5 things you need to know when using chatbots in your contact centre

by Derick Lafleur
30 March 2017
5 Things You Need To Know When Using Chatbots
Artificial intelligence in the form of a chatbot is one way to divert customer queries from your call centre. Salmat’s Business Consultant Derick Lafleur explores how the technology has developed and what impact it will have on your contact centres.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a favourite topic of science fiction adventures for several decades.  In the make believe world of Hollywood, AI is usually linked to a comment on our humanity or machines turning against humanity, such as The Terminator or 2001: A Space Odyssey

In the real world, the field of AI research has been around since the 1950s. In these early days, very basic functions such as computers playing and winning at checkers was deemed AI. Since then, the definition of AI has evolved along with the ongoing expansion of computer functionality.  

Today, AI is primarily applied to machines that mimic the cognitive abilities of the human brain, such as problem solving and learning.  Microsoft’s chatbot Tay is a very recent example of a machine that can learn. Microsoft unleashed Tay on the world, the latest and greatest mix of AI and machine learning. Users globally were able to interact with Tay via Twitter and messaging apps like Kik and Group Me. Unfortunately, within 24 hours Microsoft’s project was hijacked by a number of users who used disturbing content during their interactions with Tay. Although Microsoft had no choice but to shut down Tay, this short lived experiment was still deemed a success in that a machine was able to learn, albeit a very unpleasant learning.  

The integration of AI into our daily lives will continue as this technology evolves through its maturity curve, with Apple’s Siri as one of the most well known AI applications used by many on a daily basis. Although there are many more examples of AI, the world is about to experience an explosion of AI applications courtesy of Facebook. 

In April 2016, Facebook announced that third parties can use their Messenger application to create their own chatbots (short form for chatter robots – a chatbot is a computer program that uses AI to simulate conversation with humans), enabling organisations to automate online conversations with their customers. Facebook Messenger’s 1 Billion plus users will bring AI and chatbots into the mainstream in a big hurry.  So if you haven’t already had a conversation with a computer, you soon will.

So, how will this new frontier affect the future of contact centres?  Will chatbots fully replace the need for human powered contact centres? 

Short answer is no, not yet at least. 

Chatbots will not only reduce the volume of transactions for contact centres, but they will also eliminate most of the simpler transaction types. Similar to the effects from other technologies such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and smartphone/tablet apps, contact centres will experience a surge in higher complexity contacts as a percentage of their overall contacts. As chatbot technology continues to learn and evolve, the most complicated and difficult transaction types will be left for human powered contact centres to manage.  

Here are the top five implications that contact centre leaders must consider as chatbots take hold over the next few years and beyond:

1. Some metrics may behave in undesirable ways

Contact centres are typically awash in a sea of metrics and stats. In addition to understanding what has happened, various metrics are used to forecast and predict future demand, performance and capacity. As contact centre leaders prepare their long-term strategies, they should consider some of the following:

Average Handle Time (AHT)

This is a fairly obvious one in that as the volume of simpler contact types (which typically carry a lower AHT) reduce over time, the overall AHT for the centre will increase. 

First Contact Resolution (FCR)

An ongoing increase of difficult and challenging contact types may lead to an increase in the number of activities an agent must perform to resolve an inquiry, such as the need to gather more information and/or liaise with colleagues.  The net result is potentially a steadily declining FCR over time.  A way to mitigate this risk is to empower the agent with advanced tools and support (see point #3).  

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

NPS scores are typically only sent to customers that have engaged with a contact centre. The danger of this approach is that the results are only representative of a proportion of your customers. As chatbots remove most of the simpler contact queries from contact centres, NPS results from these customers will most likely only represent a sample of your customer base that has a highly complex inquiry or an escalated complaint. While this information is valuable, it is also worth considering how to capture survey results from customers that interact with your other channels, such as your knowledge hub or virtual agent tool to get a true view of your NPS.

2. Contact centre agents will be the ideal teachers for chatbots

Similar to the current experience with IVRs, customer-chatbot engagements that are unable to progress will be sent to an agent to review.

