2021 CX Trends: Invest in AI
Investment in artificial intelligence (AI) focused on customer experience (CX) hit new heights in 2020. As we move into 2021, AI has moved to the top of executive agendas – with good reason.
COVID-19 proved the value of AI in strengthening business resiliency, optimizing operations and elevating customer experience (CX). As organizations enter 2021, investment in AI that improves CX, unlocks efficiencies and empowers employees is set to be one of the year’s biggest trends.
The buzz around AI and its potential for problem solving has been building for years, but in 2020, that noise was replaced with clarity as the technology continually demonstrated tangible applications in the face of growing challenges.
When the pandemic hit, organizations were forced to embrace digital solutions for greater resilience and IT spending increased. KPMG data shows a median 5% growth in American organizations’ IT spending during the first three months of the pandemic – that’s an extra $15 billion every week.
In terms of where that extra investment was being channeled, Gartner research shows AI, particularly with regards to CX, cost optimization and operational efficiencies was a priority. A quarter of organizations said that their investment in these areas had increased due to COVID-19. What’s more, 75% of organizations said that while they had initially maintained the same level of AI investment, they now plan to increase it over the coming months.
However, while the pandemic provided the momentum to propel AI out of the hype cycle and firmly into business reality, organizations still need to be smart about where to make their investments for the greatest benefits and speed to value, especially if their ultimate goal is business growth through greater CX.
RPA – Automatic for Your People
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) uses rules to automate repetitive tasks that would otherwise be undertaken manually. Easy to deploy, fast to scale and adaptable to potentially any area of any organization’s operations, it should come as no surprise that according to IBM data, 60% of organizations are making it a priority for the year ahead.
Reduced Risk and Improved Quality
RPA makes data capture and entry consistent and quick. By eliminating the potential for errors that can come from manual input, data quality and integrity are assured and employees who would have otherwise been tasked with data collection and entry can be better employed in areas of the business where they can deliver the most value.
Within CX, the importance of accurate and consistent data capture cannot be overemphasized. Unless you can trust your data, you can never trust the information held on your systems relating to a customer. Any errors made during the initial interactions with a new customer will potentially scarthat relationship forever.
Specifically within the contact center environment, RPA bots can be deployed to automatically populate forms and to transfer information between systems so that agents can instead focus on resolving an issue or delivering a personalized service to a customer. In this context, RPA can accelerate the back office operations that agents depend on, such as validating an address, running a credit check or processing a loan application.
Greater Data Collection
It’s become a cliché to say that data is the oil of the 21st century. However, it shouldn’t detract from the importance of data for greater business intelligence, market understanding and customer engagement. And here, RPA plays an important role. When correctly deployed, it can reduce issues around siloed data because it can automatically pull information from different sources and combine it on a single system for a single view of data pertaining to a business area, such as consumer behavior or brand sentiment.
Chatbots – Keep Conversing with Your Customers
COVID-19 was a perfect CX storm. It caused contact volumes to surge while simultaneously reducing contact center headcounts thanks to social distancing or partial lockdowns. However, organizations that already had virtual digital agents at their disposal were able to navigate their way to calmer waters simply by retraining their chatbots to answer questions specific to the pandemic or to point their customers to the most frequently needed information. By proving their worth in such a way, we are going to witness new levels of demand for chatbots of all shapes and sizes from FAQ bots to AI and NLP-powered Virtual Intelligent Assistants capable of delivering a personalized CX that aligns with brand values and that recognizes natural language and are capable of responding in kind.
Always On, Always On It
Round-the-clock availability and huge scalability mean chatbots can interact with any number of customers at any time of the day. This gives organizations much more flexibility in how they manage contact center agent schedules.
But as well as accessibility, intelligent chatbots are constantly capturing customer data. Whether it’s the types of issues seeking resolution, or types of language or sentiment being used when engaging with the brand, they can all be fed back into operations to improve CX and to gain greater customer insights.
Intelligent virtual agents, such as Sitel® Digital Agent, are an integral element of a comprehensive customer self-service solution whereby traffic into live channels can be reduced in order to reduce contact center agent workloads. By dealing with the most common contact drivers, agents are liberated to apply their expertise on the resolutions that will make the greatest difference from a CX. However, intelligent chatbots are also crucial to delivering a seamless escalation. When self-service isn’t sufficient to resolve a customer’s issue, an intelligent virtual agent cannot only connect that customer with the agent most able to meet that customer’s needs, but it can transfer all relevant information captured to date so the agent is prepared and the customer doesn’t have to reiterate the issue.
Automatically Plot the Route to Success
One of the simplest, yet potent applications of AI is intelligent routing. As customers embark on their path to resolution, in their channel of choice, this route can be instantaneously changed based on the customer’s need. This could mean seamlessly moving a customer out of a self-service channel and into an online chat or voice queue. However, it can also mean filtering customers in a voice queue. For example, by using a visual or conversational IVR to self-service content or a chatbot based on their requirements, or ensuring that that customer is connected to the right agent with the right capabilities to provide the right service. Intelligent routing optimizes resources, eliminates bottlenecks and, crucially reduces time and steps to resolution.
AI for Agent Augmentation
A differentiated CX begins with a differentiated employee experience, AI’s capabilities for benefiting customers can be focused inwards for greater agent performance, productivity and engagement. In addition to the need for a clear digital strategy to meet customer needs, the pandemic has highlighted the priceless value of human-to-human interaction where emotional intelligence and empathy are key to issue resolution.
Leveraging technology to maintain and elevate the emotional element of CX is going to be a major area of investment in 2021.
Time to Talk
Applying AI to aid agents can come in many forms, such as an internal chatbot capable of automatically retrieving knowledge base information pertinent to a resolution or of providing an enhanced script to follow. BCG data shows that without automated assistance, 45% of an agent’s call time is taken up with searching for or inputting information.
Likewise, through the intelligent deployment of speech analytics, all forms and fields on an agent’s desktop are automatically populated based on the customer’s response to questions. Information pertinent to similar issues or resulting resolutions is automatically presented on screen to help steer a conversation towards a positive conclusion.
Thanks to AI, speech analytics can now go further still enabling the real-time understanding of customer sentiment and emotion. Thanks to this level of understanding, it can actively prompt an agent in turn of next best offers, emotionally suitable vocabulary and can even flag if a customer might be about to churn. Or, more impressive still, it can flag if the customer is an imposter or attempting to defraud the company.
With access to the right expertise and with the right solutions in place, any organization in any consumer-facing vertical can truly harness the immediate value and future potential of AI to boost agent productivity and engagement – all while continuing to meet customer expectations. But chatbots are just the first step of journey. AI in the form of speech analytics can deliver real-time customer insights and eventually predictive analysis enabling businesses to act for rather than react to their customers.
To realize these benefits and to ensure organizations can continue aligning with their customers no matter how their needs evolve or how the business grows, we created our Enterprise Experience Platform, EXP+™. EXP+ is a flexible solution with complete cloud capability, designed to simplify the delivery of end-to-end customer experience (CX) services, while boosting efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction.
EXP+ is key to insuring an AI-driven CX solution can be properly and seamlessly integrated into a business and through its modular design. The platform provides instant access to an ecosystem of supporting services, tools as well as industry expertise giving organizations everything they need to begin and then continue on their journey towards digitalization, without leaving their people or their customers behind.