6 crucial considerations before investing in contact center AI

Everywhere you look, artificial intelligence (AI) is making headlines – and for good reason! One Gartner survey predicts that by 2021 15% of all customer service interactions will be addressed by AI. It’s changing the very nature of contact center work. But behind the glamour and optimism of AI’s bright future, contact center leaders are struggling with important questions such as these:

  • With AI handling more routine interactions, how do we support agents in solving increasingly complex queries?
  • How do we prepare agents to handle omnichannel, tier III contacts quicker?
  • Instead of throwing all the budget at AI, are there other ways to improve agent productivity?

Let’s examine some of the hidden truths behind these statements.

  1. In an AI future, humans must be able to handle the complex, emotional tasks that AI cannot address.

With computers handling the repetitive and predictable contact-center activity, agents will need to address and apply thought to almost exclusively the more personalized, empathetic, and the revenue-generating customer interactions. Handling unexpected scenarios as well as interpreting, decision-making, problem-solving, and emotionally connecting with customers will become core to an agent’s work.

No script or manual can solve all the extraordinary cases agents will handle. Agent training therefore must increasingly focus on building the technical and people skills, subject matter expertise, emotional intelligence, logical thinking, deductive reasoning, relationships, and confidence that agents require to unearth and create on-brand responses for customers.

With AI, all agents effectively start out as escalation agents. In this climate, a formulaic, classroom-based, one-size-fits-all, contact training program will always miss the mark.

  1. Contact center training is not keeping pace with demographic or AI changes.

In the next decade, the U.S. population is expected to grow more slowly than it has historically, and 75% of the global workforce will comprise millennials. If we successfully recruit millennials, it will be increasingly important to keep them.

Millennials already comprise a large proportion of the workforce (e.g., at VXI, 78% of employees are millennials!). Millennials have distinct preferences, too — 69% believe regular office attendance is unnecessary, 56% won’t accept jobs from companies that ban social media, and 53% would rather lose their sense of smell than access to technology.

With an educated, technology-oriented workforce making up the lion’s share of the changing, AI-driven contact center environment, cultivating employee engagement and having a modern, dynamic training program becomes crucial.

  1. Meaningful, productive customer interactions hinge on employee engagement, including training.

Companies cannot successfully manage millennials doing the more complex, higher value work that AI brings without investing in, measuring, and actively working to improve the employee experience (EX). Career pathing, management skills development, rewards and recognition, scheduling flexibility, corporate communications, coaching, and training are critical for the EX.

A scenario-based, technology-based, and accessible-anywhere approach to training is a millennial imperative. Contact center training, however, has always been an issue. Outsourcers’ compensation often puts metrics first and the EX second. Due to the need to ramp new programs quickly, old-fashioned training methods are often used. Trainers, often promoted from agent ranks, are so busy training and learning the training role that they do not fully leverage training analytics. Investing in the EX and training on an ongoing basis is often an afterthought.

  1. In the age of AI, both the IT and the EX budgets need to increase. Training software should be part of that budget.

Agent new-hire training today can span from 5 to 20+ days. No one wants to sit in a classroom for long periods, potentially at a reduced training rate of pay. Learners, especially millennials, need variety, hands-on access, and the ability to repeat tasks to retain knowledge.

Dimension Data surveyed customer experience (CX) leaders and found that workforce optimization is key for AI success. Performance, knowledge, quality, and workforce management tools as well as elearning systems work together to empower agents to handle more complex inquiries. Yet, only 38.7% of BPOs have access to elearning solutions.

Recent Training Magazine survey results indicate that just over half (56%) of the surveyed companies are using computerized and online training for customer service, interpersonal skills, and management/supervisory training.

Training Magazine also indicated that training technology use has actually declined. Of the learning technologies presented, the systems most often used included

  • learning management systems (LMSs) at 81%,
  • virtual classroom/webcasting/video broadcasting at 69%,
  • rapid e-learning tools (45%), and
  • application simulation tools (34%).

As 48% of global CIOs will deploy AI in the next year, it’s critical to implement, configure, and optimize a training toolset to future-proof your business now.

  1. The most popular, off-the-shelf training software is not designed specifically for contact center training.

Training software can reduce costs, increase accuracy, increase agent confidence, and improve productivity. Software can address HR gaps not just on the agent side (front-end) but especially on the trainer side (back end). Good training software can deliver dynamic content, serve as a learning management system (LMS), and provide analytics for continuous improvement. However, very few training software packages are designed specifically for the unique challenges of the changing contact center environment.

To address this gap, we created the  VXI Training Simulator™ that allows agents to interact with customers, products, and applications risk free. Providing self-paced, interactive experiences; gauging progress and KPI achievement; offering full multimedia experiences; and giving immediate feedback, the simulator increases speed to proficiency and knowledge retention. An online payment service provider compared results for new hires using VXI’s Training Simulator with a traditionally trained group. Overall, the new hires who used the simulator outperformed and outpaced those who did not. Month over month, AHT was 30% lower and NPS was ~25% higher, which equated to 6-month savings of US$25,000.

The introduction of AI does not automatically equate to headcount reductions and job losses, but it does require a shift in duties. Preparing employees for automation, AI assistance, and technology-based delivery should naturally involve technology-based training. It’s important to not just focus on modernizing the IT but also the training infrastructure.

  1. Front-office AI is not the only way to boost contact center productivity. Automating trainer tasks and using analytics to continuously improve training can help, too.

Companies are turning to robotics and AI to lower the cost to serve and provide higher value to customers. If cost to serve is the prime reason for AI, then implementing contact center training software is a step that can reduce overall customer service costs, too, as it can increase agent effectiveness faster.

AI is not a futuristic tale of robots replacing humans; it’s more a case of computers allowing agents to focus on what’s more important and letting humans do more of what they’re good at. Blending classroom, online training simulations, and on-the-floor mentoring experiences puts agents in a frame of mind that may better prepare them for handling the diverse, challenging, emotional interactions in an AI future.

Machine learning is a hot topic in contact center circles. Training for the remaining agents should be, too. Is your training team ready to support contact center AI?

Contact VXI for help to prepare agents for more complex transactions and equip your training team for continuous improvement in the age of AI.