Call Centers During a Crisis
Apr 22, 2020

How Voice Assistants Help With Increased Call Volumes During a Crisis

By Karen Scates

Over the last couple of months, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted work and personal lives across the world, call centers experienced an unprecedented spike in call volume. During a crisis, your call center will be your first point of contact with customers seeking help about everything from bank accounts and retail orders, to public health information and travel cancellations.

In these times of uncertainty, your customers want to know you are there to answer questions and provide support if they need it. Providing disclaimers like, “During this time our phone and email response times may be longer than usual” does little to assuage the fears of customers who have trusted you to keep their money safe or to provide much-needed goods and services. 

Brands with the foresight to see past the current crisis into a state of future recovery are already seeking ways to retain and increase market share through innovation across touchpoints. The companies that will emerge from today’s crisis stronger are those that are able to focus on the human element—employees, customers, and community. According to a study by PWC, 54% of U.S. customers felt that the customer experience provided by most companies needed improvement even before the pandemic started. Taking the time now to improve the customer experience is an investment in future-proofing your brand in a world where 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for great customer experiences.

54% of U.S. customers felt that the customer experience in most companies needed improvement even before the pandemic – PWC Study

Call center automation and limitations

Today, call center automation does little to reduce the frustration of customers seeking answers and support. In fact, these interactions frequently lead to greater frustration. When customers call, IVR systems are often not flexible or accurate enough to really understand or help the caller. Even in normal times, these systems fall short at the most basic level, the main menu. 

These limitations are magnified when call volumes reach an elevated state for an extended amount of time, like during the holidays or an ongoing pandemic. 

Common roadblocks to great customer service requests at call centers include:

  • The reason for the call is not in the “Main Menu” and customers are left with few options to navigate to a call center agent or automated response.
  • Callers are met with too many menu options and have to listen several times to understand which button to press.
  • The menu options are inaccurate and callers hang up due to confusion.
  • Automated prompts are long and confusing, causing errors and incomplete requests.
  • Not being able to easily get to a live agent causes frustration for people who don’t want to go through a series of prompts.
  • Callers must repeat account or personal information more than once during the transfer process through menus and from the IVR to the representative.
  • Customers are placed on hold for extended periods of time and either hang up or grow increasingly dissatisfied.

Any one of these barriers to receiving support can lead to dissatisfied customers. The problem is, many customers experience a majority of these issues during the course of a single call, delivering something closer to “customer disservice.”

Voice assistants in call centers alleviate friction and frustration

Brands seeking ways to provide better service are already turning to next-generation call center software that doesn’t require the installation of massive amounts of on-premise hardware. These cloud-based solutions are moving call centers in the right direction, but still fall short due to the limited intelligence of a menu-based system. Voice assistants and voice technology can solve a lot of these problems. 

“Nearly 80% of American consumers point to speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service as the most important elements of a positive customer experience.” – PWC Study

According to Statista, by 2023, the number of digital voice assistants will reach around 8 billion—a number higher than the world’s population. These numbers suggest that people will be accessing information, making payments, and communicating with organizations through voice user interfaces in a variety of settings. The accelerated adoption of voice assistants and people’s growing comfort interacting with them are compelling reasons for brands and call centers to look to voice AI for delivering exceptional customer experiences.

voice assistant in the call center alleviates the friction and frustration of everyday caller requests and helps brands avoid delayed response times during periods of high call volume. Whether we are again faced with a global crisis or simply the ebb and flow of economies and markets, our current situation has been a lesson for brands to stop riding the waves of prosperity without systems in place that can withstand the troughs of hardship.

Voice AI in the call center environment

Implementing a voice-first strategy in the call center environment is an opportunity for brands to provide faster, more accurate responses and greater levels of personalization. When escalation is the best response, a voice assistant can quickly route the call to an available agent without the long hold times that further exacerbate negative emotions.

In contrast to the difficulties of navigating an IVR , voice assistants can provide a frictionless flow from greeting to resolution. Voice AI can intelligently guide your customers through a seamless experience by providing the following:

  • Accurate identification of caller intention
  • Greater personalization
  • An effective method to address routine Tier 1 support calls
  • Immediate access to customer history 
  • An effective method to improve agent performance rates and results
  • Elimination of user frustration from repeating information 
  • Multi-language recognition and responses
  • Environmental filters to eliminate background noise and distractions
  • Improved speech recognition that allows for stutters and other imprecise speech

When integrated into a cloud-based solution, call center operations have the added benefit of being able to upgrade, innovate, and iterate through the cloud, while managing the system at the local level. 

Real-time decision making with Voice AI

When can a call be completed with just an automated response? When should a call go straight to an agent? When should a supervisor be called in? Advanced Speech-to-Meaning ® technology that integrates highly-developed speech recognition and natural language understanding technologies allows call center systems to make these decisions even as customers are speaking. 

When an automated response will do, the voice assistant can deliver that information with empathy and personalization, while listening to requests for further information or another unrelated question. Either the voice assistant can answer follow-on questions with the same ease, or quickly transfer the call to the next available agent without creating a wait time queue.

Once the call has been transferred, the voice assistant remains on the line, providing the agent with all the previously collected information and caller data and prompting the agent with the next best action. When a supervisor needs to be notified, the voice assistant can deliver the notification and transfer the call in a seamless, frictionless environment.

In cases where compliance is a mandate, the voice assistant can prompt the agent to give the disclaimer, or provide the disclaimer information through the voice assistant. 

Consistency in customer service

Not only is consistency across channels something customers expect, it’s now imperative that brands start thinking about their online presence, call centers, and sales channels as one pipeline through which customers travel. Their relationship with the company extends long beyond just that one call center transaction. 
Adopting a voice assistant in the customer support center can be the first step to voice-first strategy that becomes the foundation of a consistent brand voice across platforms and channels. To get started, brands may need to overcome some hurdles, but not having a voice strategy today means failing your customers’ expectations in a changing social environment.

Karen Scates is a storyteller with a passion for helping others through content. Argentine tango, good books and great wine round out Karen’s interests.

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