Contact centres must embrace generative AI or risk being left behind

Coupled with intelligent automation, generative AI is transforming the customer experience landscape. | Freepik

Coupled with intelligent automation, generative AI is transforming the customer experience landscape. | Freepik

Published Jun 6, 2024


Ryan Falkenberg

GENERATIVE artificial intelligence (AI) has gone from interesting experiments to a mainstream technology used by hundreds of millions in a wide array of applications - in a very short time.

It took just two months for ChatGPT, the most popular generative AI tool on the market, to reach 100 million users.

What’s remarkable is that the technology is still evolving at incredible speeds. While its voice capabilities are improving daily, OpenAI recently put its voice cloning on hold. Using just a 15-second clip of your voice, it can produce results that are indistinguishable from the real thing by analysis technology. While this opens up a world of opportunities, it is also extremely dangerous in a year where dozens of countries around the world will head to the polls for elections.

It’s also worth noting that generative AI is still largely general-purpose in nature. It won’t be long, however, before more specialised tools become widely available; enhancing productivity levels and effectiveness across industries. In the customer experience (CX) space, for example, the coupling of generative AI with conversation process and orchestration tools is enabling the automation of high volumes of rule-bound sales, support and service conversations – all at the level of a human expert.

Given these rapid advancements, it’s baffling how slow even major players in the contact centre space have been to incorporate generative AI tools. What makes this even more concerning is that contact centres are among the businesses that face the biggest threat of disruption from these technological advances.

Virtual agents

Generative AI, when blended into an intelligent automation ecosystem, allows human agents to have dramatically improved and more effective conversations. Agents can be guided through every conversation without having to know all the details or rules. Resulting actions, such as email scripts and call summaries, can also be done by AI. This reduces training and ramp-up times, improves first call resolution and allows agents to handle more calls without all the post-call work.

More significantly, however, is the emergence of generative AI-powered virtual agents. These “conversation experts” can engage directly with customers via chat channels, email, web, app and phone. Unlike chatbots, they can have conversations that stick to compliance guardrails yet adapt dynamically to customer context and change in direction. As a result, they can now resolve huge volumes of customer queries without relying on a human in the loop.

New opportunities

While virtual agents are sure to take over the processing of most rule-bound engagements, there is still an important role for humans in the growing CX space. Since they are freed from largely transactional roles, human agents have more time to focus on the calls where empathy, humour and emotional intelligence are critical.

From a customer perspective, having real time access to a service expert is highly appealing. Rather than waiting in a call queue, they can instantly be put through to a virtual agent. This can be very helpful when call volumes spike or no human agents are available.

Imagine calling a hotel you have booked in a different time zone, without realising that it is 1am, to ask what time breakfast is. Based on your booking, a virtual AI agent can respond that your booking does not have breakfast attached. It would also notice you have a small child on your booking, but have not requested a cot. It could book that cot and your breakfast, without anyone in the hotel having to stay up to answer your call.

For many organisations, the speed at which these technologies are evolving makes knowing where to start and how to make it work feel a little daunting. They may lack the capital or buy-in to hire the skills needed to fully embrace these new technologies. For these companies, partnering with a specialist that removes the learning curve and speeds up the time to impact is appealing. These “digital business process outsourcings” can effectively build and manage your virtual agent for you - ensuring your customers can immediately speak to a capable expert via the channel of their choice, at any time.

A wait-and-see approach to generative AI and virtual agents may feel safer, but the speed at which things are moving could simply heighten the pain of the inevitable disruption.

This technology is not going away. It is not a fad and its impact will be felt much quicker than many expect.

Falkenberg is co-CEO of CLEVVA