How To Plan Your Internal AI Strategy
It’s exciting to consider the many ways AI can help your support centre, but it’s important to plan your strategy first. Here’s how.
What you’ll learn from this article
- Before you even consider AI, you need to study and improve your processes, your data, and get your team on board.
- Mapping your agent journey is crucial for identifying and eliminating potential challenges or bottlenecks your agents may face.
- 84 percent of customers say it’s crucial they’re treated like a person, not a number -- which is why the human touch is key when implementing AI.
- The most important internal AI use cases are lowering costs and improving efficiency.
Despite being 10 floors above the bustling city streets, the customer support centre hums with action.
Among the eight panel-separated rows, busy support agents talk into their headsets at varying volumes, while supervisors lean over their shoulders passing on instructions. Jackets hang from the back of agents’ plush computer chairs -- one of the few luxuries that make the long days tolerable. Desks are cluttered with half-drunk coffee mugs, stress balls, and Rubix cubes.
In the far corner sits a monolithic copy/fax machine that the agents make use of more often than the outdated technology would suggest.
One operator checks and replies to WhatsApp messages -- a newly-introduced support channel -- and records any important information in the CRM. Because of the company’s policy (all calls are recorded), support agents are prohibited from taking client calls through the platform, and as such, customers often complain about having to wait for a response to their message. It takes time, of course, for another operator to be informed (and for them to find the time) to return the customer's call. Add on to this that there’s no way to keep track of who’s replying, so when a client complains, the contact centre's management team has no one to hold responsible for it.
Sound familiar? Similarly chaotic scenes are taking place in contact centres around the world as we speak.
Luckily, this type of contact centre will soon be a thing of the past. These days, AI offers organisation and automation support that elevates contact centres to the next level. But before implementing AI, it's important that you understand how to plan your strategy for it.
Employee vs. Customer Experience
When planning your contact centre AI strategy, it’s important to understand that you have two different experiences to consider: the employee experience, and the customer experience.
We’ll be focusing on internal processes and AI strategies for the employee experience in this first article of our upcoming series. Stay tuned for the following article, which will focus on AI strategies that improve the customer experience. For the final piece, we’ll look at how to create a business case for both internal and external AI in your contact centre.
Types of AI that will power tomorrow’s contact centres
Take a tour of the modern contact centre -- where processes are automated, an intelligent chatbot sits on the frontline to respond to the most common customer queries, raw data is automatically digitised and organised, and customer surveys are interpreted, categorised and analysed by machines for useful insights.
Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. Let me show you what AI is capable of doing for your agents today.
AI that improves the employee experience
- Get a big-picture view of customer behaviour
Today’s AI can structure and analyse customer conversations, so that agents and managers can get a big-picture view of what customers are asking in real time.
- Provide the best answers faster
Your agents spend too much time searching for the right answer -- next-generation chatbots can be programmed to suggest the best responses for them in real time.
- Keep the communication flow
Modern chatbots offer seamless customer support across all channels, and automatically record any information gleaned directly into your CRM.
- Reduce agent busywork by pre-filling the CRM
It’s now possible for chatbots to take on the tedious task of detecting key fields from customer conversations and pre-filling your CRM.
- Eliminate tedious repetition by having customers help themselves
Today’s younger generation love to help themselves. Build up your knowledge base and make it available for customer self-service, as well as for your chatbot to select answers from when responding to common customer queries.
Planning your internal AI strategy
Before you do anything, it’s important to understand that AI won’t solve all your problems. In fact, if you don’t plan and take certain actions before implementing AI, it can actually create more problems than it solves.
Before you do anything
Effective AI requires you to be hyper organised. What does this mean? It means that you need to step back and take a look at all the elements in your organisation that could affect your AI. These include:
- Your processes: Take a look at the various jobs your agents execute on a regular basis. Are they straightforward? What steps could be combined or eliminated for ease? And which of these are the most common and repetitive? These are the low-hanging fruit that are perfect for automation.
