Balancing Technology and the Human Touch

By Richard McElroy

The contact center has come a long way since the 1960s when automatic call distribution (ACD) technology was first introduced, leading to the development of call centers. What started as a way for customers to get billing information or make requests significantly evolved as technology became more robust. With the addition of interactive voice response (IVR) technology, outbound dialing, and intelligent call routing, the contact center became a hub for the voice of the customer. And the industry continues to innovate to drive a better customer experience.

As new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics, continue to shift the way we interact with customers, the question becomes: by 2025—or in the not-so-distant future—will the contact center become an unrecognizable department that relies solely on technology to give customers what they want and need? And more importantly, will we call that progress?

The answer is far more complex than a simple yes or no. As we approach 2025, technology will continue to disrupt call centers and how companies interact with customers. The companies that find the balance between technology and people will be the ones that win.

Continued Technology Adoption

Over the past decade, advancements in analytics have opened new ways for companies to gain insight into customer wants and needs. For example, many companies use speech analytics to understand voice-of-the-customer data on both an individual and aggregate level. In addition, AI has begun to permeate the contact center, manage the influx of interactions, and meet increased customer expectations. Eighty percent of businesses plan to implement chatbots by 2020. However, overall adoption of AI is already lagging behind market projections.

There are a variety of reasons why companies aren’t adopting new analytics or AI technologies. Some companies take an “if it isn’t broken, there’s no reason to fix it” approach, while others simply haven’t realized the value of contact center data. According to a recent report, 39 percent of business leaders admit to relying too heavily on one single data point, and only 12 percent of organizations use contact center insights to inform decisions. In addition, MIT found that while 85 percent of companies believe AI is beneficial, only 20 percent have incorporated it into business processes.

As companies struggle to implement these technologies, business leaders are missing out on critical insights about customer behavior. In the meantime, customer expectations continue to grow. In fact, 83 percent of buyers expect to be immediately routed to the most knowledgeable agent, but not just over the phone. They want to communicate via web, social, email, text, or any other channel. Customers also want a personalized experience, and the contact center must meet those demands.

The 2025 Approach

While AI implementations have not met predictions, this will change in a few years. It’s estimated that by 2025, AI technology will support 95 percent of customer interactions. Other advancements, such as sentiment analysis and predictive analytics, give companies additional insight into what customers are saying and feeling, which helps them identify what customers want.

However, it’s important for contact centers to balance the convenience of technology with the personalization that only humans can bring. Technology should inform agent behavior, not replace it. Even in 2025, customers will still want to talk to a human; it just might be after they ask Alexa for help first.

According to a recent Calabrio report, 74 percent of customers are more loyal to a company if they can speak with a human being, and 58 percent of customers believe that picking up the phone and talking to an agent will allow them to get the best and most efficient service. The message is clear: people still want the human connection. Agents are, and will continue to be, the backbone of the modern contact center.

With new technology, contact centers will be less reliant on humans for lower-level inquiries, and—thanks to customer insights—contact center employees will be better informed and more valuable than ever. Not only does this better enable agents to engage in more complex solutions that technology can’t resolve, it also will free up people to do what they do best: establish emotional connections and build deep relationships.

Putting Humans at the Center

In 2025, the contact center will continue to be the epicenter of customer interactions, but contact center agents will be knowledge workers. Their jobs will be less about scripts and answering simple questions and more about navigating complex systems, data, and information.

To succeed, agents must be brand ambassadors and critical thinkers who are assisted by sophisticated technologies. When enabled by the right technology, agents will build connections with customers that create loyalty and drive revenue.

As companies adopt and embrace analytics and AI in the contact center, that technology will be a critical driver of the business decisions that exceed customer expectations. However, companies must implement those technologies with purpose and understand when technology can replace people and when it can’t. Agents can, and will, provide remarkable service that machines will never replicate.

Richard McElroy leads Calabrio’s Center of Excellence for Analytics based in Vancouver, BC, Canada, as well as Calabrio’s Innovation Center. With twenty years of high-tech and business intelligence software industry experience, Richard is instrumental in evolving the development and marketing of Calabrio Advanced Reporting—a multitiered contact center business intelligence platform that delivers data integration, reporting, analytics, and information management capabilities.

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