How AI Can Help Call Centers Meet Evolving Customer Demand in 2019

While call centers made significant strides in 2018, many are struggling to keep up with rapidly evolving demand for advanced technologies, improved agent experiences and enhanced customer journeys at the frontline.

The
following was derived from an interview with Brian
Cantor
, lead analyst, CCW
Digital.

Call Centers Struggling to Evolve 

Employee Attrition

Employee
attrition has always been a large, nuanced challenge in the call center – but it’s
often overlooked. The core problem is twofold: new agents are constantly being
hired to replace the ones that leave, and the ones that leave are also taking
their knowledge with them. 

Eliminating
this problem completely is not realistic. But there are some things you can do to
lessen its impact:

Streamline efforts
through self-service training and digital onboarding.
Training new agents eats up time and
resources that could be spent in production. However, the right self-service
training and onboarding program can help reduce the time it takes getting
agents up-to-speed.

Build and maintain a
killer knowledgebase.
When
agents are promoted, or high performing agents leave, they often take their
knowledge with them. Having a sustainable, robust knowledgebase will keep agent
information from walking out the door.  

Lack of Cross-Departmental Collaboration

Call centers
are operating in silos, putting agents in a disadvantageous position in terms
of their ability to accurately and comprehensively solve customers’ problems. When
information isn’t shared across departments, agents spend too much time solving
issues that have already been addressed elsewhere. This is why there must be a
concerted effort to connect departments through emerging technologies.

Tactical Efforts Continue to Swallow the Strategic

Every day, call
center employees are pulled into a slew of “fires” that they have to put out.
This daily struggle of handling tactical requests takes their focus off strategic
initiatives that would have a bigger impact. So, what happens? Call centers get
stuck in one place because they lack the innovation to better service customers.

Older Infrastructure and Disparate Systems

Legacy
infrastructure holds back the innovation and modernization of the call center.
The industry is clearly moving toward the cloud, but deadlines are missed and
milestones are pushed back because the transition has proved more difficult
than expected for many companies.

Call center
leadership must address these key
challenges in 2019. Pain points will not be solved at the agent level if the
right technologies and knowledge assets are not implemented – and implementing
requires a strategic plan. Let’s take a look at which trends will help them get
there.

What Trends Will Help Call Centers Succeed?

Call Center Priorities

Every 2019
call center strategy should prioritize these three things:

  1. Upgrade
    infrastructure and ecosystem of solutions to the cloud.
  2. Take
    advantage of AI & automation to reduce overhead and improve agent
    efficiencies.
  3. Leverage
    SaaS platforms to integrate with cloud infrastructure and deliver immediate
    impacts on the bottom-line through better functionality, higher efficiencies
    and more insights.

With that in
mind, let’s unpack exactly why these trends are so essential.

Migration to the Cloud

Cloud
migration will continue for many organizations through 2019 and even 2020. As
this migration takes place alongside the evolution and specialization of
software cloud services (SaaS), there will be a continued push to integrate
tools into a unified agent experience. Call centers are going to want as many of
their tools integrated as possible.

Advanced and Powerful Analytics

Analyticswill begin to permeate all aspects of
the contact center, powered by the cloud in a way not previously possible. This
will create a new level of transparency and opportunities for continuous
improvement within contact centers.

Self-Service and AI-Powered Chatbots

Chat will
become more prevalent, fueled by the movement to digital. For handling less
complex requests, these tools will be especially powerful – and will free up
agents to handle more complicated questions.

Automation and Assisted Intelligence

Greater
automation of tasks and assisted intelligence in information discovery will
support the knowledge worker, thanks to the maturing of AI.

Data is All That Matters

The backbone
of the movement to the cloud and modernization of infrastructure is data. Data
that was once disparate and siloed can now interact and be transformed into
intelligence in the form of advanced analytics, AI algorithms and knowledge
worker automation.

Integrated Data is Actually All That Matters

Platforms
such as IVR’s, ACD’s, self-service, chatbots and KM should not be viewed as stand-alone
solutions. Integrating the data from these systems can provide levels of
insight and intelligence like never before and can impact most of the critical
metrics for success in contact centers, such as FCR, handle time, time to
proficiency and escalation.

