2024 Contact Center Trends: AI and CX Transformation – CMSWire

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The Gist

  • Contact center trends. AI, NLP and analytics in 2024 reshape industry with personalized, efficient service.
  • Customer experience focus. 2024 trends emphasize CX, with AI augmenting human agents in contact centers.
  • Omnichannel evolution. Seamless, responsive service across digital channels emerges as key 2024 trend.

As we close out the year, 2024 shows the promise of technological innovations and major operational shifts in the contact center. With businesses increasingly prioritizing customer experience (CX), the integration of artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP), and advanced analytics are not just trends, but necessities that are reshaping the industry. These advances in AI are poised to redefine customer interactions, offering more personalized, efficient and context-aware resolutions. This article will examine contact center trends to watch in 2024 and discuss how these technologies will be used to create a seamless, customer-centric service model in the coming year.

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Several key technological trends are expected to significantly impact contact/call centers, shaping both their operational framework and the overall customer experience. These trends reflect the ongoing evolution of technology and the changing expectations of consumers in a digitally connected world.

AI and Automation Proliferation

In 2024, AI is set to play an even more pivotal role in contact centers. From AI-powered chatbots handling initial customer inquiries to sophisticated algorithms predicting customer needs, AI is streamlining operations and enabling personalized customer interactions. Automation, alongside and augmented by AI, is expected to handle more complex tasks, reducing response times and enhancing efficiency. 

A recent Gartner report predicted that by 2025, 80% of customer service and support organizations will be using some form of generative AI to improve agent productivity and the customer experience. According to a separate Gartner poll, 38% of leaders polled consider the improvement of CX and customer retention as the primary goal of initiatives using large language models (LLMs). 

Additionally, a recent study by UnitedCallCenters revealed that 58% of residential customers support the use of AI in order to satisfy their customer services needs at a higher level. The report showed that although 78% of those polled believe live support is more reliable than AI, there are many automated tasks that are being successfully accomplished by AI as part of a self-service system, including checking the status of an order, making appointments, data reconciliations and checks, and preparing service requests for live assistance.

It’s been said that we are currently living in the era of artificial intelligence, and AI is being “baked in” to many of the applications that we use every day. AI is becoming ubiquitous, and is beginning to become pervasive, especially in industries such as customer service, where there are so many opportunities to leverage the technology. Chris Todd, senior manager of demand generation at CallTrackingMetrics, a call analytics and marketing attribution solution provider, told CMSWire that as we look toward the future, AI-driven technology will be table stakes, so the opportunity to sell your solution as “AI-driven” will soon be a thing of the past. “Consumers will assume your tech has some type of AI capability baked in.”

Todd believes that as the technology itself becomes more commonplace, brands must fall back on the most basic element of business: customer experience. “As consumer behaviors and preferences evolve, so must our strategies, and we can facilitate that evolution by really listening to our customers — putting out more surveys, orchestrating more focus groups, revisiting call recordings,” said Todd. “We will prioritize being nimble and able to adjust as old tactics fall by the wayside and new avenues emerge.”

Related Article: AI in the Contact Center: An Essential Tool

Emphasis on Customer Experience (CX)

Dave Hoekstra, product evangelist at Calabrio, a workforce optimization platform provider, told CMSWire that as we look ahead to 2024, it is no secret that AI is poised to be pivotal in shaping a new customer-centric service model for contact centers. What may be surprising is that although AI is likely to become increasingly intertwined within the contact center, it is not likely to supplant human agents, and in fact, may instigate a greater need for them. “Contrary to popular concern, 70% of contact center managers believe the number of agents will increase,” said Hoekstra. “This forecast indicates that AI will augment human abilities, creating a heightened demand for well-trained agents proficient in integrating AI into their workflows and efficiently engaging with customers.”

