It seems like AI has been ‘just around the corner’ for several decades. But does it ever get any closer to becoming a reality?
Actually, yes. It’s impossible to ignore the pretty major examples of AI that have entered our everyday routines. (Alexa, what’s the weather like?…)
And, although most people don’t know it, the business world puts AI to use even more.
The contact center has a great example of this; conversational IVR systems (aka conversational AI).
These systems are quite similar to Alexa and other smart assistants. In customer service they’re deployed to make self-service
and data gathering easier – but more on that below.
Let’s take a look at how a conversational IVR system can make life easier.
What purpose does an IVR System serve?
IVR stands for Interactive Voice Response. You may know it as the irritating system that asks you to ‘press 1 for service, 2 for sales.’ and so on.
You can immediately see the value of the ‘conversational’ part. Modern IVRs can listen to and understand what you tell them – therefore, no button pushing.
The nuts and bolts of IVR
IVR systems have been in use since the 1970s… and they haven’t changed much in that time. Voice recognition is obviously one of the bigger developments in the tech, and that’s thanks to two subsystems: NLP and NLU.
Natural Language Processing (NLP) listens to regular, human speech and figures out what you’re saying. That’s the first step.
Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is the next conceptual step. It takes the words you’ve used, and figures out what you need. For example, if you say ‘I want to check my booking’ it knows what possible actions it should take based on the words ‘check’ and ‘booking’.
And that gives you conversational IVR
When an IVR system can understand what you’re saying – and respond with speech as well – you basically have a reasonably smart AI system offering service.
Most consumers are far more willing to engage with this kind of system. It demands less effort than the button-pushing approach and besides; we’re all used to voice input by now.
3 Massive benefits of conversational tech
Once you’ve got your conversational setup, you can step back and reap the benefits. Here are the top 3:
1. Recognizing your customers when they call
Pretty much any integrated IVR system can ‘recognize’ callers. That is a huge advantage that too many customer service teams overlook. Recognizing customers based on their phone number means you can start looking up their details and get a handle on what they’re likely to need.
A conversational system has the added advantage of being able to naturalistically confirm the caller’s identity. It doesn’t need to interrupt the flow of service today; they can greet the caller like and old friend!
(And think about it – if any of your friends allied, you’d recognize their phone number… so why can’t the businesses you buy from do the same?)
Knowing who you’re dealing with is the first step towards successfully resolving their query. Do you need to route them based on their language preference? Their outstanding orders?
Figuring this out in advance will have an enormous positive impact on your call transfer rates.
2. Keeping your customer information up to date
Data – it goes off. In fact, it goes off quite fast. Think of your customer data like tuna that’s been left at the back of the fridge.
Pretty soon you won’t want to eat it.
So how do you keep your tuna/customer data fresh?
Conversational AI systems can help with this by simply asking customers if the information you have on record is still correct. Is this still your address? Do we have the right email? This is super easy to automate and it helps to answer an important question.
Is the tuna still good?
In practice, there are all kinds of interactions that you can automate with a conversational IVR system. You can aim for full-spectrum self-service by letting the system provide basic info to customers who want it.
(For example: Delta Air Lines use this setup to provide flight details to callers. It saves them thousands of hours every month.)
3. Capture customer intent
Self-service is a great goal. In many cases, businesses are able to automate 20% of all phone interactions that reach the contact center.
But that still leaves plenty of customers who want (or need) to speak to a human agent.
Can conversational AI help with those too?
Capturing intent is how. So what does that mean?
Basically, you can figure out what customers need before they’re routed to an agent. Then, you can present that information to the agent as a simple screen-pop.
Why is that a benefit? Because the alternative is generally that customers have to explain their needs twice. First, to get routed to an agent. Second, to tell the agent how to help them.
One of the most common refrains in the call center is ‘I just said all this already!’
But with a good conversational IVR system, you can put an end to that.