The novel Coronavirus is a black swan event that no business continuity plans could cover. Leadership teams have been pushed hard to change their strategies and priorities drastically to manage customer expectations. With shelter-in-place orders and staff working from home to maintain social distancing, call centers have been severely hit with under-staffing.
While several measures have been taken by banks and credit unions, like drive-through branches and digital banking options, it is understandable that customers are anxious and need more reassurance. This has led to increased pressure on the contact centers, where there has been a high volume of inbound calls and long wait times. In certain cases, the customer wait time to talk to a representative has been almost 10 hours!
To keep up with the increased demand, several contact centers have been furiously hiring over the past few weeks. This has invariably led to a few problems that will have serious ramifications on customer experience if left unchecked.
Firstly, with a work from the home scenario, the security features of a full-fledged contact center don’t exist putting the customer data at risk. While cloud-based contact centers can partially help with this, banks that have on-premise solutions may find it hard to overcome this issue.
Secondly, unprecedented call volumes have forced contact centers to hire temp employees, who will hit the ground running with almost no training. These novice employees will not be able to answer complex questions that banking customers tend to have. They can at best answer scripted replies to FAQ based questions and then pass on the call to a more experienced staff member.
Thirdly, the excess workload has put all customer service representatives under a lot of stress, and to add to that they have to maintain high levels of empathy as they respond to agitated customers.
With emotions already high, you cannot afford to make mistakes on the customer experience front. Things have to be dealt with empathy, patience and above all accuracy. Imagine a scenario in which a novice employee second-guesses what he should tell the emotionally charged customer who can’t make the next mortgage payment and fears she could lose her house. The result will be disastrous, to say the least.
Can AI-Virtual assistants be the answer to the problem?
AI-enabled Virtual assistants can bridge the gap in service in an efficient manner. It can be integrated directly into the IVR so that it can answer simple questions like “Is the branch open f0r a drive through service?” While this is not a question that virtual agents are generally trained to respond to, but it can answer these questions by tweaking the knowledge base.
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Virtual assistants powered by interface are also in-built with sentiment analysis, that can ascertain the emotional state of the customer and respondent accordingly, or pass on the call to the human agent. Virtual assistants are trained to respond with empathy and patience and unlike human agents they do not err.
The integration of virtual assistants doesn’t mean redundancy of customer service representatives, it is, in fact, the opposite. The virtual agent can deal with simple questions and clear up the bandwidth of customer service agents to handle much more complex questions. The 2 solutions will offer the best result when used in a complementary fashion.
The idea behind integrating virtual assistants during these uncertain times is simple.
- Keep employees safe
- Ensure service reliability for customers
- Reduce customer wait time
The future of contact center was always going to be AI-powered communication, however, the pandemic situation has just hastened the adoption and brought to light the issues business continuity that depends on only human interaction.