Customer experience is everything to a brand and trumps product and price, with 89 per cent of companies competing on customer experience (according to Gartner). Buying behaviour has changed drastically, with buyers armed with more information up-front, comparing products and offers online. Aligned with technology advances, this shift in focus has forced companies to develop strategies to improve the customer experience by digitally transforming and automating their core service processes.
The AI explosion
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for years but is evolving rapidly and is predicted to explode. Gartner estimates that by 2022, 30 per cent of customer service experiences will be handled by ‘conversational agents’.
Up against it
Some see the rise of AI as a threat that could cause jobs in contact centres and other areas to decrease or even cease to exist altogether. However, AI answers the need for new business solutions by augmenting them with human intelligence, not by replacing it.
A Forrester survey found that 64 per cent of the survey respondents said their greatest obstacle is creating a single view of customer data when trying to improve their CRM capabilities. And more than half acknowledged that they struggle with creating customer insights to drive decision-making. These issues could stem from fragmented technology systems that prevent organisations from consolidating data and the skills to analyse and set strategies to drive the business forward.
Leading with AI
AI includes chat-bots and virtual digital assistants that disrupt markets and deliver new opportunities to transform customer service, innovate business processes, and produce new revenue streams and increase existing ones.
Sectors such as retail and travel have begun to embrace AI technology and reap the benefits. For example, we provide a conversational AI solution called Ami that has already helped companies such as Cruise 1st to boost profits by 47 per cent. A self-learning digital assistant, Ami reads the Cruise 1st website in real time and independently decides how to use the knowledge to respond to enquiries and achieve predefined business goals. These goals can include generating sales leads or providing customer support by interacting with website visitors.
The company found that their sales agents were dealing with general information-seeking enquiries when they needed to be focused on sales calls. Now, Ami handles the customer research that previously would have blocked the telephone lines. ‘She’ is delivering revenue to the business and the call-centre conversion rate has increased from 20 per cent to 22 per cent.
AI in housing
Housing providers’ customer service teams deal with numerous requests every day, ranging from general enquiries to urgent and complex tenant issues. Their websites are densely populated with information to give tenants a first port of call and, alongside customer portals, intended to provide fast answers without the involvement of an agent. Web forms, meanwhile, are popular to structure enquiries and route these through to the right teams within the organisation. Yet this process can be laborious and frustrating for the tenant, and convoluted for the agent because they are dealing with several different communication channels. Here, AI assistants and digital agents can be the bridge between the impersonal digital platform and human customer service advisors by handling standard enquiries in real time within the browsing session, speed up the tenant’s information research, issue resolution and the customer identification process for the contact centre.
It’s about strategy
Before you deploy AI, it’s advisable to have a comprehensive CRM and multimedia contact centre strategy as part of your overall digital transformation process. It must be recognised that you can’t just deploy technology without a strategy and this is where you will benefit from the expertise of a solution provider.
Integration is key
Tenants want to be able to contact their housing provider using the communications channel of their choice and the customer journey needs to be seamless at every touchpoint. A solution provider will assess what on-premise or cloud solution you already have, then identify where and how a virtual assistant could be integrated into your existing front- and back-office systems.
The solution provider will ascertain what objectives you want your digital assistant to achieve, whether it’s to generate a sales lead or answer and process a customer service enquiry, and then fine-tune how the digital assistant interacts with the contact centre and your wider organisation, as well as the look and feel, conversational tone and content.
By parsing the content on your website as well as learning from real customer conversations in order to recognise your tenants’ needs during similar interactions in the future, a digital assistant can then become your first point of contact for many website users. They can produce answers to any questions, resolve housing-related issues by completing web forms during conversations, then proceed to transfer customers to the relevant customer service agents and departments where necessary.
A single view
When a customer service agent deals with a tenant’s enquiry, they are often faced with several screens; this is cumbersome and difficult to manage. A solution provider will integrate a digital assistant within the contact centre so that tenants and agents are presented with a single user interface where all interactions can be completed on a single screen. This helps to make the customer’s journey seamless and makes the agent’s job easier.
Agents can also view the screen of the digital assistant so they have visibility of all chats and can access both real-time and historical interactions. For example, contact centre managers can use this information to analyse how many tenants have logged complaints, call about specific repairs or rent payments.
Augmenting the agent’s role
AI helps contact centre agents to get rid of their mundane, everyday tasks. These could include anything from call routing to answering basic questions that an auto attendant or web real time application could deal with. The more advanced technology in the call centre, the more contact centre agents’ roles will be refocused on soft skills to deliver empathetic, personal service and advice.
A digital assistant can also reduce the workload for the customer service team, enabling them to deal with more complex enquiries and ensure that human agents are involved exactly where and when they are most needed.
AI – the opportunity
Artificial intelligence is the opportunity that busy customer services teams in housing have been waiting for. If you get it right from the start and work with a solution provider experienced in real-time applications, contact centre technology and systems integration then you can achieve increased revenues, improved communications and better customer service.
Jonathan Sharp is a director of Britannic Technologies.