-speech program Polly. Amazon’s entrance into this space puts the on-premise call center companies on alert. TalkDesk COO Gadi Shamia recently told CIO Dive’s Justine Brown that the proliferation of Web services plus the addition of AI will mean that companies simply can’t try and make do with last decade’s contact center options.
“When customers have more choice, they tend to migrate faster from old technologies,” said Shamia. “We have seen it happening in other industries like CRM, and we have seen it happening in the call center space in the last two to three years.”
While industry watchers like to imagine that AI includes extensive use of virtual assistants that can “talk” (like Alexa or Siri), Shamia notes that this isn’t necessarily the case.
“If you ever used AI bots, [such as] Siri, you know how often they get simple questions wrong — now imagine letting it deal with your customers directly,” said Shamia.
Instead, the AI is better used to route calls to the right agents without necessitating customers entering information into an IVR system, or shouting “Agent! Agent!” at an ineffective speech recognition system. The most important feature of AI in these scenarios is its ability to learn from its mistakes.
“Every time a call is transferred, the bot can assume it could have been handled better and improve its algorithm over time,” wrote Brown. “As a result, customers get faster and more accurate answers, which could lead to higher customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.”
Going forward, AI-backed solutions will be able to analyze customer word choice and tone to determine emotion (something AI isn’t as good as compared to human agents) and include this as a factor in call routing. The key will be to plug AI into as many information sources as possible so it can gain an accurate picture of what the caller wants and how best to deliver it.