This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on November 2, 2020 - November 8, 2020
Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are names that need no introduction as they play an integral role in our daily lives. These virtual assistants continue to progress and grow smarter, allowing for effortless communication between humans and technology via voice and speech. The human voice is the most natural interface for anyone to interact with; it is what we use to express our emotions, resolve our problems, and work and live. Naturally, it is also used by customers to interact with their favourite brands.
Today, customer service is a US$470 billion (RM1.95 trillion) industry that is ripe for change. Due to the pandemic, more people are looking at various platforms to solve complex customer service issues quickly.
To address this new behaviour, conversational artificial intelligence (AI) is high on business leaders’ agenda to deliver a more wholesome customer experience and build long-term affinity with customers.
New and disruptive technologies present a huge opportunity for Malaysia’s customer experience workforce to capitalise on. According to Contact Centre Association of Malaysia (CCAM), the country has an opportunity to upskill to higher-value roles, where complex customer interaction meets technology. The upskill can result in the enrichment of customer services and experiences. CCAM adds that the industry has evolved over the last 20 years, and companies have started to realise the importance of adopting advanced technologies. These advancements could lead to the better targeting of customers through more efficient engagement.
Having understood the importance of customer experience, the challenge businesses face today is in finding the right tool or channel to achieve this in real time and at scale. Conversational Service Automation (CSA), an AI-powered platform, can take this to a whole new level. It is the only platform that addresses the entire conversational experience for both customers and agents. Using conversational AI, robotic process automation (RPA) and workflow automation to blend front-office and back-office operations, CSA is the key to unlocking two-way happiness for all those involved.
Voice capabilities and conversational AI are not limited to platforms such as Alexa or Google; they have evolved into different areas. Enterprises across industry verticals — from banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI), telecommunications and education technology to healthcare — are investing in conversational AI and adjacent technologies today. Contact centres in these industries act as one of the touchpoints where consumers and businesses converge.
For example, after-call work in a contact centre refers to summaries written, calls categorised and actions taken or scheduled. Other steps include ensuring that the conversation history is accurately documented for future interactions with a company. During this global pandemic, one company that adopted a CSA platform said it had improved the productivity of more than 1,000 of its agents with an 80% reduction in after-call work and a 20% reduction in average handling time.
Having AI to streamline and automate such routine and essential tasks could not have been more beneficial. CSA helps to ensure the quality and consistency of wrap-up efforts and reduces the average handling time. Automating the call disposition improves accuracy and drives better quality call categories in the customer relationship management (CRM) system — delivering measurable and sustainable business value.
Covid-19 is said to be a catalyst for new experiences, and in the context of voice and CSA, this is no exception. A global survey that Uniphore commissioned shows that contact centres played a vital role during the health crisis, but many could not handle the influx of calls.
As a result, businesses turned to AI and other technologies to give their valuable front-line call centre agents a hand. In addition to the routine traffic, the survey also found that more than 42% of the respondents had recently reached out to a contact centre to resolve Covid-19-related issues such as travel, employment, insurance, medical or financial matters.
This surge in contact centre calls shows that customers prefer to speak to another human being, rather than a bot or virtual assistant, especially during times of crisis. This is because, unlike machines, humans are capable of empathising and understanding distress. However, the reality is that more than 43% of respondents could not speak with a representative after calling a helpline, according to the survey. Some 40% of respondents also noted that they did not even receive helpful information when finally reaching a healthcare call centre.
The above highlights a clear technological gap. Business leaders know that conversations are the ultimate drivers of customer satisfaction and loyalty, in good times and in times of crisis. As customers, businesses and societies navigate the current realities and unknowns, their conversations with a company will have a longer-term effect on how customers feel about a brand and how long they stay with that brand. What is needed is a better understanding of the types of experiences people have with contact centres and how to improve satisfaction and, ultimately, achieve happiness.
We have seen how CSA can benefit both contact centre agents and customers, helping companies improve the customer experience. Both the technology required and the people skills needed in agents seem to be equally important. That brings us to whether businesses should invest more in AI and automation, or whether they should rely on people to give that human touch.
According to Jeannie Walters, CEO and chief customer experience investigator at Experience Investigators, these two go hand in hand. During her conversation on Uniphore’s “Conversations That Matter”, a podcast for contact centre professionals, she said: “In order to build a tool to help customers, it is important for businesses to ensure a team that is truly representative of this customer base. If a business fails to do this, they will not see things from the right perspective and the tools they use will not help anyone achieve satisfaction or happiness.”
In retrospect, for companies to stay ahead while keeping customers and agents happy, they must first invest in solutions that can deliver the best and most efficient customer experience. Thus, the secret to happiness lies in showing empathy and understanding and leveraging technology to better communicate the way we always have — with our voice.
Ravi Saraogi is co-founder and president of Asia-Pacific at Uniphore
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