Delivering 360 customer service through AI, automation and the all-important human touch

By Andrew White, CEO, Contexta 360

The future is digital. That’s a mantra no one would argue with and, in recent years, we’ve really started to see how the practical applications of AI and automation can empower us as consumers, streamlining many aspects of our interactions with the organisations that provide our goods and services. Through apps, chatbots, and automated services, we can now make secure transactions, change settings and get most of the information we need at the touch of a button, without having to talk in person with supplier organisations.

So far, so good. And on top of this, our digital connection to the company is a two-way street. All this digital interaction is generating vast swathes of data on product and purchase trends that supplier companies can use to hone their services and gain insight into customer preferences.

The “moments that matter”

However, while consumers and businesses alike have embraced the benefits of automation, there are still many situations when the human touch is essential.

Indeed, all that data generated can be used to profile customers and route interactions for optimum efficiency to strike the right balance between automation and human service. For lower value customers with straightforward enquiries automation works well, but for high value customers, with complex queries, human interaction is what’s needed; customers become frustrated by automation and only a human will do.

In fact, 60 per cent of consumer interaction on average is via voice and video, and in the “moments that matter” – when there is an emergency or need for specialist advice – this rate jumps to 83 per cent. These calls are some of the most valuable from a customer service perspective. By the time the customer picks up the phone, it means they need help with something they cannot resolve themselves; they may be angry or need immediate assistance. At that point they expect to talk to someone who can solve their problems quickly and professionally, making immediate judgement calls on the best course of action – it’s the human touch that remains at the heart of customer service. For customer service agents, however, this means that the days of dealing with simple enquiries are over.

However, just because the customer interaction has, at this point, ostensibly crossed the border from digital to human, this doesn’t mean that the process shouldn’t continue to be supported by innovations in digital technology. Indeed, because of the high value strategic insight that these more complex calls offer, capturing and integrating their content into customer service streams to assist call centre agents is becoming a priority for customer-focused organisations.

Supporting the supporters and closing the digital loop

When a call comes in the call centre agent has only between 3-5 seconds to prepare – that’s no time at all in which to absorb any background data available on the customer and context of the call. When they pick up, they may fail to initially understand the customer request, which is likely to be complex. Even if they do, they must then enter it manually into the CRM system. Agents are only human and this is where errors creep in – fatigue, pressure and inexperience can all lead to inaccuracies – and the opportunity to build up a comprehensive “digital signature” for the customer is lost. Furthermore, and most importantly for the brand, the customer’s experience is less than optimum.

This is where many organisations have started using artificial intelligence and conversational computing to close the digital loop. Voice calls can be transcribed into the system with all questions or actions captured via speech-to-text, analysed for understanding, sentiment and topics. In short, it offers digital insight into the conversation, not via the agent’s keyboard, but via the conversation itself – no gaps, just great data.

The emergence of “tuned” speech processing that aligns to specific industry terms, products and phrases with incredibly high accuracy, together with the addition of AI and deep-learning capabilities, are giving call centre agents a real-time edge. These technologies “listen-in” to the call conversation and can detect questions, interpret sentiment, flag up key words, cross-reference with internal data or notices such as product notifications or sales offers, draw in external data from sources such as Bloomberg or other news-wire services and summarise all the previous voice interactions. This helps agents provide a more informed, satisfactory service, turning those critical “moments that matter” interactions from risks to opportunities, at the same time as protecting and enhancing the brand.

Powerful insights that form a competitive edge

The businesses or organisations that deploy this capability are capturing massive insights. They’re going beyond the contact centre as a low-value, transactional service and transforming it into a strategically important differentiator. Agent performance is dramatically improved in quality and complexity of what is being captured within the system of record, or simply by assisting with a summary of the call actions once the call has ended and they hit the wrap-up timer.

This is a premium role, non-scripted, that requires knowledgeable professionals that can react to customer needs and use a range of AI and information systems to deliver excellent service or sales strategy.  It is no longer a humble job, it is the centre of a business, as all calls that reach this location seriously matter.

By supporting contact centre agents in real-time with rich and detailed customer history across all channels, from web enquiries, chatbots, voice calls, backed up with contextual insight around the tone and sentiment of those conversations, we make all that data work effectively on a human level when the interaction occurs.

This underlines the fact that we shouldn’t be talking about a binary choice between automated or human interactions. Instead we need to operate on a customer service scale that collects and monitors data at all points – even voice – and uses it at the point it’s needed to deliver a fully 360-degree customer service. In this way we can combine the best features of automation, artificial intelligence and the human touch for optimum effect.