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“There are fundamental changes going on in customer experience delivery,” says Peter Ryan, principal analyst at Ryan Strategic Advisory. “No sector is going to be immune from this.”

Just a handful of years ago smart chat and AI were set to change the world of customer service, and the hype cycle frothed into a frenzy. In the end, the technology just wasn’t ready, smart bots didn’t live up to the hype, and some companies got burned. But bots have evolved, as have their implementation in customer service workflows — just take a look at Amazon’s help experience, where chat is always the first option when you go hunting for help. And now, Ryan says, we’re indisputably in a world where these technologies are going to help deliver customer experience better — for both workers and their clients.

In their Q1 and Q2 2018 survey of buyers across the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia, they found that the number that were deploying bots was sitting at roughly 25 percent, Ryan says.

“Some might say that’s not very big, but think about what that number would have been five years ago,” he says. ” To my mind, we’re starting to see more automated capabilities that are designed around messaging platforms coming to the forefront. There’s more variety out there for enterprises and contact center decision makers to choose from.”

Amazon is the company to beat, as always, says Abinash Tripathy, co-founder of Helpshift. And the company has kept it super simple. They basically created a bot platform that’s a simple decision tree. It doesn’t use fancy natural language processing. It’s not trying to sustain a live conversation with a customer. But it’s guard-railed enough to guide a customer quickly to a path of resolution, which is really critical for customer service.

“Amazon is one of the brands that’s done a good job and is showing the world how bots and AI can be applied in customer service,” he says. “The experience that Amazon is providing will be an example, will be the benchmark that other brands will aspire to reach.”

But the technology is still nascent, and there’s a big spread between the organizations that have bought into this new hype cycle, deciding everything has to be moved over to automation and AI as quickly as possible, without recognizing the limitations the technology might have from a customer-facing perspective — and the organizations you could classify as “Luddites,” Ryan says, that do not believe in what these technologies can do. They do not have a sense that these technologies are going to enhance customer experience interactions, and decide to maintain the status quo, with live agents handling every interaction.

“We know what the impact of that is going to be: higher cost and potentially less efficient management, whether it’s voice or digital interactions,” Ryan says. “I think some companies, though, are getting it. They’re thinking forward in terms of the long-term ability they have to leverage these technologies, what the technology can do, how they can deploy it realistically, but most importantly, how the technology can grow as it improves in terms of the broader customer experience, and in terms of managing those customer experiences.”

What can it do? It not only keeps costs down, but also ensures customers enjoy their call center interactions (to the extent that anyone enjoys having to contact customer service). But companies will also be able to generate loyalty and repeat spend on the back of these types of positive interactions that are facilitated by RPA (robotic process automation) and AI, he explains.

“It’s still early, but the impact is profound,” Tripathy adds. “What we’ve seen across the board, across our bot deployments and AI deployments, is that customer satisfaction went up quite nicely, with a very nice upward trend in CSAT (customer satisfaction).

You would imagine that, when a person’s interacting with a bot and not a human, that CSAT would drop, he says.

“I’ve seen this myth being perpetuated in the contact center world, that human beings really like talking to human beings,” he says. “That’s not really true.”

One of the reasons these CSAT scores are going up is because the time to first response is cut almost 70 to 90 percent.

“Think about the last time you called a contact center and how much time you had to wait before you could talk to someone,” Tripathy says. “The average hold time right now for the IRS is tracking two hours. It’s a disaster across the industry. When you cut that time to first response and a bot can quickly respond to a few questions, you can obviously contribute to the CSAT scores.”

There’s also an overall reduction in time to handle a case — almost a 50 percent reduction in time to handle, even when humans are involved in a conversation.

And the number of contact decision makers who are recognizing this potential is growing, and call centers will continue to evolve as the technology continues to grow in ability and power.

“A lot of customers have started to already transform their operations based on what the technology is able to do: take on the most common, repetitive, mundane, low-level transactions that were being handled by tier-one support centers in Manila or in India,” Tripathy says. “The first impact we’re seeing is that outsource operations are starting to shrink. We’re seeing workforce reduction all the way from 10 percent to 30 percent, just in this year, because of the automation capabilities bots are able to bring in.”

