Technology has always been an important part of call centers — it can find the next available agent, helps them engage with clients over multiple communication channels, tracks the client’s conversation history, and informs about the services or products that have been purchased. This effectively means better use of the agents’ time and less hold time for clients.
However, the primary motivation behind the adoption has been to cut costs — the technology has been too clumsy for customers to use. For instance, IVRs are great for connecting customers to the right agents who can actually help them, but they also mean a guaranteed hold time for the callers who would repeatedly press ‘0’ to get out of the maze and connect to the first live agent.
But in 2020, we have witnessed a swift change, with conversational AI gaining rapid adoption. There are three reasons for this:
1. The explosive growth of AI
AI has become a key factor for businesses – many companies now believe it is an essential part of their strategy. The improvement in AI technology has made it capable of tackling many previously difficult solutions, which means improved and personalized services for the customers.
The call center industry is no exception. Unlike the old and unintelligent chatbots, AI allows companies to use Virtual Assistants as part of their call centers: AI-powered agents that can interact with the customers and answer their queries or even solve their problems without needing to loop in a human agent.
But we have a technology that is improving the experience: by reducing hold times, 24x7 availability, and instantly responding to queries.
2. Social media, smartphones, and a new generation
The mass adoption of smartphones and social media paved the way for an on-demand culture, where customers would abandon anything that delivered less. Microsoft’s State of Global Customer Service Report records that 61% are willing to stop transacting with a business after a poor service experience.
Naming and shaming has also become much easier, and a single bad customer experience can quickly turn into a marketing disaster.
As such, clients are less tolerant of long waiting times. This is even less so with the digitally native generations who are increasingly stepping into the picture, demanding swift communication and on the channels they prefer.
This trend has forced companies to favor customer experience, and AI plays a key role in engaging with users on multiple channels, tracking the conversation everywhere and keeping agents up to date so they can hit the ground running when they enter the conversation loop.
3. The new normal
This is the trend that makes 2020 special. We started the year under the shadow of the pandemic, which forced businesses to either shut down or switch to remote working. While call centers also had to reduce their staff, their operations were too vital to halt—we even witnessed a 30-40% increase in customer calls which fell on the remaining agents. Inevitably, this has pushed companies to look for alternatives, and the best one proved to be AI assistants.
AI was already expected to take care of 20% of service requests by 2022, and the market share to reach $2.8 billion by 2024. This year, most of the traction we have seen has come from healthcare services, with a 57% increase in virtual assistant usage. Next up are banking and financial services with a 33% increase. The retail and insurance industries have seen a moderate increase of 16%-18%.
On the other hand, for industries like telecom, airlines, travel, media and entertainment, we have noticed a 9%-17% decrease, which demonstrates how these industries were affected by quarantine, social distancing norms and travel bans. The latter is a trend we expect to change, as we learn to cope with the virus and hospitality industry witnesses a rebound sooner or later.
AI has already proven its worth, and the pandemic boosted it even further. In a world more online than ever, and with further developments in Natural Language Processing algorithms, we expect AI adoption to be quick and increase further.