Artificial Intelligence in Call Centers

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Artificial intelligence – or AI in short – is the most common and popular go-to technology of the present. Anyone who denies this claim is simply unaware of the possibilities this piece of technology has to offer. Within the next couple of years, the global AI market is expected to reach a value of over $190.61 billion1. This has been made possible thanks to how widespread AI usage has become across various industries. 

The AI Revolution Is Upon Us

From healthcare and retail to agriculture and manufacturing, AI is being used everywhere. The market values of AI usage in retail, finance, manufacturing, and transportation within the next two to seven years are all over the $10 billion mark2. This shows just how impactful and influential AI has become across several industries, and it’s needless to say that call centers are not indifferent to this AI revolution that everyone is talking about.

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Call Centers Are Not Indifferent to This Revolution

Call centers, or contact centers, are essential for all types of businesses and industries. These call centers provide customer service, as well as lead generation and nurturing services. Many call centers operate 24×7 to make sure customers can have their queries resolved at any time of the week, so it’s easy to see that this industry is often a restless one, which is why AI usage makes absolute sense here. 

The question is how exactly are call centers using artificial intelligence to their advantage. 

What’s in Play?

How Call Centers Are Using AI

When you think of AI being used in call centers, you probably think that it will obliterate humans and act as virtual agents. However, the best use of AI-powered solutions isn’t to replace human agents. Instead, AI is being strategically used to boost efficiency, identify trends, and improve customer satisfactions. Let’s dig deeper with the following points:

  • A Microsoft case study shows that the Emirates NBD Bank saw a 97 percent accuracy rate in customer query responses and freed up agents’ time by another 30 percent when a virtual assistant named “Emma” was used to handle customer queries3
  • Speech analysis is another area that’s seeing AI implementation. A Forrester survey shows that 47 percent of the surveyed companies use AI to identify customer trends4. American Express also uses the same AI-powered speech analysis tech to monitor customer calls, which has been found to result in a 15-20 percent increase in the detection of compliance breaches5
  • AI-powered analytics also helps optimize call center operations. According to Deloitte, 77 percent of today’s call centers use these AI-powered analytic tools to evaluate customer data and provide better service6. A few years ago, Spanish telecom company Telefónica revealed that it, too, was using a real-time customer sentiment analysis tool to address customer concerns7

This goes to show that AI is being used in contact centers in more than one way, but what benefits is such usage bringing to the table? 

What Benefits Does AI Bring to the Table

Artificial intelligence in call centers brings numerous benefits to the table. From handling large volumes of routine inquiries to reducing the workload on human agents, call center AI technology can do it all. This allows the agents to focus on more complex customer issues. 

AI systems can also analyze vast amounts of customer data in real time and offer personalized interactions and improved customer experiences. AI even enhances call routing, ensuring that customers are connected to the most suitable agent. Additionally, you can expect the AI to understand customer behavior and sentiment, which, in turn, will allow agents to improve their pitches during lead generation or sales.

All this goes to show that when used in call centers, AI can lead to faster resolution times, increased customer satisfaction, and even better lead generation and sales – qualities that make a call center stand out from the rest. Therefore, it’s evident why AI is all set to become the future of call centers. But what exactly does this future have in store? Let’s find out.

What Does the Future Look Like?

Forecasting the Future of AI in Call Centers

According to Gartner, by 2026, AI is expected to reduce labor costs in call centers by $80 billion. This seems unavoidable as more than 90 percent of contact center leaders expect automation to play critical roles starting from 20238

It’s even been reported that nine out of ten call center agents would actually like to see more aspects of customer interactions being automated. These include everything from summarizing customer queries or conversations to handling bill payments9

Needless to say, the road for AI to take over major call center operations has been in the works for quite some time. This takeover process has picked up pace in recent years, and it is now only a matter of years before we get to witness entire call centers being automated and managed by AI.

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Expert Insights

Casey Greene, Professor of Biomedical Informatics, University of Colorado, suggests that the widespread use of AI will lead to people developing new skills to adjust to the new working environments. This includes call centers too. In other words, people will retain their jobs but will have to learn how to make the most of AI in the workplace10

Shawna Wolverton, EVP of product at Zendesk, said that many companies turned to chatbots to provide faster customer query resolution services. This was something that picked up pace during the COVID-19 pandemic and has since been fully adopted across several call centers throughout the world11

Many other experts also echo a similar sentiment where they believe that AI is here to help and not to replace. However, there are many who question this. 

In early May 2023, Senator Imee Marcos, the chair of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare, and Rural Development, inquired into the impact AI will have on call center jobs. Marcos’ concern was that millions of jobs would disappear should the technology become widely accepted and used across call centers, and it was a concern that’s definitely worth looking into12

Can AI Replace Human Interaction?

AI is here to take over.

IBM is expected to cut some 7,800 jobs, roughly 26,000 positions, pretty soon13. Microsoft is expected to do the same, with 5 percent of the workforce expected to be fired from the company by 202314. Do you know what’s common in all this? All these jobs might be taken over by AI. 