That is driving a shift in focus to the tier-two agent pool, as companies become more focused on getting higher skilled people in these tier two pools on shore. Because AIs need constant training by the human beings that are also using these CRM platforms, these agents are now being asked to become the curators of the AI and provide feedback: When the AI makes a mistake, the agents are being used to crowdsource intelligence and retrain the AI so they can become smarter.

“My prediction is that we’ll probably see a lot of workforce reduction, and that’s something organizations need to prepare for,” Tripathy says. “What is the new type of workforce they need in this era of bots and AI?”

And when the role of the low-cost, low-skilled contact center worker disappears, organizations will find they have the budget to hire higher-skilled people, specialists that can provide a much better level of service to consumers, Tripathy points out.

“The key thing, from an organizational standpoint, is to reassure the employees that this technology is on their side, and it can help them do their jobs better, and quite frankly, lead to be greater productivity and a greater sense that they’ll want to come back and do a better job the following day,” Ryan says.

The technology will help agents gain greater insight into the consumers they’re dealing with as well as the problems they’re facing, as well as help products and services, to improve cross selling and upselling, and help make sure the individual being serviced is going to be that much more satisfied with the interaction that they’ve had.

We’ll also see the infusion of gig workers into the contact center.

“We’re seeing this new trend where companies are starting to look at highly flexible workforce models, where they don’t have to invest in large facilities and have people come to those facilities and work there,” Tripathy explains. “Instead, they’re working with people who work from home.”

A classic example is Microsoft, he says; the company has recruited students at a university in Utah where they’ve set up a contact operation, and students can come in whenever they have time, punch into the operation and respond to Office tickets.

“The reality is, it’s not even just younger people — it’s frankly people of all different ages, who’ve decided they want to throw the shackles off of being married to a particular organization,” Ryan says. “They’d like to try and perform as much as they possibly can working on their own, effectively taking on more of an entrepreneurial flair or spirit. The fact of the matter is, the gig economy is not going away. It’s just going to get bigger.”

The fact that you have people who have the potential to act as remote contact workers, working out of their homes, out of facilities that they reside in, and do it on their own time frames, on their own hours, potentially even acting as a contractor for one or more different campaigns — is something that can’t be ignored, Ryan says. It’s pushing the business model even further than we’ve seen it go, not just in the U.S., but also potentially Canada and western Europe and Australia/New Zealand, he says, and it’s going to be a big challenge from the standpoint of the human resource management aspect of the business.

“I always hear about how human resources professionals are finding ways to try to figure out how best to adapt their role to the gig economy, or to a particular segment of the gig economy — more often than not millennials,” Ryan says. “That’s where I think the big disruption is going to be. The big question is going to be how to manage that going forward, as far as figuring out how to best harness this talent.”

Re-skilling will be essential, he adds, and communicating honestly and openly with employees that perhaps what they were trained up for today is not necessarily what’s going to be relevant going forward. This is the time that companies have to be as transparent as possible with everyone and give as much support as possible, because it’s going to create a seismic shift.

“If they’re going to remain professionals in this domain, there’s going to be an ongoing level of retraining and refocusing that’s going to need to happen,” he says. “And the company is going to be along there with them every step of the way to help them in that journey.”

To learn more about how the new bots are leading a genuine revolution in customer service technology, how companies can smoothly launch their own deployments from tech to talent, and more, catch up now on this VB Live event!


Access for free on demand right here.


Attend this webinar and learn:

  • The workforce implications of customer service bots
  • How bots and employees can work side-by-side
  • What smart companies are doing to lay the groundwork
  • Future of work – what does it look like?

Speakers:

  • Abinash Tripathy, Co-founder, Helpshift
  • Peter Ryan, Principal Analyst, Ryan Strategic Advisory
  • Stewart Rogers, Analyst-at-Large, VentureBeat
  • Dilan Yuksel, Moderator, VentureBeat

Sponsored by Helpshift