Contact Center AI (Artificial Intelligence)

What is contact center AI (artificial intelligence)?

Contact center artificial intelligence refers to integrating AI technology into contact center operations. This includes all branches and subsets of AI software, such as machine learning, generative AI, and natural language processing. 

Broadly, an AI tool can carry out tasks that humans would otherwise perform. It mimics human intelligence to recognize patterns, make decisions, solve problems, and form predictions, among many other potential applications. As the AI market develops and grows more sophisticated, many organizations are creating new and ingenious ways of leveraging them to their advantage—especially when it comes to customer experience (CX). 

Historically, call centers have always been quick to embrace innovation. From high-tech audio hardware to communications platforms, the savviest businesses are always ready to implement cutting-edge solutions. Yet, innovation still has its challenges.

More often than not, contact centers are patched together using disparate point solutions. Sometimes, although still effective, these legacy products inhibit omnichannel support and prevent teams from leveraging new tools to their full potential. 

The good news? With an end-to-end platform, you can simplify your tech stack with one centralized system. Not only does this make it easier to deploy AI technology, but the right solution will even offer out-of-the-box AI capabilities made specifically for contact and call center operations. 

Why do contact centers need AI technology?

Ultimately, contact centers are more than just customer support hubs. They bridge the gap between consumers and brands, uplifting customer satisfaction regardless of how or where an interaction occurs. And, with such a profound impact on customer experience (CX), they’re essential for long-term growth and retention. 

To illustrate how important customer experience is, let's take a look at some crucial statistics. According to the 2023 State of the Consumer report:

  • 80% of consumers say the experience a company provides is just as important as its products and services.

  • 88% say good customer service makes them more likely to purchase again. 

  • 75% of customers forgave a company’s mistakes after receiving an excellent customer experience. 

  • 75% of customers recommend brands based on excellent customer service.

In summary, not only does a positive CX increase customer lifetime value, but it can also become a significant marketing advantage through word-of-mouth advertising. 

The only problem? Maintaining customer satisfaction isn't easy. It requires a much more efficient and personalized approach, but many brands are struggling to keep up. 64% of consumers wish companies would respond faster to their changing needs, but 88% of executives think their customers are changing faster than their business can handle.

Fortunately, where legacy systems and manual processes fail, the combined powers of automation and artificial intelligence shine. 

They streamline operations, automatically bringing customer data to the surface and empowering agents to address every interaction with full context and clarity. With valuable insight at their fingertips, agents can address customer needs on a much more granular level, providing the level of personalization consumers expect.

How does contact center AI work?

Perhaps the best way to understand how contact center AI works is to discuss its vast capabilities. From customer experience to agent productivity, AI’s potential is virtually limitless—however, there are several notable features already making waves around the world. 

Here are five key components you should consider:

1. AI-powered customer data and agent assistance

Customer data is the lifeblood of personalization. But, without adequate access to analytics, organizations simply don’t have the knowledge or visibility to handle customer inquiries as effectively as possible. 

Luckily, AI call centers aggregate and deliver customer data at scale. That means they automatically gather and synthesize it into actionable intelligence you can use for any number of applications. 

For example, some AI solutions provide content-driven insights. Available in one centralized location, a contact center agent can instantly access a wealth of information, including:

  • Complete histories of every customer interaction

  • Transcripts of past conversations with chatbots or human agents

  • Recently viewed web pages, resources, and more

  • Customer satisfaction scores, survey results, and other forms of feedback 

This ensures agents always retain key information and never force consumers to rehash their situations. With a single consolidated view, they have all the context they need to tailor customer engagement accordingly. 

Likewise, predictive analytics also help agents understand a customer’s next move, such as their likelihood to churn. Based on this information, they can make more informed decisions about how best to approach the interaction. 

2. Virtual agents for enhanced self-service

A virtual agent (or virtual assistant) is an AI-powered bot that handles customer engagement without needing the help of a human agent. Using natural language processing, it recognizes patterns in text and speech to address each customer query with the appropriate response. 

