The contact centre has been the bedrock of customer experience strategy (and source of customer frustration) for the last 35 years. But will the advent of AI change all of that? What is the evolution of the contact centre now set to look like?

We’re pleased to share insights on the topic from Sat Sanghera, the CEO of IPI.


How do you currently view the state of contact centres (especially in post-pandemic relevance) in recent years? 

The pandemic forced contact centres to adapt rapidly to remote work arrangements, challenging traditional notions of supervision and team dynamics. Seemingly overnight, contact centre teams went from having hundreds of agents in one building, with supervisors walking the floor and giving feedback in the moment, to everyone having to work separately from home. Whilst this shift initially posed operational challenges, it also spurred innovation, leading to the adoption of new technologies and work-from-home strategies. 

However, the transition to remote work also exposed vulnerabilities, particularly in terms of security and maintaining a cohesive organisational culture. The absence of face-to-face interaction highlighted the importance of fostering connections and collaboration among remote teams, particularly as the sector looks to counter the high rates of attrition it is prone to.

Today, the contact centre industry is at a real turning point. There is a lot more thought being channelled into investing in agent well-being, and an understanding that by investing in the employee experience within the contact centre, brands can enhance the overall customer service. From a technological standpoint, the readiness of enablement technology has also eased this process. 

Key to future success will be bringing each of these things – the people and the technology – together. 

Do you think the future of contact centres lies in harnessing the power of AI? How far will its use go in contact centres?

The future of contact centres undoubtedly involves harnessing the power of AI. Considering the substantial overhead costs associated with human resources, organisations are increasingly pressured to find ways to maximise efficiency. By automating processes, contact centres can reduce their reliance on manpower, leading to cost savings and increased operational efficiency. 

With AI-powered tools, agents can access valuable insights about customers, enabling them to offer personalised recommendations and upsell more effectively. AI empowers agents to provide more efficient and timely assistance to customers by equipping them with the necessary information and tools to handle enquiries swiftly. This not only improves customer satisfaction but also reduces average handling times, leading to further operational savings. 

So, is AI going to take over the call centre? 

AI is likely to replace repetitive and mundane tasks, such as basic identity verification, freeing up agents for more meaningful interactions. However, the essence of human connection in customer service is irreplaceable. Customers value genuine empathy and understanding, qualities that only humans can provide. 

The contact centre agent role should be esteemed as an honourable service, not just a temporary job. Brands have a responsibility to elevate these roles into meaningful careers, offering growth opportunities and recognition for excellence.

Ultimately, a balance needs to be struck. Contact centres can harness AI to elevate service quality, reduce churn, and drive revenue growth. But to be truly successful, they must preserve the integrity of customer relationships, while empowering agents to have contact centre careers.

With AI poised to enter call centres, what does this mean for training agents?

Agent training remains paramount in contact centres. Basic training lays the foundation, but long-term development is crucial for turning agent roles into meaningful careers. Traditional training focuses on handling complaints and upselling, but it must evolve to include empathy, negotiation, and effective communication skills. 

Even with AI assistance, the delivery of information is key. Agents need to convey empathy and understanding, not just relay information mechanically. Utilising tools like knowledge banks ensures agents have access to up-to-date information, reducing the burden of memorisation and ensuring consistency across interactions.

The concept of the ‘super agent’ is important to bear in mind here, where technology assists in providing prompts and information, allowing agents to focus on human-to-human interaction, and is where the contact centre of the future should focus attention. 

How can contact centres deliver exceptional CX with the help of data, omnichannel approaches, sentiment analysis and more? 

Contact centres now have a plethora of technologies at their disposal to help agents deliver exceptional CX. However, the challenge lies not in the availability of these technologies, but in integrating them to provide agents with a unified view of customer interactions. 

Sentiment analysis and emotion detection technologies also further enhance the customer experience by enabling agents to gauge customer emotions in real time. By analysing tonality and language cues, AI-powered tools can identify underlying emotions, even if customers are outwardly polite but inwardly frustrated. 

However, despite these [technologies], the biggest frustration for customers remains long wait times and being bounced between pillar and post before having their issue resolved. Customers expect contact centres to have their information readily available and to have their issues addressed promptly. Contact centres must [streamline] processes and [empower] agents with the right tools and information to provide a seamless customer experience.

Over the next five years, what does the evolution of the call centre and call agents look like?

As consumers gain greater flexibility to switch between brands, [firms] will face heightened pressure to prioritise service excellence as a means of retaining customer[s] and safeguarding their brand reputation. 

In the next five years, we anticipate a widespread adoption of technologies aimed at providing agents with a unified view of customer interactions, enabling them to anticipate needs and deliver a proactive service. Moreover, we envision a shift towards elevating the status of contact centre agents to that of respected professionals, akin to other esteemed professions.

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