Two trends define business in the early 21st Century. The first is the restructuring of customer journey and customer relationship into an omnichannel experience driven by mobile, social, IoT. The second is the rise of functional AI and automation that has made this new customer experience scalable and affordable.
At the heart of both these shifts for the enterprise is the humble contact centre. Long relegated to an outsourced neglected division, or at best a necessary expense, the call centre served as an inglorious strip-mall purgatory. Now, however, it is finally being recognised as a locus of invaluable insight and actionable intelligence, and the front lines of competition across global industry.
Savvy businesses have recognised this value for decades. As Sam Walton declared back in the early Nineties, “In the global economy, successful business is going to do just what Walmart is always trying to do: give more and more responsibility for making decisions to the people who are actually on the firing line, those who deal with the customers every day.”
Walton’s on-the-ground management style and employee empowerment translates differently in today’s online economy, but the underlying tenets remain true. For executives, walking the store aisles has become a matter of scrutinising virtual shopping cart analytics; today, door greeters are monitoring social channels and customer service exchanges. And packed into those roles is real-time intelligence delivered immediately to those who can take action.
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Oddly enough, the past neglect of the contact centre has also now made it one of the most advanced areas within the enterprise. In efforts to reduce costs, the call centre became one of the first departments to automate interactions within organisations. The drive for automation to reduce effort, increase efficiency, and lower time-to-resolution has provided the contact centre with decades of front-lines data, catapulting it ahead of other divisions within the enterprise. Organisations quickly realised that leveraging AI in their call centres not only improved productivity by reducing cost per contact, but it could deliver serious ROI to one of their greatest expenses.
AI of course works best when there’s lots of data, and the contact centre is the richest data store in your business. It’s also on the front lines of customer engagement, and if you can leverage AI to improve customer engagement you can produce everything from top-line revenue growth to sustainable competitive advantage.
So just as the contact centre became the of data intake for the enterprise, the need to process and analyse that data led to the contact centre spearheading AI integration. That means that as AI necessarily spreads across the organisation in support of coordinated insights, contact centres offer the most mature example of how that data can be leveraged into actionable intelligence.
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As direct customer contact points become more and more valuable in the virtual economy, the people on the front lines will increasingly represent your brand and its values. It’s concerning then that call centres still experience the worst employee turnover rates of any industry. The call centre sector experienced a healthy 2.3% annual growth from 2011-2016. In early 2015, it was estimated that 3 million workers are employed in call centre facilities across the U.S., and millions more work offshore. Meanwhile, most studies confirm that call centre employee turnover is 30-45%.
The resulting instability wreaks havoc on most call centre operations. The cost to replace one of these employees, on average, ranges from $10K to $15K, and therefore increases the costs to the business and depresses the wages that can be offered. In short — call centres are subject to a vicious cycle.
Successful AI strategies don’t just automate away human labour. They help you escape this vicious cycle by taking over the facets of the job that are dissatisfying to the people in this profession and providing self-service that delivers the same quality as assisted service.
The result is a series of new roles that warrant higher compensation and offer a much more compelling employee experience. The business gets less volatility, higher margins on the whole, and a workforce as committed to the company mission as senior management.
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AI has become invaluable to the contact centre, just as it will soon be for the whole enterprise. Innovative contact centre managers already understand the value that only AI can deliver, from making self-service conversational so customers find it easy to adopt and use it more often as it understands them to predicting intent so you can help customers achieve their goals faster and with less effort.
And when your people are free to solve complex problems rather than rushing to close tickets and move on to the next call, your customers get a great customer experience.
If you’re a CEO and need a good idea or two, do as Sam Walton did: walk down the aisles of your contact centre and listen to what’s happening there.
Sourced by Tracy Malingo is Senior Vice President, Product Strategy, Verint Intelligent Self Service.