Why is this important? Digital-first consumers use up to five different channels to engage their favorite brands. And, when they do, they’re expecting immediate customer service. 

Unfortunately, it’s not realistic to expect a live agent to answer every inbound message right away. But, with a virtual agent, you can use conversational AI to deliver a 24/7 self-service experience. 

Virtual agents usually come in two varieties:

  • Chat: AI chatbots offer an intuitive option for customers seeking answers to less complex inquiries. This reduces the case volume agents have to deal with, allowing them to focus on more important work. This not only leads to better agent productivity but also relieves them of mundane, repetitive tasks.
  • Voice: Interactive voice response (IVR) systems are a type of AI solution that automatically responds to voice commands. IVR reduces average handle time, thereby decreasing the number of calls directed to agents. 

Both AI chatbots and IVR systems can also elevate the conversation to a live agent if necessary. Better yet, agents retain a transcript of the interaction, ensuring they’re fully context-aware of all customer needs and expectations.

3. Streamlined call routing and queuing

Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) is a tentpole of any effective call center. With the right AI tool, you can take ACD’s intelligent routing capabilities to a whole new level of speed and efficiency. 

Smart approaches factor key criteria into the distribution process, ensuring each case is assigned to the best possible agent for the job. For example, AI call centers match agent availability and skill set to customer priority, value, and needs. 

Administrators assign skill types to their agents and grade them based on their proficiency in skills-based routing. The ACD then routes inbound customer inquiries to whichever live agent best fits the bill. 

This AI-based distribution strategy reduces average handle and hold time while improving first-contact resolution. As a bonus, it evenly allocates cases to your available team, improving agent productivity and utilization rates. Plus, customers on hold receive automated queue positions and estimated wait times based on real-time speed-to-answer data.

4. Speech analytics and customer sentiment analysis 

What if you could gauge customer satisfaction in real time? With a contact center AI solution, you can do exactly that and more. 

Using natural language processing, AI-powered tools analyze speech analytics to better understand customer sentiment. In other words, managers can see live during a call whether the interaction is going positively or negatively, allowing them to spot problems immediately and jump in to assist their team. 

The result? Instant, real-time quality management. Live speech analytics empower sales and customer support team managers to know when an agent needs help. Better yet, combined with automated call transcription, these AI tools provide valuable insight into call center operations. Managers and agents can study transcripts to pinpoint precisely where the conversation went south—or, hopefully, why it was a success. 

5. Workforce optimization and quality assurance

Aside from customer sentiment analysis, contact center AI software can help supervisors manage their teams more efficiently. This is especially vital for distributed workforces with employees logging in from remote locations. Without visibility, managing and supporting agents is an uphill battle. 

Centralized platforms house customer success and agent performance metrics in one comprehensive interface. From here, managers can schedule staff, measure agent efficiency, and correlate performance to net promote scores and other key indicators. This rich visibility makes it easy to spot agents in need of coaching, allowing you to identify potential areas of improvement.

In addition to quality assurance, AI call centers also can forecast call volumes, peak hours, and scheduling requirements. These predictive analytics help supervisors make efficient decisions and prevent over- or under-staffing. 

Benefits of contact center AI

According to Acumen Research, the global call center AI market will reach $14.6 billion by 2032. That’s nearly eight times the size it was in 2022. 

What’s driving this growth trajectory? Simply put, enterprises are starting to realize what AI has to offer. More than just the latest technology trend, AI-powered systems create real, tangible business value. 

Among the many advantages you can expect from AI software, here are some of the most impactful:

Improved agent performance

Life as a contact center agent isn’t always easy, especially if you work with outdated, disparate systems. Jumping back and forth between tabs isn’t just slow and tedious but a painstaking frustration that derails customer support. Worse yet, it leads to agent disengagement. 

