The Future of AI-Driven Contact Center in the Business

When I mention contact centers to many people in the dental industry, their minds immediately roll to series of failed programs that have over-promised and under-delivered. Some think of the old fashioned answering service or the .com call centers that exploded in the late 90s and early 2000s, but the modern contact center is so much more.

Contact centers offer unified communications over inbound/outbound calling, instant messaging, emailing, chatting on webpage links etc. This ability to respond and generate communications is vital to handle media generated leads on a 24/7 basis. Though some in the industry do not believe it, contact center features are not the future, but the present expectation of the social media public.

Now artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the near horizon and many contact center users are wondering how it will affect their future. Currently, many of you are already interacting with chat-bots without being aware of it. When you respond to a chat invitation and someone immediately addresses asking how he/she can help you, that is probably a bot. It captures you with its instant response, but then you notice you have to wait for a minute or two for the authentic chat to begin. What marketers know is that people crave live conversation, and the bot gives that illusion, and although you may have to wait, you probably will. Such is the power of the bot. Until the bot can learn to actually think and communicate, its power is limited and utilitarian.

Campaigns of any kind (marketing or political) can create an army of bots to make them seem much larger than they are. Also, until algorithms are corrected, these bots can give the illusion of a mass following which will help drive SEO (search engine optimization) numbers, thereby justifying your social media marketers’ hefty monthly bill. However, that is a story for another time.

Customer service centers have led the movement in the adoption of new technologies that foment caller assistance and quick resolution to problems. The invention of the IVR (interactive voice response) system revolutionized call center operation. If you don’t know what it is, well just think of menu driven phone trees that are a daily part of our lives (“Press 1 for English, press 2 for Spanish, if you know the extension of the person you are trying to reach, enter that extension now…”) They are pretty old technology but were a quick, inexpensive way to route callers to the right person with no human intervention. Obnoxious for certain, but still not dangerous.

Call center technology has come a long way since then, and AI is pushing the envelope. Bots are just the tip of the iceberg. The futurist’s goal is that someday artificial intelligence programs will be able to handle an unlimited number of calls with a very high resolution rate, and callers will never know they have spoken with a machine. The days of that future are inevitable. The social and economic considerations of AI will be provocative and profound. Questions of work, distribution of wealth, all the social contracts that have evolved over the centuries will be tested. This is the main reason people are so troubled about AI technology. Science fiction writers wonder if it can be controlled. I wonder if we can control ourselves when it comes to applying it in the most prudent way possible. Ethics, insight and moderation will be key.

So, will the call center of the future be a black box that replaces an entire segment (or many segments) of our economy? Will an AI program be able to monitor the breath patterns and heartrate of the caller to know exactly what to say to make a sale? Will such a program learn to manipulate the unaware caller? Maybe, in the end, however, it is just another tool in the box. Most services will be beneficial to both caller and call center, like instant translations, instantly accessed information and much more efficient routing to the people who have the final say.

I am convinced that call centers will remain human-centered and exist to offer the best help to their callers. Technology will progress, and issues will come up, and new protocols may need to be developed to protect the rights of the caller, but if the benefit and wellbeing of the customer is the guiding precept, then all will be well.

John Ross