The future of call centers and customer service is being shaped by AI

By | 6 minute read | October 20, 2017

 Key Points:

  • Customers today expect seamless interactions with brands whenever, wherever and however they want.
  • Given a choice, 70% of customers today prefer messaging over voice for customer support
  • LivePerson and Watson have teamed together to create LiveEngage, the first out-of-the-box integration of Watson-powered chatbots with human agents
  • The AI-powered conversational agents can address up to 80% of commonly asked Tier 1 support questions, and escalate issues to a human agent if necessary.

Everyone has interactions with customer service for a range of products and related issues, and it’s rare that consumers come away from that experience delighted, or even just satisfied.  It’s just something that everyone has to do, even though nobody actually enjoys it. The human agents that are answering your calls and the businesses that spend millions of dollars on customer service feel the same way! It’s unpleasant, expensive, sub-optimal, but necessary.

This call center industry is based on a foundation of dislike. In fact, over $1 trillion is spent on 265 billion customer service calls each year. That’s a lot of money dedicated to sub-par experiences.

So, what should the optimal customer support experience be? I believe the entire ecosystem (consumers, employees and businesses) can be optimized toward providing better and faster service.

Let’s talk about those hold times and IVRs

First, the dreaded phone call. There is no reason that I should have to make a call to a business if I don’t want to. I text everyone I know. I rarely call them anymore, as most day-to-day conversations are easier over text.

Texting is a constant and easy method of communication that we use throughout our days and weeks, whenever we have a free moment or even when we’re multi-tasking. We are all busy, all the time, probably too busy. Dedicating 30 minutes to call a business, interacting with an ineffective and frustrating IVR or waiting on hold for long periods of time, and then engaging in a high-stress conversation with someone that knows almost nothing about you is a horrible experience.

In fact, 52% of customers hung up on a customer service call because they did not want to wait for an agent to have a conversation that may or may not help them.

On the flip side, it’s just as frustrating for the live agents that are put in these high-stress environments talking to irate customers every day. The combination of multiple calls from customers with the same repetitive questions and angry complaints coming at them all day long is why the attrition rate is so high in call centers. Turnover among contact center agents today can be around 40% a year. It can be less than 10% if we make the work more interesting and pleasant. It’s a tough job, but with new technology like AI, their experience can be vastly improved too.

Given a choice, customers prefer messaging over voice

Customers want to reach out to organizations in the most natural way that they have conversations, which is messaging. The future of customer care is about convenience, and messaging is one of the easiest forms of interaction. In fact, if given a choice, 70% of today’s consumers prefer messaging to voice calls for customer support.

Messaging can be done on the customers’ own time. It keeps a record of their conversations, and it allows them to be thoughtful in what they’re saying. The agent on the other side will do the same. They will be thoughtful, they will do more research and, in general, it will be a better conversation with improved outcomes.

Imagine an AI-powered conversational agent or chat bot that can answer up to 80% of the simpler, routinely asked questions, freeing up human agents and allowing them to answer the more complex queries. Brands are already doing this today, giving agents the time to answer customer questions thoughtfully, improving outcomes for everyone. This will also decrease the total number of queries that agents deal with daily, eliminating some of that additional stress. Agents will be able to challenge themselves, and focus on solving more challenging customer issues and worrying less about how long it takes to deal with each customer.

Chatbots can help reduce customer service costs by up to 40%

Finally, let’s look at this on the business level, the dollars and cents. This old way of doing customer service is expensive, and a drag on the business. While we know it helps to keep customers more than if you simply ignored them (which is a pretty low bar), it can also drive them away. As a frustrating experience, its value is not very clear.

As customer service becomes more self-service and messaging-driven, brands must deliver solutions that make the most of AI capabilities, while still empowering agents to perform at their best.

Even though exceptional customer service is difficult to achieve, the future of customer service is now within the realm of possibility. In fact, companies today are easily implementing solutions into their business to better the experience for the consumer, brand and employees, one that is more efficient and cost-effective. There is a potential for brands to save millions annually by reducing average call handling times.

There are two keys to creating the best customer service possible: First, use messaging instead of phone calls, IVRs or endless hold music. Second, use chatbots and AI within that messaging conversation to handle the simpler questions. The teams at IBM and LivePerson are experts in transforming customer care to this future.

LivePerson + Watson = LiveEngage

LivePerson seamlessly integrated Watson’s AI and conversational technology with their human agents to create LiveEngage, a customer care platform that gets smarter with every interaction. The conversational agents or chatbots can address up to 80% of commonly asked Tier 1 support questions, but can also seamlessly escalate issues to a human agent if necessary.

Companies are transforming customer service and resolving queries faster and more cost-effectively than ever before. This new approach integrates AI, bots, messaging and human agents into one intelligent platform.

For the first time in history brands are offering 100% access to people, 100% of the time. And that, as a premise, kind of changes the way that brands and consumers will interact with each other.

LiveEngage, with Watson, is the first global, enterprise-scale, out-of-the-box integration of Watson-powered chatbots with human agents. This solution allows brands to easily and quickly deploy conversational chatbots, and let consumers message those brands from their smartphone- via the brand’s app, SMS, Facebook Messenger, or the company’s mobile site, instead of having to call a mobile number.

LiveEngage with Watson helps meet the growing demands of customers, allowing consumers to message large brands from their smartphones and instantly get answers from AI-powered bots, with human care representatives brought in seamlessly in real-time, if a bot is not able to answer an issue satisfactorily.

In our system, Watson is like an agent itself. Watson sits alongside human agents. If Watson can’t answer something, the system passes is seamlessly to a human agent.

LiveEngage allows consumers to avoid dialing an 800 number altogether, waiting on hold, talking to an agent, or being passed to multiple agents over multiple phone calls. If you are looking to transform your customer experience, and are willing to invest in conversational solutions, it will have wide ranging benefits for your business, your consumers and also your career.

LiveEngage is helping companies cut costs for brands, increase the amount of conversations coming in, and is allowing agents to up-level their jobs. In some cases, 80% of conversations are being resolved by conversational agents with LiveEngage. Brands can achieve that today by implementing conversational solutions into their call center.

What’s really exciting about the Watson and LiveEngage partnership is that it seamlessly brings the best of the AI world and the human world into a single system.

We know how to do this, but need you, your business and your industry to stand up and make a better future happen.  Are you satisfied with customer care as it is today or are you the person that will push your business to change for the better?

Explore how your call center can use AI and chatbots to improve resolution times, reduce costs and delight customers.