Voice AI in contact center
Sep 14, 2022
5 MIN READ

Why Voice AI is a Leading Call-Center Technology Trend

At the start of 2022, enterprise contact centers were hoping for a return to stability in the world of customer service. It’s easy to see why: the past two-plus years have been defined by spiking customer demand and impossible-to-predict agent availability.

The pandemic and ensuing Great Resignation saw contact center agents reevaluate their jobs – with many choosing to pursue other lines of work. As a result, customer service leaders have been forced to face rising customer demands and more unpredictable call spikes with understaffed operations and more expensive hiring cycles. 

A recent report from Demand Metrics, 2022 Benchmark report: Automation in the Contact Center, confirms these trends:

  • Customer service agent attrition rates are at 42%, and nearly a third of agents are actively looking for a new job
  • Leaders of contact centers with 1,000+ agents cited call volume spikes as their top challenge
  • 54% of leaders cited high and increasing costs as an immediate challenge
  • 49% said hiring enough agents is an immediate challenge

Overriding all of these challenges is the one constant: delivering excellent customer service. Consumers have only grown more demanding as the increased reliance on online products and services continues post pandemic. 

61% of customers say they will stop doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience, according to a Microsoft survey, and 33% say getting their issue resolved in a single interaction is the most important aspect of a good customer service experience.

Conversational AI: a breakthrough solution

While the need for automation in the contact center has never been greater, even more important is the need for more effective types of automation. Voice AI, or conversational AI, is among the most promising.

Voice AI provides a pathway out of the chaos of legacy technologies like IVR systems. Rather than continually force consumers through a labyrinth of long and complex menus, endless loops, and misunderstood responses, voice AI cuts through by directly asking the caller how they can help.  A request, such as “I’d like to make a payment,” can be easily understood and processed. 

Here are some of the challenges call centers face that voice AI can help alleviate: 

  • Frustrations and limitations of IVR systems
  • Limitations of human call center agents
  • Spiking call volume
  • Common queries and routine transactions
  • Training and record-keeping

 

“By 2026, conversational artificial intelligence (AI) deployments within contact centers will reduce agent labor costs by $80 billion.”

Gartner, August 2022

Market researchers also see great promise in conversational AI, as noted by Gartner in its August 2022 press release: 

“By 2026, conversational artificial intelligence (AI) deployments within contact centers will reduce agent labor costs by $80 billion, according to Gartner, Inc. Worldwide end-user spending on conversational AI solutions within contact centers is forecast to reach $1.99 billion in 2022.

“Gartner estimates that there are approximately 17 million contact center agents worldwide today,” said Daniel O’Connell, VP analyst at Gartner. “Many organizations are challenged by agent staff shortages and the need to curtail labor expenses, which can represent up to 95% of contact center costs. Conversational AI makes agents more efficient and effective, while also improving the customer experience.”

Research number about call center agents

Human error is the most significant reason for agent mistakes. Agent assistants reduce error.

Call center technology trend: how voice AI changes the game

The reason why voice AI can break the logjam is that it offers real-time understanding. Rather than use offline transcription that typically occurs after an agent disconnects from a caller and functions more as a recap and learning experience, conversations are monitored in real-time and processed so that customers can be assisted immediately.

This is made possible by having natural language processing (NLP), natural language understanding (NLU), and real-time transcription deployed as part of a capability called agent assist.  

AI helps power processes by connecting agents with articles and resources that can assist callers in real-time. Based on intent, voice recognition, and historical data, an organization’s knowledge base, for instance, can be supercharged via AI to help agents connect callers with the most useful information at the most valuable time in the customer journey.

As the customer is speaking, the voice assistant transcribes the conversation and is also going through the transcription to help the agent – it’s listening to the tone of the customer (keywords and sentiment analysis), and can then can pop up on-screen suggestions that are only visible to the agent while the call is occurring.

Voice AI assistants detect “topics” and also handle routine transactions

Another technique for helping agents is called “topic identification.” When the voice assistant hears certain topic words like “cancellation” or “don’t like this product,” the voice assistant goes to the cancellation topic and presents the human agent with answers to the specific issue.

Voice AI in call centers can also address common queries and routine transactions, reducing the burden on human agents. Voice assistants can directly provide information about locations, payments, balances, and password resets. Callers in need of urgent support, though, such as those involved in a car accident or credit card fraud, can be prioritized by the voice assistant and sent to the proper human agent to assist them. 

Real-time agent assist is also a game-changer when it comes to onboarding or training new human agents, especially during an era of remote onboarding. With agent assist, new human agents can get up-to-speed faster and can avoid rookie mistakes, thanks to having real-time coaching guiding them in their decision-making.

What are the key characteristics of real-time agent assist?

Real-time agent assist platforms listen to customer conversations and can identify opportunities to improve the performance of the human contact center agent servicing the customer. Agent assist platforms will have the following capabilities:

  • Use NLP and NLU to listen in real-time to customer and contact agent speech
  • Provide real-time call transcription
  • Identify patterns in real-time speech to continuously learn and improve the performance of the platform
  • Integrate with the enterprise knowledge base
  • Recommend next-best actions to human agents based on real-time insights
  • Provide and display in-depth analytics of insights over time
Voice AI in the call center
Voice-enabled assistants help human agents perform better by recommending next-best actions based on real-time insights.

Choose the most effective voice AI capabilities 

As you consider which technologies will help you handle the multiple issues converging on the contact center, consider these four important capabilities of a voice AI solution:

1. Conversational menu options

Eliminate frustration by allowing callers to simply ask for what they want and be understood, independent of prompts. Technology such as SoundHound’s Speech-to-Meaning® surpasses traditional speech-to-text and text-to-meaning by processing speech in a single step, just like a human conversation. This provides faster and more accurate results by running SoundHound’s automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding simultaneously. 

2. Agent assist

Satisfy customers by quickly resolving caller needs or collecting information, immediately connecting them to the right agent, and then supporting the agent with transcription that helps bring meaning and intent to conversations.

3. Lower costs

Keep contact center costs down with a voice assistant that quickly and efficiently handles routine customer service queries, such as change of address, bill payment, account information, and more

4. Optimized for the phone environment

Look for environmental filters and performance-enhancing technologies—including broader voice detection and augmentation, rigorous testing, and custom data sets—to create optimal call center experiences.

Adopt a voice strategy

Contact centers are in the midst of persistent challenges. Adopting a voice strategy is the next step for any company hoping to retain customers and gain brand loyalty through exceptional customer service experiences.

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David Barry Headshot

David Barry is a high-tech storyteller with a passion for communicating complex ideas simply. He met his wife in a taxicab in San Francisco.

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