Per Gartner’s estimate, disengaged agents are 84% more likely to look for another job, and replacing them costs, on average, $14,000 per customer service rep. Fortunately, all this can be avoided.

Rather than jumping through hoops for customer data, contact center AI software offers everything in a single source of truth. That means agents have all the information they need to address any customer query that comes their way. 

Artificial intelligence also helps gamify the experience. In other words, it uses timely feedback loops and self-assessments to incentivize agent performance and increase engagement. Supervisors can even gamify specific metrics, awarding agents badges for quality assurance scores and script adherence. 

Enhanced customer satisfaction

Of course, the better agents perform, the better consumers perceive the customer experience. One of the chief advantages of having fully automated and robust customer profiles at your fingertips is the ability to instantly tailor the interaction without skipping a beat. 

Not only does this make customer engagement feel more personal, but it also accelerates time to resolution. The result? Lower wait times, more cases closed, and happier consumers. 

Keep in mind businesses that prioritize CX realize significant financial benefits, too. According to McKinsey, improving customer experience can increase sales revenue by 7%, profitability by 2%, and shareholder value by 7-10%

Operational efficiencies and cost savings

Offloading heavy case volumes to AI chatbots and IVR systems naturally generates greater efficiency for the rest of the team. Self-service options free up live agents to handle more complex queries. Plus, they deflect expensive voice calls to more affordable digital channels, reducing your operating expenses. 

Compared to on-premise solutions, cloud-based contact center AI also has a much lower total cost of ownership. Instead of making enormous upfront investments and paying for physical installation and maintenance, you can access innovative AI technology over the Internet. Some vendors even offer contact center solutions as a service (CCaaS), which is often a much more cost-efficient deployment option. 

Limitless potential for continuous improvement

AI technologies are advancing rapidly. As we’ve discussed, many sophisticated models are already transforming how companies manage the customer experience. But, given the pace of its development, enterprises must anticipate how AI could even more effectively improve their business processes. 

Take generative AI, for example. Boston Consulting Group predicts that today’s large customer service functions will become much more nimble and data-driven to create truly exceptional experiences. According to researchers, “As generative AI systems learn more about a company’s products, operations, and customers, they will likely be able to predict customer behavior and reach out to customers in anticipation of their needs and desires.” 

In simpler terms, we’re only scratching the surface of what AI brings to the table.

Choosing a contact center AI solution

Deciding on the right AI tool isn’t easy. No two contact center platforms are exactly alike—so remember your most important considerations. Here are a few key aspects to keep in mind:

  1. Scalability and platform flexibility: Don’t choose a solution that inhibits business growth. Cloud contact centers aren’t just fully featured but can scale according to your changing needs. The right vendor will make it easy to add new lines, onboard users, and manage bandwidth to avoid service disruptions.
  2. Business integration: Connect the dots between disjointed tools and data streams with an end-to-end platform. Look for an open-architecture solution that allows you to seamlessly integrate key business applications.
  3. Data security and privacy: Choose a security-focused provider that doesn’t cut corners when it comes to data protection. Prioritize platforms that are certified against your requisite compliance standards, ensuring you’re always aligned with regulations.
  4. Agent training and transition: What good is a platform nobody uses? None at all. That’s why it’s best to deploy a solution your workforce will find easy to use. More importantly, identify a partner whose own customer support team can simplify onboarding and agent training, ensuring a smooth transition to their new solution. 

Supercharge your contact center with Webex

From cloud calling and video conferencing to messaging and collaboration, the Webex Suite is full of enterprise solutions made for businesses like yours. With Webex Contact Center, you gain an end-to-end platform equipped with all the capabilities you need to energize customer engagement. 

Powered by artificial intelligence, Webex Contact Center enables omnichannel communication at scale. Whether it be self-service virtual agents or real-time sentiment analysis, our AI solutions optimize agent performance, simplify decision-making, and help you turn CX into a key competitive advantage.

Want to learn more? Explore Webex Contact Center today. 

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