This customer-centric focus is becoming paramount for all businesses, but particularly for contact centers. Driven by the understanding that exceptional CX is a key differentiator in today’s competitive market, the emphasis on CX in contact centers is expected to be a prominent trend in 2024, and will have a multifaceted impact on their overall strategic approach and how they operate.

Nikola Mrkšić, CEO and co-founder at PolyAI, a customer-led conversational platform provider, told CMSWire that brands will invest more in improving customer experience through the use of automation, with generative AI fueling much of that effort. The use of new technology always comes with risks, and this is certainly the case with a reliance on AI in the contact center. “This will pose new risks associated with ungated language models, prompting the need for organizational efforts to develop AI competency centers within various operational functions,” suggested Mrkšić.

Additionally, traditional contact center metrics like average handle time (AHT) are likely to take a backseat to more customer-centric KPIs such as customer satisfaction scores (CSAT), Net Promoter Scores (NPS), and first call resolution (FCR), as they better reflect the quality of the customer experience.

Omnichannel Communication

The trend toward omnichannel communication in contact centers is reflective of a broader shift toward digital customer service, as recently reported in a Gartner report on the three technologies that will transform customer service in 2023. 

This shift is focused on creating seamless, efficient, and responsive customer experiences across multiple digital channels, which is a typical consumer expectation today. As such, contact centers are likely to enhance their omnichannel strategies, ensuring consistent and effective communication whether the customer engages via phone, social media, email, or live chat, and enhancing overall satisfaction and loyalty. This drive toward omnichannel digital customer service has several benefits for the contact center, including:

  • Living up to Customer Expectations for Instant Service: Customers today expect quick and efficient responses to their inquiries. This expectation has been shaped by the wide availability and accessibility of digital channels, prompting businesses to adapt and offer instantaneous service options.
  • Seamless Experience Across Multiple Channels: The introduction of more digital channels, while offering flexibility and choice, can also lead to increased customer effort as they navigate between these platforms. As a result, a major focus of digital customer service is to ensure that the transition between channels is seamless.
  • Integration of Conversational AI and Self-Service: The rise of conversational AI technologies and a growing preference for self-service options are transforming engagement models. These technologies are being used to provide more intuitive and responsive customer experiences, often in real-time.
  • Reducing Friction and Customer Effort: By creating a streamlined, omnichannel customer experience, digital customer service aims to reduce friction and eliminate unnecessary customer effort. This approach is crucial in enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as in reducing churn.
  • Transformative Impact on Customer Experience: The implementation of digital customer service technologies is expected to significantly transform customer experience outcomes. By minimizing pain points and aligning with customer preferences for digital engagement, businesses can create more satisfying and effective customer service interactions.

Related Article: What Is a Contact Center? Omnichannel Customer Experience Redefined

Advanced Security and Privacy Measures

With the introduction of generative AI into the industry, and as contact centers collect and process vast amounts of sensitive customer data, security has become an increasing concern. Implementing advanced security protocols and ensuring compliance with data protection regulations will be critical to maintain customer trust and avoid legal repercussions. 

Eric Williamson, CMO at CallMiner, a cloud-based conversational analytics solution provider, told CMSWire that according to CallMiner’s 2023 CX Landscape Report, 45% of CX and contact center leaders said they’re concerned about AI exposing their company to security risks, 43% are worried about the technology spreading misinformation, and 41% are fearful of AI giving biased or inappropriate responses in CX and customer service use cases.

Contact centers are poised to significantly bolster their data security and privacy measures, addressing the sensitive nature of customer information they handle. Enhanced encryption methods, crucial for protecting data both at rest and in transit, will see the adoption of more sophisticated algorithms. Along with this, the role of AI in threat detection will become more prominent, mirroring initiatives such as CISA’s use of AI for security. AI’s ability to swiftly identify and respond to security threats through pattern analysis and anomaly detection will be key in this endeavor. 

