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.