But, what are
the problems with the tools we use today?

The Problem With Knowledge Management Tools

Most Call Centers Can’t Maintain Their Knowledge Management Platforms

The necessary
HR allocation, processes and time required to keep information accurate,
up-to-date and trusted is in direct competition with the tactical daily
firefighting that is part of operating a contact center.

Lack of Findability

Findability proves
to be another major issue with most knowledge management tools. Content is
dumped in folders, mistitled and untagged – but still expected to be found.
SharePoint and other legacy systems have been battered by this issue, which
tears at the roots of overall agent usability and leads to print outs, “ask an
expert” and hold times.

Awful UX

Most platforms
that agents use don’t have a modern UX, which reduces usability.Though call centers are the place for
a quality customer experience (CX), the user experience (UX) on the agent-side
is a major issue. This creates tension and churn in adoption.

Knowledge Management Systems are Set-Up Poorly

Proper setup
of a knowledge management system is usually left to analysts, supervisors or
occasionally someone in training and development. While these people are
intelligent and capable knowledge workers, they’re not UX designers.
Additionally, KM setup is often approached as a one-off project, making it out
of date shortly after it’s handed over for someone to maintain.

Ineffective
KM programs don’t always mean the call centers using them are ineffective as a
whole. But a high-functioning call center cannot exist without a
high-functioning KM program. But what does that look like?

What Makes a Valuable Knowledge Management Program?

Advanced Analytics

Bringing
advanced analytics to a KM solution delivers immediate impact and provides
transparency into something that was previously a black box. This gives admins
the ability to see what users are doing, enabling continuous improvement on the
content, system and agent level.

Automation

KM can now
leverage massive amounts of data and aggregate, transform and assess trends
through automation and AI. Automation makes it possible to create task lists
and notify admins when content is going out of date, when agents are not
finding what they need and when content is being abandoned. This removes the
burden on maintenance and administration for performing such functions.

Findability Made Better by AI

AI can also
enhance findability in ways previously not possible. Content can be recommended
to agents based on IVR selection, customer profiles, call resolution patterns
and search path history. When searches are performed, AI can also recommend
information based on what agents are looking for.

Conclusion:
Improve the Customer Experience (And the Bottom Line)

Modern
knowledge management platforms are what power modern call centers. By following
the trends described above, your call center can:

  1. Improve
    first-contact resolution
  2. Reduce
    workload through greater efficiencies
  3. Create
    improvements through greater data insights
  4. Reduce
    time to agent proficiency
  5. Handle
    an increasingly diverse and complex contact request

Just don’t
forget the following general rules:

Set Up KM the Right Way

If you invest
in organizing and structuring content from the beginning, the technology will
learn and optimize faster. The right set up could take as little as 2 weeks to
accomplish in a contact center. And with automated maintenance suggesting routine
fixes, legacy problems – like content going out of date, agents losing trust
and the knowledgebase becoming stale – will disappear.

Intelligence is Not Static

Once
information is stored, a powerful KM system begins to aggregate, process and
analyze it in ways that a person cannot. Using dashboards, admins can see which
content is the most used, going out of date, difficult to find, what search
terms are effective and what search terms are leading to dead ends.

Future-Proof Your KM

Your knowledge
management tool should be future-proofed to integrate with existing systems.
This will help you avoid the headaches associated with “disconnected systems”
that lead to negative UX and CX. It should have a path to solutions that agents
and customers already use. This means stuff like call center management
platforms, IVRs, ACDs, CRMs, and custom integrations via open APIs.

For more on the future of contact centers and knowledge management in 2019, register for a free online event hosted by Customer Contact Week Digital. To take an even deeper dive on how AI can bring value to the contact center, the webcast session “Grading AI Ahead of 2019” is available on-demand. 

The Impact of Next Generation KM on the Contact Center

New Technology Solves an Old Problem
By Lori Bocklund, President, Strategic Contact, Inc.

