AI & Omnichannel for Contact Center Success

The omnichannel concept involves integrating various communication channels into a singular interface. This has never been an easy challenge for contact centers to address, as their legacy systems kept channels in separate silos, namely telephony, email, chat, and, more recently, video and social media. Today’s customers expect seamless and continuous communication based on their preferences – this is the problem set omnichannel addresses.

Omnichannel solutions have been in the market for some time, and to a large extent, they provide contact centers with much-needed capabilities. While seamlessly moving from channel to channel is a big step forward, it is no longer the pinnacle of customer service. Advanced omnichannel provides agents with consistent tools and context-data to easily respond in the moment to changing customer preferences in communication channels, and when incorporating today’s AI capabilities, they can do so in a more intelligent, prescriptive manner.

By layering AI with omnichannel capabilities, contact centers can provide deeper agent and customer engagements and faster resolutions. True omnichannel provides the native toolset to seamlessly shift from channel to channel with context and consistency. Still, AI adds richer guidance to agents during interactions on any channel and serves as a self-service option for routine inquiries.

The critical value driver here is how AI can draw from the totality of your customer experiences, so it’s working from a more comprehensive data set than what any agent has from their personal experience. To further illustrate, here are two examples of how AI adds enhanced capabilities to omnichannel.

Seamless Escalations from AI-Powered Self-Service

For contact centers, automation is a leading driver for AI adoption, and the starting point is usually chatbots for self-service. First-generation chatbots were not very effective, but with advances in conversational AI (CAI), they are now better equipped to take self-service beyond IVR-based menu options. Today’s chatbots are still not totally trustworthy but are closer to living up to the promise of AI, and their role will only grow as AI-based applications keep improving.

The good news is that chatbots address a real pain point for contact centers. Agents struggle to support rising call volumes, especially as customers embrace digital channels such as social media. No contact center can have live agents for every call, so AI-powered self-service automation provides new business value. However, chatbots alone cannot handle all forms of self-service and cannot always handle inquiries end-to-end.

This is where AI becomes additive to omnichannel capabilities. Omnichannel makes it easy to hand off a self-service interaction to an agent. While this ability is a must-have today, what really drives customer experience (CX) excellence is doing so at the right time. Supervisors cannot monitor every chat session and escalate chats that are becoming problematic to agents. There are too many interactions to track, and they often won’t be able to respond in time.

Since these interactions originate with a chatbot, agents don’t know when to assist. Omnichannel provides a bridge to connect customers to live agents but lacks the intelligence to know when to do so. AI can detect red flags faster than agents and from more nuanced and subtle cues.

While changes in customer sentiment can be highly subjective, AI identifies anomalies not just in the moment but also tracked against the entire knowledge base for comparable situations. As such, it recognizes behavioral patterns arising from a chatbot’s limitations, which triggers the need to escalate to an agent. Ideally, the agent receives a transcript of the chatbot conversation to continue the interaction seamlessly.

Enhancing Omnichannel with AI

As important as the above is, contact centers also need to maximize the use of chatbots to drive more self-service. This is where the most significant ROI will be while also catering to digital customers’ preferences. According to chatbot provider Tidio, 62% of customers would rather speak to a chatbot than wait for a human agent.

Technology aside, this is mainly about recognizing which needs are best suited for self-service and which need the personal touch that only a live agent can provide. Some inquiries require agent engagement the whole way through, but others can be fully automated. Ideally, contact centers want as much of the latter as possible, at least to make the agent workload more manageable and keep operational costs in check.

That said, it’s also true that many inquiries are routine, such as hours of operation, re-setting a PIN, updating an address, redeeming a voucher, etc. Not only can these be easily automated, but they are also transactional and don’t require the high-touch experience of speaking with an agent.

When inquiries like this start with a chatbot, omnichannel capabilities shouldn’t be needed if the bot has enough “intelligence” to manage the interaction. Even if the bot gives small cause for concern, the customer may quickly lose patience or confidence and request a live agent.

This is not what contact centers want to see happen, and it is precisely where AI can make all the difference. Drawing from your knowledge base, AI can make on-the-fly determinations about how to help the customer or if the customer needs to be handed off to an agent.

These are just two examples of how AI can make omnichannel more impactful and contact center leaders must never lose sight of the many forms CX can take. There are some scenarios where a live agent and voice-based communication is the best approach, but there are many others where text and various forms of self-service are sufficient. More importantly, today’s contact centers need to support both and everything in between. The latter is where AI-enhanced omnichannel becomes a key driver for CX.

Learn how Upstream Works’ AI and advanced omnichannel solutions allow for seamless escalations and CX journeys here.