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Bots have become one of the hot topics in contact centers, and for good reason: It makes sense that enterprises can save money and improve many of their key performance metrics in the contact center if they can automate their responses to the most common and straightforward questions, while offering customers a more conversational interface than old-school IVR provides.

But it’s still early days for bots. In Enterprise Connect Research’s recent Contact Center & CX Survey, just 25% of respondents said they currently use chatbots for self-service. When we asked how important bots are to contact center success, respondents were favorably inclined—50% considered bots “moderately important” and another 40% ranked bots as “highly important,” leaving just 10% to call bots “not at all important.” But it’s all relative: Only two other success factors on our list equaled or exceeded bots’ “not at all important” rating: Speech technologies (also 10%) and “Omnichannel support” (12%). The most highly-rated success factors were Workforce Optimization/Workforce Management and Agent Training.

So based on our survey, contact center decision-makers are still focused on the agent. And when they do think about advanced technologies, they seem to focus on those that can improve agent performance, rather than self-service: Our survey respondents rated CRM integration and “Advanced analytics on engagements” ahead of bots, speech technologies, and omnichannel as success factors.

None of this means that bots are a bad idea or that they’ll never happen. Self-service is obviously critical to continual improvement of contact center ROI, and the more effective your self-service tools are, the more you’ll be able to free up agents to deliver the value that contact centers want most of all. Our survey respondents clearly understand this; when we asked about bots in the context of emerging technologies (as opposed to factors currently affecting the contact center), the responses were positive. Only advanced analytics tools were rated as more relevant than AI-based communications tools like bots.

With that context, it’s encouraging to see developments in automated self-service, or “conversational AI,” continuing to advance. Consultant Brent Kelly, of KelCor, has been providing a deep dive into what’s probably the most prominent initiative in this area, Google’s Dialogflow. Google made a splash when it unveiled Dialogflow last year in relation to its Contact Center AI (CCAI) partner program, which was accompanied by an announcement of partnerships with almost a dozen contact center vendors, including market leaders Avaya, Cisco, and Genesys. Brent’s series on Dialogflow is a great tutorial on the hows and whys of conversational AI, and you can access the full list of posts on Brent’s author page on No Jitter.

We’ve also got a new post up from Andrew Prokop of ConvergeOne, describing a new gateway from AudioCodes that enables bots that were written as text-only to interact with customers via voice. To me, it seems gateways can be a proxy for measuring the success of a new technology: Gateways generally let you connect legacy technology to new technology, so if there’s demand for a particular flavor of gateway, that suggests the new technology has become important enough that it needs to be connected into the legacy technologies that you won’t be throwing out anytime soon. Whether demand will develop for bot-focused voice gateways like AudioCodes’ remains to be seen, but at least it gives us another benchmark by which to measure acceptance of bots.

The bottom line here seems to be that while bots are not taking over the contact center, they’re on the horizon, and they’re definitely one of the most interesting areas of development and use of AI.

Eric Krapf
GM & Program Co-Chair Enterprise Connect & WorkSpace Connect
Publisher, No Jitter

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