Posted by Dan Smitley on September 13, 2023
The world of contact centers has been buzzing with talk of AI for years. From IVR systems and self-service solutions to chatbots and automated email responses, technology has been steadily transforming the industry. But now, it’s different. The advancements in AI technology and its widespread adoption have brought us to a new era. The landscape is shifting, and with it comes a sense of excitement and apprehension. In this blog, we’ll dive into the crucial aspects of dealing with AI in contact centers, exploring whether to embrace it or not, how to think about AI in a people-centric way, and practical steps to prepare for the inevitable changes that lie ahead.
Is this discussion really all that new?
Not really. The truth is, we’ve been anticipating the integration of AI in contact centers for quite some time now. Whether it’s IVR, self-service, chat bots, or email, these technological advancements have been transforming the contact center landscape for years, if not decades. However, what truly sets the current situation apart are the significant strides in technology and adoption. The AI revolution is no longer a distant possibility; it’s already in full swing. As we navigate this new reality, we must acknowledge that AI is set to make a profound impact, and it’s happening now. According to a recent CCW report, 71% of contact center leaders anticipate generative AI making a major impact. As of May 2023, a staggering 85% of American workers have already utilized AI in their work tasks. So, while the idea of AI in contact centers might not be entirely new, the current advancements and adoption rates demand our serious attention.
Should we embrace it or run from it?
The question on everyone’s minds is whether to embrace AI or approach it with caution. The reality is that every organization is on its own unique journey towards AI and transformational technology. It doesn’t matter if you’re a small company seeking to streamline processes or a large corporation looking to automate entire divisions. The key is to take that first step, irrespective of your starting point. As the technological advancements and AI’s influence become more pronounced, some may feel tempted to jump to extreme conclusions about its consequences. However, it’s important to resist those urges. AI is unlikely to lead to universal basic income programs or take over the world. Rather, we are experiencing a “printing press moment,” where the potential of AI is evident, yet its effects remain minimal in the short term. In the long run, AI will enhance productivity by complementing human capabilities. While some support roles may be impacted, the core value of human interaction and expertise will endure.
How we should be thinking about AI in contact centers?
To understand AI’s role in contact centers, let’s draw a parallel with the farming industry. In the past, farming was necessary for families and towns to survive. As technology advanced, fewer people needed to farm, and large-scale operations became prevalent. Similarly, technology has been enabling organizations to offload certain contact center tasks, allowing Business Process Outsourcers (BPOs) to handle the work more efficiently. With the integration of AI into contact centers, there may be further consolidation of these tasks. However, just as farmers’ markets continue to thrive in some cities, there will still be value for companies to maintain their own contact centers, especially if they can provide unique, personalized experiences. It is the middle ground, focusing on the balance between automation and human touch, that will likely get squeezed. Smaller and niche contact centers can differentiate themselves by delivering exceptional customer experiences. Meanwhile, larger centers may opt to outsource certain interactions to BPOs that can efficiently handle high volumes.
We can draw another comparison to restaurants. When we dine out, we don’t visit McDonald’s expecting a Michelin star experience. The quality and speed of service are vastly different. Similarly, AI can provide quick, automated experiences for low-hanging fruit in contact centers, streamlining processes and reducing response times. Some organizations may choose to focus here, catering to customers who prioritize efficiency over personalization. However, others will realize that a more leisurely and personalized experience still holds value for their customers. They understand that some queries or issues require the human touch to be fully addressed.
Even with the increasing automation, the core truth remains—behind all the AI and technology, there is still a person who can solve your problem. While the landscape of contact centers may have evolved, there are still contact centers, albeit they may look different. The key is understanding the expectations of your customers and delivering accordingly. Just as you wouldn’t serve fast food to someone expecting a gourmet meal, you shouldn’t expect fast-food customers to wait for an elaborate dining experience. Balancing the right level of automation and human interaction is the key to successful AI implementation in contact centers.
What steps can be taken now?
As the AI revolution unfolds, there are practical steps you can take to prepare yourself and your contact center for the changes ahead. Start by engaging in meaningful conversations with your current vendors to understand their AI plans and platform direction. Experiment with generative AI in your own environment by automating tasks such as email responses and note summaries. While technology is essential, don’t forget the power of soft skills. Focus on upskilling yourself and your team in areas like empathy and kindness, as these uniquely human qualities will continue to add significant value in a world where AI and automation handle much of the heavy lifting. Additionally, educate your contact center agents about the evolving landscape, centered on helping them grow and thrive rather than replacing them.
The journey of AI in contact centers is neither new nor unfamiliar. We’ve been anticipating its impact for years, but now, with unprecedented technological advancements and widespread adoption, it’s time to face this new reality. Instead of fearing the changes ahead, we should embrace the opportunities that AI presents. As we navigate this landscape, let’s remember the value of human touch and empathy, and how these qualities will continue to play a pivotal role in creating exceptional customer experiences. At Call Design, we are committed to helping you prepare for the AI revolution, empowering your WFM teams to become strategic assets within your organization. Together, let’s forge a path that elevates your contact center, enhances employee fulfillment, and aligns your business for a successful future in the era of AI. Reach out to us today, and let’s embark on this transformative journey together!