Implement AI with Caution

AI: we hear those two letters everywhere. Every conference I attend, every panel discussion I hear, webinar I listen to, is focused on AI and how it is the answer to solve every problem. Futurists even state that AI is bigger than the Internet and its influence is massive.

It is easy for contact center executives to get distracted and focus most of their efforts on a quick AI implementation instead of integrating AI carefully. The contact center's role is an extension of the brand, to keep customers and build on brand loyalty that has already been created.>

AI can help the contact center better understand customers' habits, tailor messaging, predict why the customer is calling, and reduce customer effort, but it does nothing to create an emotional bond between the representative and the customer or build a true personal connection. Contact center executives must maximize the benefits of AI, but not miss the basics. Customers expect a superior experience, and that has to include a human-to-human component. AI should be coupled with the following seven pillars of sound contact center management to fulfill the responsibility to the customer and the company.

  1. Value the Customers' Time: Contact centers that don't provide estimated wait times and an option for a call back are communicating to customers that their time is not valuable. Many customers who contact your company have already tried to self-serve;they expect the company to respect and value their time and effort.
  2. Deliver Hope: Why do customers take time to contact a company with a complaint or question? Customers hope that representatives can solve their issues or answer their questions. Telling the customer, "I can help you" delivers that hope. There is one opportunity to make a good first impression, and delivering hope is a good way to start the conversation.
  3. Tailor Messaging: For customers who are contacting your department for the first time, have a check-list of items at hand to welcome them, provide them with additional useful information, and let them know how to maximize the benefits and features of your product offering. Customers who are long-term and loyal should be thanked for their business and made to feel special.
  4. Empower Associates: Representatives must be empowered to resolve almost all customer issues without being required to speak to management first. Give associates a monthly budget to make customers happy. Let them use their listening and problem-solving tools to make on-the-spot decisions. On-the-spot resolution reduces customer frustrations. Forcing customers to move up the management chain or call back to get a problem resolved is a catalyst to check out the competition.
  5. Eliminate No: The word "no" is synonymous with goodbye. Loyal customers become lost customers when representatives tell them, "We can't," "It's not our policy," or "It's not possible." Contact centers need to train their associates to think before they tell a customer "no."
  6. Develop One-to-One Relationships: The strongest bond is between two people. Everyone is talking about the importance of creating an emotional bond as a way to build a long-term relationship. If your organization cannot assign specific representatives to serve individual customers, reorganize the center into small teams or groups where team members can work together to serve a number of customers who might fall into similar classifications: geographic location, customer longevity, product mix, reason for contact, etc.
  7. Demonstrate Department ROI: C-suite executives don't want to see more numbers or statistics that don't mean anything. ;A picture is worth 1,000 words. Even a small number of meaningful testimonials from customers on how associates or representatives positively impacted their lives creates a picture worth touting.

When the Internet arrived, the biggest challenge for contact centers was how email contacts could be handled. It required associates to have different skill sets; associates could not just communicate well over the phone, they now needed skills for the written word too. Management needed to change how they hired, trained and coached.

When social media was introduced, companies tried to outsource responding to consumers to outside advertising and public relations companies. Those outsourcers did not have the product knowledge or understand company culture to serve loyal customers. Contact center management let c-suite executives know that customer contact, regardless of the channel, had to be handled in house by those with experience.

Now, enter AI. AI can definitely help improve the customer experience. But, it can also divert attention away from contact centers focusing on the basics described above. The contact center speaks to more customers than any other department in the company. Trust your gut! Use common sense. Seize the moment. AI can help you enhance the customer experience, but it will never be able to create an emotional bond. Implement AI with care. AI is great when it's combined with the human spirit, body, and soul.

Richard Shapiro is founder and president of the Center for Client Retention.

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