At a time where technology is adopted to automate manually driven processes, companies need to avoid the temptation of replacing the human touch entirely. This is especially the case where artificial intelligence (AI) is used to refine the customer experience (CX).
“The rise of the [connected] millennial and the increasing use of social media have created a shift in customer expectations. Today, people want organisations to be more responsive to their requests and use their preferred platforms to engage with them. Those companies unwilling to adapt, risk becoming irrelevant,” says Dominic Goslett, head of customer experience at Thomson Reuters Africa.
He believes that the C-suite is at odds with evaluating how new technology trends impact the business while still managing the emotive topic of customer service and experience.
“We need to see the emergence of the ‘chief experience officer’ who is focused on tuning a message, simplifying customer engagement, and providing a link between the organisation and what customers require. And the one thing that enables this to happen is the data hidden inside the company. By mining data, key insights can be identified and developed resulting in the ‘next big idea’ or a market differentiator.”
However, the use of transformational analytics to exploit transactional data to provide enhanced CX is not the complete answer. The effect of AI or machine learning on CX relies on the quality or accuracy of responses which is found in the data. The ability of AI to improve the quality of service response is dependent on input, and experienced agents are required to provide the initial knowledge which drives the improvement in automated responses.
“The ability of AI to plug in to the organisational back-end and try to gain that elusive single view of the customer has been the white whale that many decision-makers are chasing. However, AI should be viewed as a complimentary technology and not something that replaces the human element,” he adds.
Differentiation through CX
Nicholas O’Connor, strategic business development consultant at hi.guru agrees pointing to the fact that companies rather need to find ways of extracting more economic output from less capital input. “Often, innovation is promoted as a solution instead of an enabler that can build shareholder value by improving CX. And with that experience becoming a differentiator in the market, organisations need to focus on their contact centres to find this innovation.”
According to Dimension Data, 82,5% of companies recognise CX as a competitive differentiator and 77,5% recognise CX as the most important strategic performance measure. Businesses are therefore looking for ways to include and optimise the digitisation of the contact centre to achieve higher levels of CX via the integration between tested customer experience reality and evolving technology.
However, O’Connor says that despite innovations on the technology front, tried and tested metrics still apply to enhancing CX in the contact centre. This means questions such as whether the first call can resolve the issue, how long did a caller wait, and was the call transferred, become vital to enhance the experience.
“Recently, there has been a rise of chat bots and intelligent agents that can interact with clients via text-based instant messaging platforms. By integrating these AI-based solutions directly into social platforms, customers can instantly engage with support agents without requiring an additional app. This also empowers the agent with a richer set of tools that include user history records and security validation to support a new CX environment,” he says.
This means that businesses will need to operationalise solutions that can provide for such media rich channels, quite often through mobile devices. There also needs to be an examination of how such technology (driven by AI) will impact on CX in general and the optimisation of the contact centre agent.
Frank Rizzo, technology sector leader at KPMG in South Africa, agrees that technologies such as AI are changing how contact centre job functions (amongst others) are viewed and structured in a digital workplace.
“While some traditionalists view AI as a threat to existing jobs, it offers a supplementary way for agents to enhance CX. So instead of viewing the technology as an ‘us versus them’ situation, agents can plug into the data processing capacity of AI and deliver a much more personalised way of dealing with a customer query. This often enables the integration of multiple data sources and provides the agent a central dashboard to get a more cohesive understanding of a particular customer.”
AI does offer a convenient way of automating many of the menial and administrative-heavy job functions of agents. This leaves them with more time to effectively service queries across multiple channels. It also enables the business to provide additional training to employees that upskill them for a digital-rich environment.
“This is part of a long-term process that requires the C-suite to buy in to a new and enhanced way of performing CX functions within the organisation. However, caution needs to be maintained to risk the temptation of relying too much on technology in jobs that are still very much client-facing. Certainly, AI will evolve and become more intuitive, even fooling many into thinking it is a real person. But the real differentiation will be in combining the best that AI can offer with highly skilled employees, capable of meeting the challenges of a digitally-rich environment,” concludes Rizzo.