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The hidden benefits of AI in the contact center

May 15, 2023

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Like most call centers, after the pandemic, we struggled to recruit agents to help handle the influx of calls from our customers. With wait times exceeding 40 min and abandons approaching 50% we needed a different solution.

We began analyzing several conversational AI vendors to help with some simple call types to take the load off the agents to answer and resolve calls quickly. While analyzing all the vendors, I found that most were not conversational and just replaced an IVR.

One stood out that gave us a natural voice, not a robotic one, and did a much better job at understanding customer intents and resolving issues quickly and effortlessly.

We chose PolyAI as our partner.

We began with some simple transfers and FAQs on one call type. We were receiving about 40,000 calls per month on this line. I had hoped that the voice assistant would help with 40-50% of the calls. I was pleasantly surprised when day 1 it handled 87% of the calls and has consistently handled over 80% for the past 2 years.

This freed up my agents to handle more complex and revenue-producing calls, reduced my abandons to 10%, and provided a better experience for my customers.

From there we expanded to handle more complex calls, taking full reservations both cash and with casino offers and securely processing credit card payments. Our voice assistant is now handling over 30% of those calls now without guests needing to speak to an agent.

My initial purpose in implementing the voice assistant was to provide a better experience for my customers, to make it easier for them to do business with us and not have to wait on hold for long periods.

In addition to the increased customer experience, there were other benefits that we realized, some expected, some not.

Some of the obvious benefits we expected to see include:

  1. Reduced cost. We only pay for the time that the agent is working. It operates at 100% utilization, works 24/7/365, doesn’t call out sick, and it is a fraction per minute of what a live agent costs.
  2. Producing revenue. For just one of my properties, the voice assistant handled 12,000 calls in a month, booking 3,000 reservations, and producing about $600k in revenue. The GM of that property nominated the voice assistant for employee of the month.
  3. Reduced staffing. With the voice assistant handling 30%+ of the calls, this is a reduction in staffing of 30%.

What I did not anticipate was the reduction in attrition. Attrition for contact centers is one of the major expenses. Advertising and recruiting are expensive and it takes time to train agents until they are productive. If you are a BPO company, you don’t get any billable revenue for this until agents are in production.

Many contact centers experience attrition of up to 100% annually. That doesn’t necessarily mean replacing 100% of the staff; they typically replace the lower 25% of their staff up to 4 times. When you reduce your staffing requirements by 30%, you eliminate having to replace that 25% that keeps on churning.

In the past year, my attrition dropped in half. This allowed me to maintain more tenured and experienced staff providing a better experience to my customers.

I think back to the days of running a 600-seat call center for a telecom client. We were hiring 25 agents every 2 weeks. Training classes were 6-8 weeks long. Each training class cost over $70,000 before they would produce any revenue. That’s over $1.5M per year in just training wages. Imagine if you cut that in half, saving $750K per year in wages. Not to mention the reduced stress on recruiting and the increased tenure and knowledge of your staff.

About the author

Brian Jeppesen is currently the Director of Contact Center Operations at Landry’s corporate office in Houston, Texas. Landry’s is a multinational, diversified restaurant, hospitality, gaming, and entertainment conglomerate. Prior to that Brian served as the Divisional Vice President of Operations for Alorica. Alorica specializes in contact center services, customer service experience, and business process outsourcing. Brian has more than 35 years’ experience in the hospitality, contact center and BPO space.

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