According to a Goldman Sachs report, AI could replace around 300 million full-time jobs. Almost 45 million Americans are at risk of losing their jobs to AI by 2030. These numbers are frightening, and call centers also have to deal with this AI takeover15

JPMorgan Chase & Co. has been using AI to respond to customer queries for a few years now. IBM has been developing technology that can facilitate such AI-based services. AI is also being used to provide real-time updates when it comes to prospecting in lead generation, another core function offered by many call centers. 

Does all this mean that human agents are no longer needed at call centers? Are we embarking on a journey where call centers of all sizes and working with all sorts of industries are about to become fully AI-dependent and run without much human intervention? Well, not really. 

Call Centers Might be an Exception to the AI Revolution

AI systems come with several limitations, and in call centers, these limitations can be easily exposed. 

  • Customer inquiries can often be complex. In such situations, AI can’t help much as it might fail to interpret the complexity of the query and provide a definitive solution. Such queries require human agents’ ability to understand the context, empathize, and finally provide personalized responses, something that an AI program is likely to struggle with.
  • Human agents can easily understand and respond to customers’ emotions while offering reassurance and providing a human touch. Can AI solutions replicate that? No. 
  • Agents are skilled at adapting to various situations and also finding creative solutions. Their ability to think critically, identify underlying issues, and address complex problems go beyond the scope of any modern AI algorithm.
  • Customers often develop trust and loyalty through ongoing relationships with call center agents. Through regular interactions, agents can understand customer preferences and history and provide personalized service. This can be challenging for AI systems, especially if they’re unable to grasp the complexity and emotional situation of the problem at hand. 
  • Call center interactions are not limited to simple predefined questions and answers. Your customers may express their concerns in different ways, often by using colloquial language or even non-standard phrases. AI systems may struggle to fully understand such unstructured data, leading to misinterpretations or incorrect responses.
  • Despite advancements, AI systems can still encounter limitations like speech recognition errors, language barriers, or the inability to handle certain accents or dialects. These challenges can affect the quality of customer interactions and overall satisfaction.

Based on these details and information, it’s easy to see why a more humane approach is needed when it comes to call center services. 

The Need for a Human Touch

Imagine you’re facing some troubles with your washing machine or laptop, and you want to talk to customer support for help. The last thing you’d want here is to seek help for your machine problems from another machine. Therefore, the human connection in such situations is non-negotiable. 

Unlike machines or AI systems, humans are sentimental. The emotion a human agent shows when interacting with a customer or lead is vital for building the perfect call center experience. That’s because, without emotions being involved in a conversation between two people, that conversation might feel dull or unimportant, no matter how efficient it is in generating leads or solving a query. 

Thus, comes the need for a more humane approach at call centers, and the general people seem to agree with this. 

And the People Agree

Let’s get straight down to the point with a few quick stats: 

  • According to a 2019 survey, it’s been found that 86 percent of consumers prefer actual humans handling their queries over AI chatbots16
  • Another 71 percent said that they would not prefer to use a brand if it did not have real humans sitting behind the phones handling customer queries16.
  • Statistics from 2023 reveal that 56 percent of consumers will be more eager to buy a product or service if it comes with the guarantee of excellent customer service17.
  • Microsoft found out that 96% of consumers believe customer service is one of the most important factors when it comes to brand loyalty18.

Based on all this information, two things are absolutely clear. First, the better your customer service, the more valued your brand is. Second, people actually want humans to handle their queries, especially when it comes to complicated discussions. If that’s the case, it’s easy to see that people agree with the idea that good customer service is essential to any brand, and it’s only possible if such services are handled by humans instead of AI systems.

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The Verdict

AI can never replace call center reps.

Human-to-human interaction is sure to win over call centers that are fully AI-dependent. Sure, call centers can use AI to make the workflow a bit more efficient and streamline the overall customer query handling process. However, AI systems are not yet ready to fully run call center operations. A human touch is still vital here, and it’s backed by facts and opinions by industry experts as well as ordinary consumers.

References:

1. The Most Surprising AI Statistics and Trends

2. Driving impact at scale from automation and AI, McKinsey

3. Emirates NBD enters digital partnership with Microsoft

4. Predictions 2023: AI Will Become An Indispensable, Trusted Enterprise Coworker

5. 3 Ways American Express is Using AI to Stay Ahead of Disruption

6. Analytics and AI-driven enterprises thrive in the Age of With

7. Customer Discovery | Listen to users and make evidence-based business decisions for your customer centric brand

8. Conversational AI will reduce contact center agent labor costs by $80 Bn in 2026: Gartner

9. Top 9 Contact Center Trends to Watch Out in 2023

10. AI and the future of work: 5 experts on what ChatGPT, DALL-E and other AI tools mean for artists and knowledge workers

11. Is This the Year AI Dominates the Call Center?

12. Imee Marcos seeks inquiry into AI’s impact on call center, factory jobs

13. IBM to Pause Hiring for Jobs That AI Could Do

14. Microsoft Layoffs 2023

15. 300 million jobs could be affected by latest wave of AI, says Goldman Sachs

16. AI Stats News: 86% Of Consumers Prefer Humans To Chatbots

17. 2023 Customer Service Statistics for Contact Centers18. 2017 STATE OF GLOBAL CUSTOMER SERVICE REPORT

Last Updated on July 9, 2023 by Ronen Ben-Dror

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