When it comes to artificial intelligence, one of the most common questions in the mind of retail customer experience leaders is, “what will happen to humans when AI takes over?” “Will AI eliminate humans in the contact center?” On one side of projections, analysts cite a dismal future for the role of live agents in retail, with estimates of redundancy within the decade. These sensationalists, as I’ll call them, are more interested in evoking shock than they are in preparing customer experience leaders for the future. The logical future, however, is that AI will actually lead live agents to adopt a more complicated, sophisticated and important role than we’ve seen yet.
Humans aren’t going away and, in fact, both they and the contact center will play an even more strategic role in customer service success as AI increases in popularity and use.
For this to happen, however, artificial intelligence should be deployed as an augmentation of existing service channels and not as a channel of its own. One way of thinking about it is that AI can be a more intuitive, proactive and predictive form of self-service with a built-in awareness of when it’s best for a customer to connect with a live agent.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that “the best type of contact is the one that never happens.” If that’s true, then the second-best kind of contact is the one that resolves itself. Put in other terms, the foundation for winning on the customer experience battleground includes proactively identifying and preventing issues and equipping customers with everything they’d need to quickly help themselves. This is why artificial intelligence is so exciting to contact center leaders in industries like retail—it presents a viable option for achieving these ideal customer outcomes. And, when AI isn’t appropriate, like for those complex customer cases, live agents can step in and thrive with their ability to apply intuition, emotion and thoughts above the algorithm.
Additionally, if contact centers want to deliver great service to the growing number of digital natives who are now retail consumers, they must find a way to provide an experience that meets customers wherever they may be. This means that companies will continue to implement more digital service channels, like video, SMS, etc. and will need a plan for driving both efficient and effective service models. As this happens, they should continue to motivate and engage their agents in solving complex problems while simple mundane requests are automated by AI-powered self-service.
Achieving this type of retail experience presents many opportunities to adopt, evolve, and improve the use of AI in the contact center. For many, it’s a shift in the strategy utilized for integrating technology and designing the customer experience. Instead of making impulsive decisions based on hype and panic, retail customer experience leaders should use an intentional and thoughtful approach to embedding artificial intelligence. And, when done appropriately, AI won’t be deployed as a standalone channel that further complicates and segments the customer’s journey. Instead, it will augment and elevate the customer experience in pre-existing channels.
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