Tony Lorentzen, GM & SVP, Intelligent Engagement, Nuance Enterprise, assesses the impact of the new rules of digital customer engagement.
Over the last few years, the shift toward digital channels has accelerated. Just look at the explosion of messaging apps and the proliferation of smart speakers and other connected home devices. We’re all spending more time on more digital channels, and we’re doing it on a bigger range of devices.
It’s not just time we spend on digital; the most recent figures from the United Nations put global digital commerce spend at $29 trillion.1 And that was back in 2017.
Of course, where there’s more money, there’s more competition for wallet share—and there are greater customer expectations. Customers are less patient, they’re less loyal to brands, and they expect more personalized interactions that demonstrate an understanding of who they are and what they need.
In response, the smartest brands are developing a mature approach to AI adoption, realizing that breakthrough tech can help them understand their customers in context, automate routine inquiries and transactions, and personalize experiences in meaningful ways.
In the past, we’ve used AI technologies to help drive self-service, automating simple transactions and FAQs to get customers off expensive channels and onto cheaper ones. But more recently, conversational AI has proved beneficial in other ways:
It’s a vital shift in emphasis for customer engagement leaders, as they begin to place the same focus on revenue generation that they previously placed on cost savings. (Though obviously, reducing the cost to serve is still an important goal.)
As conversational AI adoption matures even further, I expect to see the level of customer engagement in digital channels increase. AI models will learn over time to become more in tune with customers, connecting historical and real-time data to make accurate predictions and identify the fastest route to resolution.
Plus, building and optimizing conversational self-service applications will become faster and easier, with AI tools like our own Pathfinder making it simpler to create complex dialog models. As digital channels become more and more conversational and more capable of delivering effective resolutions, customers will be more likely to select self-service interactions. But that doesn’t mean that agents will be left out of the picture—far from it.
In this new world of AI-powered automation and conversational self-service, the role of agents will be elevated rather than eliminated.
With more repetitive, everyday tasks automated in digital channels, agents will spend their time dealing with more complex issues. In fact, they won’t really be “agents” at all anymore—they’ll become “advisors”, providing advice and guidance that customers trust to help them solve complicated problems.
With fewer simple, scripted conversations, agents will need more effective training and the power to make their own decisions. They’ll also need to be assessed on new types of performance metrics that account for task complexity and the value of the outcomes. And they’ll need instant access to relevant, contextual information.
Luckily, new AI tools (like our own Agent Coach) can help provide all of these things too, helping contact center leaders create teams of super-agents while reducing the time and cost of onboarding and training.
The fusion of AI and agents across digital and legacy channels will have a profound impact on the structure and culture of contact centers.
Customer engagement leaders will have important questions to answer about how they structure contact centers to enable AI and agents to work together to handle interactions through all these different channels.
To be effective in their evolving role, agents will require new skillsets, as they become AI trainers, complex case handlers, voice and digital multitaskers, and even video stars. (Video is set to be the next big thing, as video communications a viable option for customer engagement.) And all these developments must be based around a clear view of customer interaction data from across previously siloed channels. Success will also require complete alignment between channel owners on the goals and priorities for optimizing the customer journey.
For some, it will be a difficult culture shift. But for those that can get it right—and I’m proud to count our customers in that category—the rewards in brand differentiation, customer advocacy, cost savings, and revenue generation could be enormous.