Additionally, the implementation of advanced access controls, specifically role-based access, will be crucial in minimizing internal data breaches by restricting employee access to essential information only. As global privacy regulations including the GDPR and CCPA continue to evolve, contact centers will also need to enhance their compliance measures through regular audits, better customer consent mechanisms, and transparent data handling practices. 

Finally, with the shift to cloud-based solutions, securing cloud infrastructure will become a top priority, involving the use of secure cloud service providers and adherence to cloud security best practices. Recognizing that human error is a significant security risk, there will also be a heightened focus on employee training and awareness programs, ensuring that staff are well-versed in security best practices and are alert to the latest cyber threats. 

Enhanced Employee Experience (EX)

Recognizing the direct link between employee satisfaction and customer experience, contact centers are likely to invest more in their staff. Fortunately, contact centers are expected to continue adopting advanced technology solutions that streamline tasks and reduce the workload on agents. This includes the integration of AI and ML for better call routing, predictive analytics to anticipate customer needs, and automation tools to handle repetitive tasks. These technologies not only make the job less stressful for employees but also allow them to focus on more complex and rewarding customer interactions.

Contact centers are likely to place more emphasis on personal development and career advancement opportunities for employees. This includes upskilling and reskilling, regular training, skill development programs, and clear pathways for career progression. Employees who feel their career goals are supported tend to be more engaged and likely to provide better customer service. 

Additionally, as part of a reaction to labor shortages, contact centers are more likely to significantly invest in training programs in 2024. “The focus will be on specific challenges, including emotional intelligence, job aptitude, and onboarding, which highlights the industry-wide dedication to equipping agents with the skills necessary for navigating and succeeding against the demands of a more hybrid, AI-driven contact center environment,” said Hoekstra.

Finally, with an increased awareness of mental health in the workplace, and recognizing the often high-stress nature of contact center work, more businesses will be inclined to invest in their employees’ mental health. This could include wellness programs, access to counseling services, and initiatives to foster a positive and supportive work environment.

These employee initiatives will have a positive impact on the customer experience, as satisfied and engaged employees are much more likely to have positive interactions with customers, and are typically more enthusiastic, empathetic and committed to solving customer issues, which directly enhance the overall customer experience.

Voice Technology and Natural Language Understanding (NLU)

The integration of advanced voice recognition and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) technologies is expected to grow, allowing for more natural and effective voice-based customer interactions. This technology can facilitate quicker resolution of queries and enhance the overall user experience. 

In a recent Gartner report, Gartner analyst Drew Kraus said that “Customers increasingly expect to be able to interact with the applications they use in a natural way, and this has been accelerated by the emergence of large language model-enabled enterprise applications, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft 365 CoPilot.” Kraus believes that Conversational User Interfaces (CUIs) will be vital for driving efficiency and meeting customers’ changing expectations. These CUIs are designed as interactive platforms between humans and computers, enabling natural language exchanges to accomplish specific requests, such as responding to queries or executing tasks.

Mrkšić believes that traditional IVRs will be forced to evolve or die, as consumer/end user expectations will expand with maturing technological capabilities, meaning the already strained patience for “press 1 for accounts” or “tell us in a few words…” will all but disappear in the wake of an influx of agile automated agents greeting callers with “Hello Angela, thanks for being a customer since 2017. How can I help?” “In addition to this meaningful personalization, sophisticated voice assistants will improve overall brand accessibility,” said Mrkšić, who added that because they can understand callers regardless of their language, background noise present or manner of speaking, businesses can ensure that they can provide the best customer service possible for every caller.

Final Thoughts

As we move into the new year, key contact center trends to watch include the expanding use of AI and automation to enable more efficient operations and enhanced customer experiences, an increased focus on delivering seamless omnichannel interactions, and major investments in security, privacy and employee experience. By taking advantage of these technological and strategic innovations, contact centers will be in a better position to provide enhanced personalization, reduce customer effort, and deliver real-time, empathetic service across all of a brand’s touchpoints.

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