The agent will determine whether they:

  • (a) can assist the chatbox with interpreting the context of the customer’s inquiry and “nudge” it with the correct response so that the automated engagement continues, or;
  • (b) must take over the engagement with the customer.

Contact centre leaders should empower the agents to contribute their front-line experience and intelligence in future refinements or “tuning” of the chatbot applications.   

3. Agents Will Need Advanced Tools/Technologies and Organisational Support

Contact centre agents will need to be empowered with advanced tools/technologies and organisational support to help them successfully manage and navigate a steadily increasing percentage of highly complex customer engagements. 

The tools/technologies that leaders must consider are:

  • knowledge databases (quickly find required information)
  • workflow and scripting (guide an agent through important/critical steps)
  • an omni-channel platform (agent can engage with customers in their channel of choice) and;
  • a single view of customer (provide the agent with a holistic view of the customer).

In addition to the aforementioned tools and technologies, agents will also at times require assistance from individuals throughout the organisation. 

Contact centre leaders need to engage with other parts of the organisation to:

  • (a) educate them on the integral part they play in supporting agents and the customer experience, and;
  • (b) negotiate and agree on a support matrix including clearly defined response times and escalation points.

4. Agent skills requirement will increase significantly

A steady increase in the percentage of highly complex contact types will lead to more unusual and unique scenarios. Agents will need to be more adept at determining the best course of action to resolving each inquiry, placing greater emphasis on the critical skills of empathy, problem solving, and resilience. Contact centre leaders must, therefore, consider an increasing agent skill requirement in their future recruitment, retention and agent remuneration strategies.

Also of consideration must be the operating hours for agent coverage. Chatbots will further increase customer expectations around resolving their inquiries on their time scale, especially for those situations where a chatbox is unable to progress a conversation beyond a certain point. However, around the clock (24x7) agent coverage comes at a cost. Organisations can explore various ways to offset this cost through offshore support for the more expensive overnight, weekend and public holiday time periods.  

5. Agents will need mental and stress support

Agents will have to navigate complex, challenging and sometimes emotionally charged contacts, one after another. Over time, this will take a toll on an agent’s stress levels and mental state. 

Contact centre leaders must consider and deploy a comprehensive support program which includes, but is not limited to, access to a third party organisation that specializes in dealing with stress and mental health, shorter shifts and/or a part-time strategy, and rotate agents through other roles in the organisation to give them a break.  

What next?

Chatbots is the next generation of technology impacting the contact centre, following in the footsteps of touchtone IVR, speech enabled IVR, the internet, smartphone apps, and many others. 

As was the case with these technologies, chatbots won’t eliminate the need for human-to-human interactions. Our industry isn’t going the way of the dodo just yet. However, it is incumbent on market leaders such as Salmat to understand and prepare for the future impacts to contact centres.  

Make sure you work with a provider that has a rich library of scripts, call data analytics, and call recordings of outstanding client outcomes that can be used in developing your chatbot application and ensure the humanity and the best of past interactions is imbued into your chatbot persona. Find a provider that has the skills and resources to “teach” and “tune” your chatbot driving ongoing improvements in your customer experience.  

In addition to supporting your chatbot persona, find a provider that offers deep expertise and capabilities across the entire range of core contact centre fundamentals. These skills will help you future proof your contact centre operation against the top five impacts identified within this paper.

Interested in finding out more about our virtual agent services? Click here or call us on 1300 725 628.

About the author
Derick Lafleur
Business Consultant – Salmat

Derick Lafleur has 20 plus years of experience in the contact centre industry across Australia and Canada. Starting as an outbound collections agent, Derick's career has progressed through various leadership roles in workforce planning, reporting and analytics, solution design, client relationship management, and commercial and contractual negotiations. As a Business Consultant within Salmat's Group Solutions Team, Derick is focused on assisting organizations in driving improvements in contact centre efficiencies and the customer experience.

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