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The emergence of new digital consumer trends and technologies are changing the playing field for contact centres today. On the technology side, the rise of empowered machines means that by the end of the year, up to 10% of purchase decisions will be influenced by intelligent agents. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, 75% of executives have also confirmed that AI will be “actively implemented” in their companies within the next three years.

The customer side is also evolving, with customers wanting answers faster than ever and expecting companies to know who they are and be on hand to help anytime, anywhere. This includes being fully present across all their favourite messaging channels, with 70% of consumers saying they prefer this form of contact over calling for customer support.

This new environment has created an opportunity for companies to differentiate themselves by transforming their contact centres to level up their CX programs. Many companies have already begun to realise the potential rewards of doing so, with interaction technologies such as Global Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC) reaching 75.95% penetration as of January 2018.

The Future of the Contact Centre Conference, held on 22nd February in London, examined the new opportunities that are emerging for contact centres and explore the plethora of technologies that are driving these forward. With advancements like unified omnichannel communications and chatbots, a forward-looking digital strategy is key for any business that wants to remain competitive today.

Take control and map your journey

Improving the customer experience is an enterprise wide sustained effort and many companies fail to realise this. So first and foremost, businesses need to adopt the right mentality and approach. To truly harness the benefits that new technologies provide, it is paramount for businesses to first take complete control in aligning their internal processes with their optimum customer journey. Failing to do so will lead to inconsistencies that reflect poorly on the brand. Much too often we see companies falling into the digital waste land, where digital customer interaction channels are not properly integrated into customer processes or the back-end systems that ultimately fulfil the customer promise.

This first stage is also where companies need to ensure that they map out a positive customer journey while having a beneficial impact on the business process side. Providing cross-channel chat based messaging for first contact resolution is a great way to achieve this. Firstly, this increases agent productivity, allowing them to manage multiple chat conversations simultaneously. As a result, more customer enquiries can be completed faster. Secondly, this reduces inbound voice calls at peak and off-peak times by providing alternative channels to voice. Thirdly, this can reduce operational costs by answering enquiries over cheaper communications channels; SMS chat sessions are up to 75% cheaper than voice calls.

Optimising customer experience through omnichannel

When it comes to implementing new customer engagement technologies in contact centres, complexity can be removed by orchestrating an omnichannel customer experience. Having an orchestration layer can help contact centres maximise the investment they’ve already made without the need to replace any existing infrastructure. To accelerate development, they can seek out cloud-based platforms that can be rapidly configured to fit within an existing infrastructure estate.

This essentially provides businesses with a centralised management layer for dealing with customer queries which allows data collection to feed back into improving experiences and efficiency. In turn, this enables the rapid prototyping and scaling of enhanced customer journey interactions, making it the quickest and cheapest path to better customer service experience and engagement.

Harnessing AI and chatbots to increase the efficiency of messaging channels

To maximise their operational efficiency, contact centres must also embrace the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). This is opening up new frontiers to explore how to serve their customers more quickly and efficiently than ever.

According to Forrester, in 2018 bots will replace and/or augment 311,000 office and administrative positions. However, most of these bots will augment their remaining human colleagues’ capabilities, transforming jobs while also creating new ones. This is far from the hype that currently surrounds AI and would have us think that chatbots and virtual assistants are about to take over contact centres. Mass automation is still a pipe dream – using an orchestration layer to deliver customer journeys that mix automated and live agent assistance have so far proven to deliver the best results.

So instead of replacing agents at contact centres, AI can actually be harnessed to augment better agent interactions. Analysing and filtering customer requests accordingly, suggesting responses through predictive analytics and even detecting the mood of a customer are just some of the ways it can help to achieve this. In practice, while most common enquiries can be handled through a chatbot with controlled response patterns, using these for intelligent enquiry routing will allow for the handover of the highest priority enquiries to an agent.

The key lies in striking a balance between what technology and agents can each do more effectively.

Fixing the digital skills gap

As these new technologies come into play, customer service professionals need to think about how they can close their digital skills gap in order not to fall behind. The latest advances should serve as an inspiration for them to hone their skills and take their careers to the next level by delivering exceptional customer service on digital systems. Organisations such as the Institute of Customer Service have a key role to play in terms of providing the framework for customer service professionals to be able to make this digital step.

There’s no doubt that these are exciting times for contact centres. Looking ahead, we will continue to see an evolution of consumer behaviour and with this the adoption of new communication channels in contact centres. Customer service automation will be achieved through a combination of AI augmentation and human chat in order to yield the best results. This new environment may seem daunting for companies at first, but they will need to change and adapt in order to keep up. Their survival depends on it.

Matt Hooper, SVP Global Marketing at IMImobile

Matt is an experienced senior enterprise software marketer and general manager, with over 20 years in international marketing, customer experience, product management and business development.

He joined IMImobile in 2015 from cloud compliance SaaS provider Cognia.

Prior to that he worked with Boston-based Lavastorm Analytics, MDS, Colibria and as a founding executive of service delivery platform pioneer Elata.

Matt has also held senior roles at Qualcomm, HP, BT Global, Orange and Parametric Technology. He is a chartered marketer.

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