Published: August 24, 2020 | Comments
For many contact centers, COVID-19 was a harsh wake-up call that left leadership and teams scrambling to find solutions amidst volume spikes, reduced hours of operation, and staffing gaps. For customers trying to do business with brick-and-mortar retail stores that had temporarily closed, these companies’ websites and contact centers became their new -- and sometimes only -- method of interacting. At the same time, employees who suddenly found themselves working from home were struggling to keep up.
Most companies are on the other side of this chaos, and the savviest are looking beyond the short-term fixes that got them through the storm and thinking of their long-term strategies. With digital channel volume up 37% to 51% in 2020, many are either reorganizing their 2020 projects or building budgets and roadmaps for future years to enable them to react more quickly to change, by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.
With the global AI software industry expected to more than quintuple between 2020 and 2025 (from $23 billion to $126 billion), it’s about to get even more complex for contact center decision makers. If you’re not able to double down on your AI spend, or you’re not a Fortune 100 company that’s running proof of concepts with the large players in the space, you might be looking for some guidance on where to begin with AI.
Where do you begin? How do you assess the internal landscape? Will automation require a cross-functional project team? Do you have the CX gurus, data analysts, and project management pros to include on such a team? Do you have leadership buy-in?
A clear, directive framework is key to moving forward intelligently and swiftly. You could use agile; you could use design thinking. You can also reference the ICMI approach to simplify your contact center’s next leap forward.
Begin with the end in mind. Are you looking to create a short-term strategy, a long-term strategy, or both?
Before bringing team members into the ideation sessions, you must first create some guardrails -- especially when it comes to AI conversations, which tend to shoot far into the future and out through wormholes that have no near-term value.
Consider splitting the conversation into the two categories, and focusing first on the next five years, with short-term goals covering the first two years and long-term goals covering the final three years. AI ecosystems are not built overnight, but it is possible to start seeing some benefits in under a year.
It’s also important to come into this session with some data or business intelligence. It could be your top twenty call drivers, lowest sentiment or quality scores, or average handle time by disposition or work type. There are many directions you could and should go, and this prework will help set the tone for your ideation sessions.
Your goal is to collaborate and bring different perspectives to bear on the areas of opportunity under consideration. Opinions will vary. But arriving at consensus on your short-term and long-term automation opportunities fosters a growth mentality within your group and gives you something to work toward together.
Once you’ve got short-term and long-term opportunities prioritized, the real work begins. Take the ideas to the concept phase to begin assessing the benefits. Questions to ask yourself in this phase might include:
- How many contacts would this remove over the next three years?
- Can we make assumptions about the savings or gains his move may generate (e.g., increase in customer satisfaction, customers saved)?
- Will these actions reduce overall handling time? If so, what does that equate to in dollars?
- Will this make our agents happy and reduce turnover?
If you’ve already automated your internal systems, then you’ve got a whole new list of concepts to research. Do you look at virtual agents, chatbots, regular bots, computer vision AI, next best action, agent assist, natural language processing, sentiment analysis, real time emotional intelligence AI for agents, new hire training AI programs, or any other of the late-breaking advancements happening in this field? Each of your opportunities likely ties to one or more systems for a solution, and that’s where complexity can arise. Ranking these opportunities by cost savings potential vs. investment capital; it’s a necessary process, if time-consuming.
Before you stand up solutions, there are a couple of things you must do. First, address the possible change with your contact center agents. Help them understand the business needs these strategies are intended to satisfy, and share insight into how cost savings will be reinvested back into the company. The last thing you want is a wave of rumors of automation job cuts that could lead to high turnover.
Another necessary step is creating actual use cases and a proof-of-concept or pilot framework. How will you communicate the final design to your partners in requirements, and how will you measure the success of the effort?
Implementing AI and automation solutions can be very simple or extremely difficult, depending on the overall design. Helping others understand the level of complexity is important, as many senior leaders may expect these efforts to be done yesterday. Getting real on timelines and effort required is critical before and during this stage, especially if the new processes have dependencies from other internal software or teams.
Here’s your chance to measure the success of your efforts. Did you get the results you expected? Why or why not? What are agents and customers saying?
The solution doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, but if you’ve completed some of the simple automation opportunities and seen some early wins, celebrate those prior to beginning the next items on your list. But be ready to iterate based upon your learnings -- continuous improvement of strategy and solutions is the name of the AI game.
Modern-day contact center decision-makers must be committed to staying up to date on advancements in technology generally and contact center solutions specifically. Ask ICMI how we can help you plan your AI strategy!