Contact centres must embrace generative AI or risk being left behind

By Ryan Falkenberg, 12 May 2024 – Originally published by EngineerIT.

It took just two months for ChatGPT, the most popular generative AI tool on the market, to reach 100 million users.

What’s remarkable is that the technology is still evolving at incredible speeds. While its voice capabilities are improving daily, OpenAI recently put its voice cloning on hold because, using just a 15-second clip of your voice, it can produce results that are indistinguishable from the real thing by analysis technology. While this opens up a world of opportunities, it is also very dangerous in a year where dozens of countries around the world will head to the polls for elections.

It’s also worth noting that generative AI is still largely general-purpose in nature. It won’t be long, however, before more specialised tools become widely available, enhancing productivity levels and effectiveness across industries. In the customer experience space for example, the coupling of Generative AI with conversation process automation and orchestration tools, is allowing us to automate high volumes of rule-bound sales, support and service conversations at the level of a human expert.

Given these rapid advancements, it’s baffling how slow even major players in the contact centre space have been to incorporate generative AI tools. What makes this even more concerning is that contact centres are among the businesses that face the biggest threat of disruption from these advances.

The impact of Gen AI and Virtual Agents

Generative AI, when blended into an intelligent automation ecosystem, allows human agents to have dramatically better and more effective conversations. Agents can be guided through every conversation without having to know all the details or rules. Resulting actions like email scripts and call summaries can also be done by AI. This reduces training and ramp-up times, improves first call resolution and allows agents to handle more calls without all the post-call work.

More significantly however, is the emergence of Gen-AI powered virtual agents. These conversation experts can engage directly with customers via chat channels, email, web, app and phone. And unlike chatbots, they can have conversations that stick to compliance guardrails yet adapt dynamically to customer context and change in direction. As a result, they can now resolve huge volumes of customer queries without relying on a human in the loop.

New business opportunities

While virtual agents are sure to take over the processing of most rule-bound engagements, there is still an important role for humans in the growing CX space. Because they are freed from largely transactional volumes, human agents have more time to focus on the calls where empathy, humour and emotional intelligence are critical.

From a customer perspective, having real time access to a service expert is very appealing. Rather than waiting in a call queue, they can instantly be put through to a virtual agent. This is very helpful when call volumes spike or no human agents are available (such as at an odd time of night).

Imagine calling a hotel you’ve booked in a different time zone, without realising that it’s 1am, to ask what time breakfast is. Based on your booking, a virtual AI agent can respond that your booking doesn’t have breakfast attached. It would also notice you have a small child on your booking but have not requested a cot. It could book that cot and your breakfast, without anyone in the hotel having to stay up to answer that call.

For many organisations the speed at which these technologies are evolving makes knowing where to start and how to make this work feel a little daunting. They may lack the capital or buy-in to hire the skills needed to fully embrace these new technologies. For these companies, partnering with a specialist who removes the learning curve and speeds up the time to impact is very appealing. These ‘digital BPOs’ can effectively build and manage your virtual agent for you, ensuring your customers can immediately speak to a capable expert via the channel of their choice, at any time.

The time is now

A wait and see approach to generative AI and virtual agents may feel safer, but the speed at which things are moving may heighten the pain of the inevitable disruption. This technology is not going away. It is not a fad and its impact will be felt sooner than many expect. A wiser approach would be to view this as an exciting way to unlock new business value and to begin your adoption journey today.

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