ICMI Speakers Advocate for Better Connections, Better Employee Tools to Boost Contact Center Performance

CHICAGO -- Advanced tools, such as artificial intelligence used to augment agents' capabilities, result in better contact center performance, improving experiences for both customers and agents, speakers said at the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) Contact Center Connections 2019 conference Tuesday.

By removing the mundane, time-consuming tasks, artificial intelligence gives contact center agents more time to interact with customers, said Clement Tussiot, senior director of product management for Salesforce Service Cloud. "We didn't build AI just for the purpose of having AI."

The goal behind AI, Tussiot explained, is to enable contact center agents to keep their time free for the emotional, more involved problem-solving communications with customers—communications that are beyond the ability of artificial intelligence to handle.

"AI is essential to scale the contact center operation," Tussiot said, adding that each contact center should develop its own hierarchy of which calls should go to AI and which should go to an agent. AI can also help in that decision-making process.

Even with the advances in artificial intelligence and other technologies, contact center work is growing in volume and complexity, said Brad Cleveland, ICMI senior advisor.

"Customer relationships are becoming more complex than ever," Cleveland said. But to improve customer relationships, relationships with employees need to be a focus of contact center operators, he added.

To build the best customer experiences, a modern user interface (UI) is also essential, said Danielle Maravelas, experience designer/product owner at Logistic Health, pointing to her company's success since upgrading its UI. Its older system wasn't user-friendly and was painfully slow.

"We looked at what was desirable and achievable from a business perspective," she said. "Always when you go into a design, make sure that you have a goal in place."

Marvelas' team wanted to improve the user interface enough to cut call handling times by at least 10 percent, which would solve multiple issues. The legacy user interface was so cumbersome that about 25 percent of new hires left before even completing the eight-week training course. And the current call handling time of 90 seconds was unacceptable.

By involving users, trainers, and managers in the new user interface design, in 18 months the company was able to develop a much more user-friendly UI. Since it is simpler to use, training time has been cut to three weeks, average call handling time has been reduced to 30 seconds, and only 6 percent of new hires leave before training is completed. Additionally total employee attrition has been cut to 8 percent.

Though she didn't have specific metrics, customer experience has improved as well, Mavelas said, "If our employees are happy, our customers are happy," she said.

Contact centers are also attempting to be more efficient today with chatbots, said Kaye Chapman, learning and development manager at Comm100.

But whether for use by customers or agents, chatbots need up-to-date information to be the most effective, so developing up-to-date knowledge bases needs to be the first step in chatbot development, according to Chapman.

Some companies find the most effective chatbots are designed to handle specific tasks, such as scheduling appointments, Chapman said.

They can reduce costs just by shaving off a few seconds that agents need to complete their tasks, Chapman said.

She also urged companies to develop chatbots to handle simple tasks so that human agents can focus on upselling, handling complaints, and handling contacts that require empathy—all of which are beyond the capabilities of today's chatbots.