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IT and contact centre leaders embrace conversational AI or fear falling behind

Study finds contact centres are on the precipice of a new era as AI begins to deliver and users are increasingly turning to digital channels for information, purchases and support. But efficiency and effectiveness a point of contention

Research from unified communications platform provider 8x8 has found that while contact centre and IT leaders believe conversational artificial intelligence (AI) is the future of the contact centre, with as many as four in five saying these capabilities will be a must have in the near future, just over two-fifths believe that companies will fall behind if they don’t adopt these capabilities.

For the 2023 State of conversational AI in the contact center report, 8x8 surveyed more than 300 business leaders in contact centre, customer support, customer experience, customer care, customer success, IT, IT help desk, IT/vendor procurement, and operations. It was administered in the US, UK and Canada between May and June 2023 and respondents included employees from organisations with more than 250 employees and included managers and above.

Among its key findings were that investing in contact centre automation is a top priority, conversational AI will be an essential tool but will complement the human touch, and automation will improve improves customer experiences but not replace it.

The study found virtually all (99%) organisations plan to dedicate more spending on contact centre operations over the next year, with much of that investment going towards adopting or increasing automation. In the US, respondents were more likely to consider automation extremely important (27%), versus their UK (8%) and Canadian counterparts (16%).

Expectations for conversational AI were high among the survey sampler – as are the stakes of deployment. The research revealed that 87% of respondents believing that conversational AI/chatbots increase productivity; 76% that conversational AI/chatbot capabilities were revolutionising business communications; and 72% believed these capabilities will increase company profitability and revenue and lower company risks.

Another key finding was that contact centre and IT leaders are turning to AI and automation to assist with key challenges such as increasing support volume, staffing challenges, and the need to be more cost-efficient. Just over half (52%) of organisations said they have already invested in conversational AI for the contact centre. Out of those already using the capabilities, 92% report it has resolved customer issues faster and reduced effort for agents (87%) and the overall cost of contact centre operations (53%).

Respondents in the UK were seen to be taking a step further, with 94% rating voice chatbots as a top two priority for AI-based capabilities for contact centre and customer support operations, compared to 68% in the US.

Organisations currently using conversational AI in the contact centre were found to be doing so to improve customer service capabilities (62%), streamline internal workflows (42%), improve customer satisfaction (36%), and reduce customer wait times. Despite fears to the contrary, only 6% of adopters were using it as a means to reduce employee and agent headcount.

Moreover, trust was still an issue for generative AI (GenAI) among the sample. Even though almost a third of organisations reported that they are currently using GenAI in the contact centre, with an even greater number experimenting with it, the research showed that organisations still struggled with fully trusting it at this stage.

Almost two-thirds of respondents said they would very much or completely trust generative AI to answer customer questions, but from there, percentages dropped significantly, with just 24% putting their full trust in the technology to directly engage with customers and 23% trusting generative AI to guide their contact centre agents.

“At 8x8, we understand how the contact centre industry can shift and change – especially as new technologies are introduced, tested and standardised – and we are proud to always be at the forefront of that changing technology landscape,” said Hunter Middleton, chief product officer at 8x8 commenting on the findings of the study.

“As we can see from the findings of the…report, it’s important to understand the needs and requirements of organisations, including how they actually use the different technologies available to them. We are committed to working closely with our customers to deliver AI-driven tools and resources, such as 8x8 Intelligent Customer Assistant, to help drive their digital transformation and business success initiatives.”

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