IVAs: how AI is transforming contact centres

By Olivier Cauderlier, Chief of Strategy and Marketing, SecureCo
Wednesday, 26 January, 2022

IVAs: how AI is transforming contact centres

“Artificial Intelligence is going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind, more than electricity.” I have to say, when I first read this quote from the AI oracle and venture capitalist Dr Kai-Fu Lee, back in 2018, I had to sit down. I needed to conceptualise what something bigger than the electrical revolution could look like. It is a pretty bold statement and one that actually makes sense. According to Gartner, the number of businesses adopting AI grew by 270% in four years.

When you really think about it, you would struggle to come by an industry today that hasn’t been impacted already by the development of AI, and this is just the beginning. This is particularly true for customer experience (CX) management and the contact centre industry. According to research commissioned by SecureCo, 55% of CX decision-makers in Australia have rated AI and automation as a priority in their CX transformation in their efforts to drive process efficiency and reduce operational costs.

What does AI applied to customer experience look like in practice?

Whilst one could have had doubts a few years back, the incredible progress of AI in natural language generation is such that humans would struggle today to tell the difference between a human or speech engine-generated voice. We are now starting to witness organisations and consulting firms creating corporate hierarchies that mix human and virtual workers across various business functions. As a straightforward illustration, the traditional interactive voice response systems (IVRs) asking you to press 1, 2 or 3, will disappear to be replaced by intelligent virtual agents (IVAs).

IVAs are capable of understanding written and spoken queries, verifying your identity and managing the resolution of enquiries, and if not, finding the best person in an organisation you should talk to. Think back to that IVA demo from Google CEO Sundar Pichai, where he made a haircut appointment onstage via a virtual assistant. You might have smiled thinking this was just a part of the show at the time, but it is now pretty obvious that IVA technology forms the cornerstone of today’s CX.

IVAs can also capture each customer’s conversation and accurately document it for enhancing future interactions or use speech analytics technology to analyse sentiment during the calls or to spot specific keywords. IVAs are also always available, can scale up and down in seconds, offer perfect consistency of experience, enable data tracing and more. Needless to say, this represents a massive optimisation potential from both a cost and customer experience point of view for contact centres.

Conversational data is the new gold

Conversational insights gathered through AI will revolutionise CX. It is pretty obvious that the content of the conversations between customers and organisations is extremely valuable. The conversations contain essential information for organisations to adjust their products, services and overall business operations to fit ever-evolving customer needs.

When looking around, most organisations have already started, to an extent, to transcribe customer conversations from voice to text and develop ways to mine that data utilising natural language understanding and speech analytics. When done right, through ethical AI practices, conversational insights are a powerful tool to delight customers.

Imagine being capable of detecting — in real time — when a customer is distressed or aggressive so you can protect staff where needed, or when a customer is likely to churn depending on their tone of voice over the last couple of interactions they’ve had with your brand. The same can be done for detecting gratitude or joy to help determine your overall customer satisfaction levels. Conversational insights can also support compliance by detecting and redacting personal information in real time.

These are just some of the many ways AI will keep transforming customer experience and contact centre operations, deepening customer experiences with brands.

Making AI a tool for human performance

What about the human side of CX, you might ask? You will be interested to know that the same Kai-Fu Lee also stated that “artificial intelligence, with all its capabilities, will never be capable of creativity or empathy”.

A study conducted by PwC found 59% of consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of CX. Showing empathy and compassion need to remain a priority for brands, and if done well, AI should enhance the human connections, rather than hinder them.

You might remember that in 2014, the CEO of one of Australia’s largest organisations made headlines after predicting that within five years there would be no people in its contact centres. Evidently, this didn’t happen. Whilst AI and automation are pivotal to transforming CX, this doesn’t mean the ‘human touch’ can be left behind completely. When it comes to complex enquiries, technology is about augmenting the role of humans to enhance interactions, not replace them entirely.

While IVAs are mainly being deployed to provide self-services to customers today, we are also starting to witness IVAs sitting beside customer representatives. In this way, IVAs are ‘augmenting humans’ by providing real-time information such as sentiment analysis and product information through live customer conversations. This ensures the customer representative can focus on bringing empathy, personalisation and satisfaction to every interaction.

When done right, AI serves as a powerful way to augment human interactions and ensure that convenience and cost-cutting are balanced with building customer connections and satisfaction. We sometimes forget what a fascinating time we live in.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/tippapatt

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