Knowledge Management (KM) may be the single most impactful technology to help centers address key goals:

  • Reduce workload through greater self-service and shorter handle times
  • Improve First Contact Resolution (FCR) rate, and with it, the customer experience
  • Enable agents to handle increasingly diverse and complex contacts without extensive training and specialization

Contact center leadership understands the potential, but there’s an elephant in the room. Many fear that the KM challenge is too big to tackle. So, companies tiptoe around it, to the detriment of their customers and their contact center. It’s time to acknowledge the problem and solve it, embracing the evolution of technology and the new things that can be used to solve this old problem.

It’s time to acknowledge the problem and solve it, embracing the evolution of technology and the new things that can be used to solve this old problem.

With the cloud and modern software development approaches and architectures, centers can pursue KM without the inertia that prevents knowledge cleanup, development, maintenance, integration into the desktop, and user adoption. The result will be a well-organized and highly searchable knowledge base that transforms agent-assisted service and creates a new opportunity for self-service.

KM Addresses Issues Your Center Faces

I’m guessing the scenarios I’m about to describe will sound familiar. We see these situations in centers of all sizes, across many verticals.

The Frontline Problem

What do agents do when they can’t find information? They transfer the call (hot potato!). Or, they put the caller on hold, while they dig through documents, ask their neighbor, consult with the “subject matter expert,” or even go walkabout to find somebody who can help. Maybe they even utter those dreaded words, “Let me research this and someone will get back to you,” leaving the customer wondering, “Who?” and “When?” None of these options meet business goals or customer expectations.

If Agents can find the information they need, it can take a long time, and they may not trust it. It may be out of date, unclear, in conflict, or my favorite, “not structured the way I think it should be.” The result is a quick downward cycle on the use of the Knowledge Base (KB) while “cheat sheets” and tribal knowledge become the go-to sources.

These scenarios were common enough before companies beefed up self-service through online and mobile applications. Now, centers struggle with what I call the “O-Factor” – agents are overwhelmed, trying to retain knowledge on an increasingly complex and diverse set of contact types, many of which they rarely handle. The result is high attrition (especially for new hires) and poor performance. So, centers segment skills to train agents (“specialists”) in phases to build competency but compromise economies of scale and risk more transfers when they do.

Agents are overwhelmed, trying to retain knowledge on an increasingly complex and diverse set of contact types, many of which they rarely handle. The result is high attrition (especially for new hires) and poor performance.

These scenarios can be even worse in environments with an outsourcer as “tier 1” where the frontline agents compound cost by transferring calls back to in-house resources, further degrading the customer experience.

The Frontline Problems Have Real Impacts

The Support Problem

Many centers don’t have an analyst or full-time knowledge manager role. Someone is expected to manage the knowledge “in their spare time.” Those centers lucky enough to have an analyst often rely on someone with broader responsibilities (potentially in another department), making it hard for them to focus on the “in the trenches” situations the contact center faces. Without someone focused on optimizing knowledge, it can quickly grow stale and ineffective in meeting agent needs.

Agents try to find the nugget of gold within a long list of documents, some of which may be duplicates or in conflict. Marginal search functions don’t deliver targeted, “bite-sized” answers.

When contact centers don’t have budget or bandwidth to keep the knowledge base up-to-date, staff end up “dumping” documents into the knowledge base. More is not necessarily better. Agents try to find the nugget of gold within a long list of documents, some of which may be duplicates or in conflict. Marginal search functions don’t deliver targeted, “bite-sized” answers. Worse, KM built on folders and links make the agents feel like they need to understand someone else’s organizational structure. When it feels like a mismatch, they abandon use of the KB altogether and find their own way.

Characteristics of a Good Support Scenario

The Answer

If you are nodding your head and chuckling as you relate to these problems, it’s time to focus on this new era of KM and deal with the elephant – because that beast isn’t as big as you think! Powerful search and access to the right information in a timely fashion is possible. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Use a cloud-based solution to ensure rapid implementation (infrastructure and application) and minimize demands on IT upfront and ongoing.
  2. Leverage vendor expertise to overcome the inertia of getting started. With proven implementation methods and tools, a skilled vendor can help you populate, organize, structure, and tag your information and get you on a path to production quickly.
  3. Build user confidence and proficiency by demonstrating the ease with which they can find, consume, and rate information. With a great user interface and powerful search to access concise, well-structured content, agents succeed without excess training, specialization, or heavy reliance on others.
  4. Optimize the solution using reports, workflows, feedback, intelligence and automation to identify changes and improvements that will enhance the user experience – and customer experience – every day.

