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“Here we go,” you think before morosely tapping out the 1-800 number on your dial pad. You only have a ring’s worth of time to dread the IVR’s voice before you hear it through the phone, the same canned message as every other time, somehow slower with each repetition, and progressively more infuriating. And then finally, a pause, wherein you speak a single word into the void: “Billing.” Then, “I’m sorry,” it says, same as always, “I didn’t catch that.” You mash zero, say “human” and “person,” over and over, to no avail. Just as you feared, you’re stuck.

We’ve all been here. For one reason or another, we’ve had to brave the gauntlet of a poorly made IVR experience. In those moments, talking to a human agent was the light on the horizon, the key to resolving whichever obstacles stood in your path, if only you could reach one. I think many of us (especially those of us old enough to remember a time before smart phones) still carry that mindset: the dread of having to engage with a company solely on their terms. And even with the computer-in-your-hand convenience that smart devices bring, navigating the mobile web often proves just as frustrating as IVR interfaces when the company you need to contact fails to provide the self-service that 50% of customers expect.

Thankfully, the landscape of customer support and the technologies it encompasses have moved past the need for live agents or apps to be the sole points of contact and avenues for service. While both are crucial elements of a 21st century contact center, they aren’t enough to provide truly next-level customer service experiences on their own. For that, organizations need to build omnichannel customer support systems, which is easier than ever thanks to AI. Whether your customers belong to the 53% who would rather use online chat than call in or they are among those who still need to be convinced that AI-driven customer service is the future, presenting them with a fully functional AI system that creates great experiences will inspire loyalty and increase retention. So with that, we're answering the question, "should live agents be the customer's first point of contact?". No, here's why:


AI Should Be On The Front Lines

Ideally, an organization should employ a combination of digital agents and humans to build a multichannel platform that gives customers robust self-service options and helps them promptly when they need to reach beyond those options. The beauty of AI lies in its ability to work across channels, as bots aren’t applications in and of themselves. Using AI scripts, it’s not only possible but relatively simple (with the help of a developer) to integrate them into your organization’s existing infrastructure. For established companies, reinvigorating CX without completely overhauling physical and digital systems can be difficult, making sure all the pieces fit neatly together even more so. Fortunately, AI can rest above of all these layers, answering questions, collecting information, and passing data along to live agents when necessary. Digital agents can act as the front line of CX, fielding incoming calls and determining whether they can resolve a customer query or if a human touch is needed.

An Unexpected(ly Fantastic) Journey

While sending all customers to digital agents (at least initially) may bring to mind the aforementioned IVR headaches, machine learning and natural language processing make for superior experiences, superior not only to IVR, but, in some cases, to live agents. Here are just a few ways digital agents can deliver outstanding CX:

1. Nobody Puts Baby on Hold
While a human being can only exist in a single place at any given time, bots are, in many ways infinite which is what makes them so valuable. Digital agents can address as many service requests as necessary without placing customers on hold, which saves your organization up to 24% and gives customers and agents an average of 25+ hours of their time back each week

2. Anytime, Anywhere
Once a service is automated and digital agents are trained how to respond, AI can offer true 24/7 support, to any time zone, even on major holidays.

3. Quick As a Swipe
Once integrated with POS, digital agents can easily process payments, handle billing matters, and issue refunds as needed. It’s as simple as authenticating the user and charging (or crediting) their account.

4. Catch and Release
Another customer service snafu we all fear is having to explain a request multiple times as you’re transferred between agents, providing personal information to confirm your identity at every turn. By diligently collecting specified information and customer requests and then passing them on to live agents, AI systems can head these exhausting situations off at the pass, keeping all involved parties happy.

5. Have It Your Way
Perhaps most impressive is the unprecedented level of personalization AI can bring to your customer service experiences. Using some kind of identifying characteristic (e.g. a phone number for callers, browser history for chat customers, etc.), digital agents can greet new customers or recognize returning ones, making use of past interactions to predict their needs. Let's say a customer placed an order yesterday through your organization’s online shop. Or perhaps they called in last week with a billing question. Once the digital agent recognizes their identity it can respond accordingly, asking if they have questions about their recent order or another issue with their bill. While human agents deal with too many different people to remember each and every one clearly, AI has no such limitations.

6. Empower Your Customers
Through a clever balance of self-service options and well-trained digital agents, organizations can help their customers to engage with their brand in the manner of their choosing. The more agency a customer has and the more their interactions with your org can be on their terms, the better they’ll feel about continuing to use your platform. In providing customers with options, you remove friction points from their service experiences.

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There's A Better Way

A common misconception we hear is, "our customers would rather talk to live agents", and while that may be true in some cases, research actually shows that customers just want easy access to quick resolutions on their terms. Furthermore, this statement implies that businesses must sacrifice service quality in order to reduce customer and agent effort, which as we've discussed in this post, isn't true.

There's a fine line between what should be automated by AI and what should be handled by a live agent. I guarantee that every organization, in any size or industry, has a high volume of low-complexity interactions that require little to no human judgement, complex critical thinking, persuasion, or empathy. These are the interaction types that are ideal for automation. Deploying digital agents to reduce customer and agent effort doesn't mean they must be used to contain every single interaction. In fact, we recommend just the opposite. Instead, start by identifying the low-complexity, high volume interactions I mentioned previously, that have repetitive processes and don't require assistance from a live agent. Those are the resolutions that should be automated by Digital Agents. If the customer's request falls outside the realm of Digital Agent resolution, they quickly escalate the customer to a live agent along with all the captured information and the reason for the call. 

For organizations who want to keep abreast of contact center trends and best practices, the ability to handle omnichannel interactions system powered by both AI and live agents is non-negotiable. According to a recent industry assessment by GetVoIP, “70% of customers crave a seamless process when reaching out to a brand on any of their customer service channels,” while 86% expect to be able to choose between channels for all communication, a significant majority on both counts. With 66% of those same respondents saying they use three or more different channels to interact with brands on average, the need for smart omnichannel systems is obvious. By training your digital agents to act as a sort of triage—helping customers with what they can and directing them to humans as needed—will lead to new heights of customer experience, heights that can only be reached using humans and machines in concert. After all, it’s right there in our name.



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