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While the holidays are a joyous season for most of us, they can feel like a lump of coal for retail contact center agents.
Between Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the Christmas rush, retail contact centers are bombarded with calls from customers making returns, asking questions about products, or not-so-politely complaining. This spike in volume can put a tremendous burden on agents, leading to burnout and attrition (not to mention frustrated callers as they experience long wait times). Adding to the challenges during this time of year, many contact centers also struggle with staffing — and can’t hire workers fast enough — to address the hike in volume.
For retailers, where brand and customer satisfaction are so important, it’s essential that the contact center positively represents the company and keeps customers happy. In such a competitive market, against the backdrop of a poor economy, delivering great customer experience is that much more crucial — and contact center agents are on the front lines.
Fortunately, agents aren’t left without a paddle (or snow shovel?). Increasingly, retail companies are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) technology like intelligent virtual agents (think chatbots) and AI-powered contact center software to manage the avalanche of calls around the holidays, make agents more efficient and effective, and improve customer satisfaction.
A chatbot (or virtual agent) is an AI-powered computer program that conducts online conversations with users. Similar to virtual assistants, like Siri or Alexa, modern chatbots allow customers to converse in a conversational manner. Gone are the days of trying to guess how to phrase a question or request. The primary way retail companies use chatbots is on their websites. Chatbots will often pop up when a user is navigating a company’s page and will offer to answer questions, help the user find something on the site, or complete a purchase.
In retail contact centers, chatbots offload from the need for agent involvement many of the “easy” questions, freeing up agents to focus on more complex tasks that require human interaction. For example, retail companies often leverage chatbots to answer questions about store hours, physical store location, tracking the progress of a package, managing loyalty points, and much more.
Unsurprisingly, chatbots are an extremely effective way to manage call volume spikes. Not only do they answer basic inquiries and free up an agent’s time, but they’re also significantly faster than waiting on a phone call as answers are typically instant — and they’re available 24 hours a day.
In short, chatbots allow customers to quickly address their needs and find answers instantly. Chatbots reduce the number of calls to agents, allowing them to focus on priority calls and get through the volume faster. It’s a win-win and is a truly effective way for retailers to protect their image by keeping customers satisfied.
Contact Center AI Platforms
While chatbots can help lift the call burden on agents and assist customers in getting responses to basic questions, agents are still relied upon to answer complex customer inquiries. In fact, studies consistently show that the majority of consumers prefer to speak to a human agent for urgent or sensitive issues. Fortunately, modern retailers are making this process easier by equipping agents with innovative tools to help sales and service agents to be more efficient and effective in their roles.
AI solutions, such as Agent Assist, use natural language processing (NLP) and real-time transcription to analyze the words that are spoken in a call and provide agents with hints and tips to better respond to customers and manage tricky requests. These AI solutions can even gauge the tone and sentiment of a call to discern if a customer is angry or dissatisfied based on the words they’re speaking. These solutions can include coaching capabilities so managers can have real-time visibility into agent performance and provide feedback on ways to improve.
In short, modern contact center platforms make agents significantly more effective, helping them resolve calls more quickly while at the same time improving the customer experience.
For example, if a customer is calling for instructions on how to return a Black Friday impulse purchase, the agent assist application would coach the agent on how to walk the customer through the process.
Contact center AI solutions can also be instrumental in more rapidly onboarding new agents. Contact centers typically hire quite a few seasonal workers to meet holiday call spikes, but onboarding new talent (who often have little to no experience) can be a major challenge. Using AI tools and applications, which are trained on the models of an organization’s top performers, new agents can be onboarded more rapidly as they learn the tricks of the trade.
Not only does this improve the onboarding process and make agents more effective, but it results in happier customers who have their challenges resolved quicker.
In the retail world, a positive brand perception is critical — and the contact center increasingly plays a key role in a customer’s perception of a company. Chatbots and AI-powered contact center platforms are enabling retail brands and their contact centers to be more effective than ever before, and bring a little extra joy to agents and customers this holiday season.
Scott Kolman is the chief marketing officer at Cresta, where he oversees the overall positioning, promotion, and branding of Cresta’s real-time intelligence platform for the contact center.