With a great tool and vendor partner, KM transforms from a vicious cycle into an upward spiral. The trusted source is accurate, consistent, and up-to-date. People use it routinely and provide feedback to build a continuous improvement loop.

With a great tool and vendor partner, KM transforms from a vicious cycle into an upward spiral. The trusted source is accurate, consistent, and up-to-date. People use it routinely and provide feedback to build a continuous improvement loop. Knowledge and ability spreads through technology, not proximity or affinity.

A tool that helps the support resources manage and optimize knowledge also knocks down one of the biggest hurdles: good KM reduces the maintenance burden and therefore the time demands on the knowledge manager(s). And it also ensures the KM structures suit many, not few.

A tool that helps the support resources manage and optimize knowledge also knocks down one of the biggest hurdles: good KM reduces the maintenance burden and therefore the time demands on the knowledge manager(s).

The investment will pay dividends on the bottom line that business leaders appreciate, through benefits agents and customers experience:

  • Lower
    handle time
  • Higher
    first contact resolution
  • Fewer
    transfers
  • Shorter
    training time
  • Faster
    time to proficiency

Your Call to Action

Your next step is to pursue a KM initiative that breaks through the inertia to fix or replace KM, and moves you beyond the “do nothing” or “stop gaps” approach. To get the full white paper on how to implement KM initiatives, future trends, and advice on selecting a vendor, please visit www.shelf.io/km-report.


Originally published on Contact Center Pipeline on Oct 16, 2018.

Industry Trends Highlight the Cloud KM Opportunity

New Technology Solves an Old Problem
By Lori Bocklund, President, Strategic Contact, Inc.

In spite of rumors to the contrary, the need for agents is as strong as ever. Contact Centers are planning for growth (agents!), even as the Artificial Intelligence hype train rambles on. Strategic Contact’s technology survey[1] shows growth as a top driver for acquiring technology for 40% of participants. In addition, 58% seek to fill feature/function gaps – and KM is undoubtedly a big one.

Centers are moving to the Cloud for a variety of technology solutions. Analyst firms such as Forrester and DMG, as well as vendor surveys, show the cloud contact center technology market growing. Our survey agrees, showing very few shying away from cloud technology. In fact, about one-third have cloud solutions and a majority would consider them. Combine that eagerness to use the cloud and the top implementation challenges people are trying to address – integration and the shortage of IT/telecom resources – and the opportunity for an easily integrated, cloud-based KM is strong.

Digging deeper into KM specifically, we note it ranks high on the “Top Priorities” list but also looms as a tool to combat many of the “Top Challenges” we see in our annual survey[2]. In our most recent results, 18% indicated they want to improve knowledge management access, content, and processes. Arguably, that number would be higher if more believed this “elephant” could be moved.

KM is also a top enabler to help agents succeed on target performance metrics. It can improve FCR, perhaps one of the “hottest” metrics. It can reduce Average Handle Time (AHT), something that can easily creep up with the increasingly complex and diverse contacts that agents handle and can have a huge impact on performance in other key metrics like service level. Add improved self-service based on good knowledge sources to those handle time and FCR improvements and the overall workload declines, boding well for every center under pressure to reduce its costs.

All this agent success and cost savings for the center and the company comes with a tremendous bonus: customer satisfaction. Whether your focus is the customer “journey” or “experience” or you really want the customer to give you a big thumbs up on a customer satisfaction survey, good KM optimizes the customer experience on first touch, with consistent, accurate information that is easily acquired and processed, no matter what channel they choose to use.


[1] See Contact Center Pipeline Special Report, July 2018: 2018 CONTACT CENTER TECHNOLOGY SURVEY REVEALS CRITICAL NEEDS

[2] See Contact Center Pipeline Special Report, January 2018: CONTACT CENTER CHALLENGES & PRIORITIES FOR 2018


Originally published on Contact Center Pipeline on Oct 16, 2018.

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Knowledge Management without Faceted Search is a Huge Lost Opportunity

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Why Knowledge Management must include Tags

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