How AI Is Changing Call Centers

Cybercrime targeting contact centers jumped by 113 percent in 2017 as fraudsters drove out the weakest commerce link. Chris Bauserman, NICE inContact VP, says protecting consumers, their data and the contact center agent from being duped will require many things — including the use of machine learning and AI to flag fraudulent callers. This issue of the Call Center Commerce Tracker takes stock on the technologies call centers are using to do that.

Call centers aren’t what they used to be.

In fact, these days, they’re so much more: They’ve actually become the primary customer-company interaction point as more commerce moves toward online and mobile channels.

To keep up with these changes, contact centers and the companies that serve them must embrace new tools and strategies to better serve their customers. According to Chris Bauserman, VP of Product and Segment Marketing for call center solutions provider NICE inContact, those companies will need to continue that focus if they hope to find success in an increasingly digital future.

So far, those new tools and strategies have included introducing artificial intelligence (AI) and putting increased emphasis on using contact centers as a sales and customer care channel. Indeed, in the call center of the future, Bauserman foresees AI playing a larger role in call center staff support.

Making the Sale

One example of the call center’s changing role is the growing volume of calls from consumers wanting to make a purchase or a payment, Bauserman said.

“We did some research about a year ago and found that 25 percent of all inbound calls coming into contact centers across all industries were to help complete a purchase,” he explained. “And, for eCommerce retailers, that number was even higher. That’s one big way that call centers, even if they were not originally set up to be a sales organization, have become really instrumental in driving new purchases.”

In response to changing needs, call centers have had to adopt new tools focused on better serving retailers. That has meant training call center agents on salesmanship, including lessons on how to effectively market or upsell products and upgrades.

It isn’t just about turning agents into salespeople, though, Bauserman noted. The shift in focus also includes offering more personalized services by using data from customers’ purchase history, preferences or previous calls they’ve made to a contact center.

“Call centers need to be able to enable customers through things like personalization and understanding a customer’s journey or purchase history,” he said.

Fixing an Issue

Increased sales importance isn’t the only change either. Calls for technical support have also evolved, largely due to the influence of the internet. Callers today have typically accessed resources like self-help guides or tutorials to solve their problem, Bauserman said, and they only call a contact center when they come up short.

As a result, calls are typically more complex and require a higher degree of technical support, he explained. Agents must be trained to handle these more complicated requests, but the reward for companies makes the time and financial costs of training more than worthwhile.

“That is an area where contact centers can be a key tool for companies in terms of helping [create] loyalty or making a lifelong, valuable customer,” he said.

The key to providing that support is understanding what a customer has done or has been through before picking up the phone. This can help agents better understand and diagnose a problem while also saving customers from the time-consuming and frustrating experience of having to restate their problems to multiple agents.

“An important part of that process is being able to understand the customer journey,” Bauserman said, “whether that’s by looking at a customer’s browsing or purchase history [or] understanding the things a customer did before they reached out. It helps the agent to make this a successful interaction.”

A Changing Toolbox

Solution providers like NICE inContact are exploring new technologies to help call center agents better serve customers and meet these changing expectations. The company has developed solutions that use technology like AI, data analytics capabilities and machine learning to give agents more information about a caller and his history.

“The most common AI uses right now are things like chatbots, [which are] conversational [integrated voice response (IVR) solutions] that can communicate with customers and virtual assistants,” Bauserman said. “But it isn’t just about offering that kind of automated service. It’s also knowing when to escalate a conversation from automated software to a live agent. Clients are fine with self-service or automation if it quickly and easily answers their problems; otherwise they want to talk to a person.”

While Bauserman envisions these technologies will eventually help automate call center tasks, he predicts humans will still be an essential part of the equation. After all, people will still need to handle more complicated questions and clearly communicate with callers.

“Quite frankly, AI is never going to replace the human customer service agent,” Bauserman explained. “But, what it can do is make that experience much better for the customer, and they’re going to make a lot of different transactions much easier to do.”

The automated future is calling. Will contact centers pick up?