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What AI Will Really Do for the Contact Center


AI illustration
Image: AndSus -
AI’s impact on enterprise communications and collaboration is being felt first in the contact center. That’s not surprising; contact centers are generally where cutting-edge technology makes (or fails to make) its business case. But the picture is just beginning to come into focus when it comes to which contact center functions AI will impact the most.
I had a chance to moderate a conversation on this topic this week, when contact center analyst/guru Sheila McGee-Smith of McGee-Smith Analytics led an Enterprise Connect webinar featuring Noam Fine, senior director, applications engineering, and Jonathan Kershaw, director, product management, both at Vonage. Here are a few somewhat random observations that helped me get a better picture of what AI can do for contact centers in the near term:
Make contact centers more human — The conversation came back to this insight several times. Sheila remarked that, a year ago, many people thought AI would make customer service more impersonal, as chatbots started to shoulder more interactions. Instead, AI now shows the promise of making service more personal, by presenting agents with better, more detailed information about the customer that improves the interaction.
Sheila further drew upon her career in the contact center industry to observe that we’ve been predicting technology’s replacement of human agents for 30 years. First it was going to be email, then Web chat, then social media, and most recently, bots. Instead, we’ve seen these technologies incorporated into contact center processes, without significantly supplanting human agents.
Before agents get to see bots in action, they tend to believe these applications are likely to replace them, Noam said. However, once they observe bots and see their limitations, agents overwhelmingly tend to say that they don’t expect to be replaced, he added.
Help deal with unpredictability — In many contexts, not just contact centers, AI holds tremendous promise by automating routine tasks and optimizing processes based on predictable behaviors and actions. However, Sheila pointed out that, especially in the contact center, AI can help an enterprise deal with unpredictable events as well: A website outage or other unforeseen circumstance may generate a spike in call volume, and if an AI-driven tool is analyzing calls, it can pick up on common words or phrases that alert leadership to the problem sooner than if the discovery is left to chance.
Improve the agent experience — Contact centers are beginning to use AI-driven software to improve their gamification systems for agents, Sheila said. This may seem secondary compared to some of the more directly business-impacting roles for AI, but gamification has become more important in this era of remote agents, when it’s harder to use the kinds of incentives that work in a physical contact center to keep agents motivated, she noted.
The discussion provided a great picture of how AI is affecting contact centers today. If you want more on this issue, I encourage you to register for Enterprise Connect’s March 9-10 virtual event, Communications & Collaboration: 2024. The program will feature a session led by Robin Gareiss of Metrigy on “AI for Customer Experience: Plotting Your Roadmap.” And Sheila will be on the program as well, with a (non-AI) topic that’s tailored for the event’s focus on three-year strategic planning: “Contact Center 2024: The Assimilation of Sales, Service and Marketing.”
As the event’s title suggests, our aim for this two-day program is to help enterprise decision-makers look just far enough into the future to see where today’s tech trends will be in three years — hence “2024.” In addition to our contact center sessions, the program covers all major technology streams, from video to collaboration, cloud communications, and more. Plus, we’ll have enterprise end users on the program to tell how they’re viewing the next three years. I hope you can join us — go here to register.