'Your call is important to us…': How chatbots can build better contact centres

The local contact centre industry is thriving and has seen substantial growth over the last four years, as South Africa became an enticing destination for offshore business.

Concurrently, telcos across the world are seeking to improve their customer experience and reduce operating costs, largely due to disruptive business models, ever-increasing competition and the rising digital wave.

This is forcing telcos to reinvent how their services are delivered and go beyond the traditional approach towards customer care and adopt more engaging and disruptive channels.

Digitising the customer care landscape will not only help telcos improve their online footprint, but also ensure they can slowly reduce human interactions and interventions needed to sustain such a model. This will improve customer experience and reduce operational costs.

But contact centres face several challenges. When a telco must support more than 2 000 models of phones, modems and routers, the technical skills required of the customer support staff increase dramatically, as does the resultant average handle time.

Contact centres’ challenges remain high when trying to improve the desired customer experience across multiple channels as well as being operationally efficient and reducing costs, while developing agents’ skillsets.

In an increasingly complex, connected world, the contact centre becomes the interaction hub of the digital enterprise – responsible for support, interaction, education and data gathering. However, it will have to evolve to deal with more responsibilities and more complex issues.

The rise of chatbots

The use of chatbots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will help address many of the biggest challenges that telcos currently face.

The industry is being impacted by digital revolution, with infrastructure coming under increasing strain as it supports more devices, connected cars, smart cities and the Internet of Things, all of which directly affects contact centres.

For contact centres, the challenge lies in that telecom networks are incredibly complicated, and inevitably, things can go awry. When it does, people are quick to call up the customer care executives at the contact centre, who inevitably escalate issues to the management team, leaving customers frustrated. Hence, contact centres must be hyper-efficient; with every possible metric, output and deliverable enumerated, analysed and optimised.

As a result, the rise of AI and automation in contact centres has been embraced by telcos – typically by automating some simpler customer requests through chatbots and self-serve Interactive Voice Response technology (IVR).

Making chatbots better

For example, IVR technology (both audio and visual versions) saves customers and agents time by enabling things like choosing the right queue, ordering a call-back, or requesting to be reconnected with the same agent after a call drop.

Additionally, customer-facing chatbots can be used to provide instant answers and links to further information for frequently asked questions. This significantly speeds up service.

For smartphone callers, chatbots can be integrated with contact centre technology to manage smartphone communications that emulate the natural speech of a human agent. Not only does this simplify and streamline operations, it means average call waiting times and call handling times are reduced, giving agents more time to handle more complex queries.

New technologies, including Natural Language Processing (NLP) systems, Internet bots and AI tools will increase the range and complexity of care tasks that can be handled by machines.

Already, digital-native companies seamlessly mix chatbots and human-enabled chat seamlessly, so that customers often can’t tell whether they’re interacting with a machine or a human.

What if you need a human?

Despite the increased use of bots and AI, customers still want to interact with a human when they need help with difficult or high-value tasks. Research shows that more than 50% of customers want to interact with a human in case of a crisis, or when they need a solution to a problem with a product or service.

Skilled human agents are still the best guides for customers to navigate complex or highly-customised product and service offerings.

Those types of interactions are critical. They can be the decisive touch points that determine the customer’s perception of a telco. Moreover, these live interactions provide irreplaceable switch-sell and up-sell opportunities that might otherwise be lost.

Self-service, voice-bots and automation are not predicted to reduce overall agent headcount. If anything, this technology will be needed to support increased demand for contact centre interaction.

Today’s simplistic IVR systems are poised to be replaced by voicebots. However, as this happens, agents will handle an increasing load of more complex tasks.

Emmanuelle Salon is Business Development Manager – Telcos South Africa, Wipro Limited.

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