- Your data: Just like how plants synthesise the sun to bloom, your AI uses your data to grow and learn. Your customers generate a tonne of data -- particularly in the form of complaints. Not only that, but your agents are expected to summarise their customer experiences and share them in your CRM. But this data can suffer from selection bias. It also needs to be stored properly (ideally in a well-secured cloud so you can share it easily with anyone in the company) and well organised. In short, you need to ensure your data is clean, safe and secure, before pursuing automation.
- Your team: Be prepared to meet resistance amongst your team. Some people will need help and support to adjust to the new processes, while others are apprehensive of new technology. Don’t worry, there are steps you can take that will prepare them to adopt AI. Make them feel like part of the decision, get your leaders on board, identify your advocates, identify your ‘terrorists’, roll out change in manageable steps, and ensure that you provide plenty of training.
Map your agent experience
You’re already very familiar with the customer experience -- but how about the agent experience? Mapping your agent journey allows you to check out how your organisation connects with your customers from an internal perspective. It allows you to identify and eliminate potential challenges or bottlenecks your agents may face, and figure out what you can do to make your agent processes more efficient.
Take some time to observe your agents as they go about their duties (you could also assign this task to a team if you don’t have time -- or better, do both). Ask them to note the processes that work well, as well as anything that poses a threat to excellent customer service.
Once you’ve mapped out your agent journey, your next step is to identify what’s efficient and what’s not. Keep an eye out for anything that seems overly complicated. It’s these complex processes that you’ll be aiming to simplify before you implement AI.
You should also speak to your agents as you observe. What are their biggest pain points? Once you’ve identified the waves, you can get to the task of evening the seascape for smooth sailing.
For example, if your agents are struggling to keep up with the volume of calls directed to them on a daily basis, you may want to consider deploying a next-generation chatbot on your frontline of support, to handle your most repetitive and common customer questions. You could also create (or beef up) your knowledge bank and self-service section, empowering your customers to help themselves. These two steps will vastly reduce your agent workload.
Don’t forget the human touch
Machines are extremely helpful when it comes to improving customer service efficiency and efficacy -- but they aren’t perfect. Automation done right requires at least one person, if not an entire team (often referred to as Automation Strike Teams), to be responsible for keeping an eye on the technology.
Add to this that humans simply prefer to speak to other humans. A whopping 84 percent of customers have said that being treated like a person, not a number, is crucial to winning their business.
“Our numbers show that humans still prefer to deal with other humans rather than with digital channels. In this era of automation, customers are craving personal interaction. Therefore, our customers demand more human skills, like empathy and problem solving, and a willingness for development of a life-long relationship.”
- Alina Tirlea, Superbet Team Leader
Identify your internal AI use cases
Now, that you’ve put in all the right groundwork, it’s important to take yet another step back, and ask yourself: why does my organisation need AI?
There are all kinds of ways that AI can assist businesses, but not all of them will be useful or necessary for your team. Let’s take a look at the most important ways AI could benefit your company.
Lower your costs
As we stand on the brink of a recession, many businesses are looking at ways they can cut costs. Luckily, this is one of the main benefits of AI -- it minimises your agent workload, which means you don’t need as many agents on the floor, even for peak times.
With today’s support centres slammed by droves of customer cases driven by the challenges of Coronavirus pandemic, efficiency is more important than ever. Streamlining and automating your processes and common customer cases will cut down on agent ‘busy work’, and allow your agents to focus on the more complex and rewarding tasks that truly deserve their attention.
By now, you can see that planning your AI strategy is actually a pretty involved process. But it’s important work. Before even considering the practicalities of implementing AI, take a step back and consider the variety of AI available to help with various tasks, as well as your processes, your data, your team, map your agent journey, and identify exactly how your company will benefit from AI (and if that’s necessary). Only then will you be able to know whether or not you even need AI, and develop a clear, unique AI strategy that works for your company.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series, which will look at your external AI strategy, and how technology can improve your customer experience.
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