AI: Is it Something You Want or Something You Need?

Why is it that everyone talks about hype cycles, but never about adoption, or implementation, or deployment cycles? Perhaps it’s that ‘hype’ is a sexier term that connotes a sense of progress and possibility. It seems like pragmatism is always in short supply within a given hype cycle.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is, and will likely continue to be, a victim of its own hype cycle for years to come. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with AI or even wanting AI-powered capabilities for your business. But wants and needs are two very different things. Add to that the fact that reliable, scalable, AI-powered digital solutions remain in their relative infancy and there are actually more questions than hype.

So, what are you supposed to do? How do you know if AI is right for your business right now or if it makes more sense to take a wait-and-see approach? Here are a few things to consider as you think about adding AI to your voice channel.

Know Your System

To understand how AI will work with your system you need to have a complete understanding of the different pieces currently in place and how they may interact with AI. As is frequently the case, especially at bigger companies, the person or people who originally deployed the IVR may no longer be responsible for it.

A systems audit that outlines how your IVR interfaces with other systems provides a technical blueprint. At the same time, you want to be sure to understand the flow of information and data through your IVR, where the various inputs occur, and what happens to that data once it hits your system. If there are specific security needs for your system it’s a good idea to document those, too.

Know Your Users

AI isn’t a cure-all; it won’t magically improve your customer service or general user experience overnight. Your end-users are accustomed to your IVR working a certain way. That’s, in part, why you want to document your IVR call-flow and keep that documentation up to date.

What are your users’ expectations of your voice channel? What tasks do they typically use your IVR to complete? Are there specific parts of your IVR that you’re looking to improve with AI? Are these same areas problematic for your end-users? Do callers value your IVR, or in other words, does it help them do what they want to do quickly and efficiently?

It may be worth doing some customer research to find answers to questions like these, or any others that your company might have. Understanding customer experience and how it affects your users, puts your company in position to make a more valuable assessment of AI’s effectiveness.

Consider Your Cost/Benefit

Ok, now that you have a good handle on how your system works, and you know how end-users actually engage with it, you can start to determine the value of AI for your company right now.

Would adding AI improve the right areas of your voice channel? For example, if you’re a B2B company and you have a phone menu with three options that enables callers to complete transactions in 45­–60 seconds it might not make sense to invest the resources necessary to get AI up and running for your voice channel. The ROI simply won’t be there. Besides, if callers are generally happy with their IVR experience there may not be

If you manage the voice channel of a B2C company that offers a lot of different products and has multiple teams handling a wide range of things, then you probably have a much more involved and complicated IVR call-flow. If it takes callers 60–90 seconds just to get through all the menus to reach the point where they can begin their desired task, then that may not be an optimal customer experience.

At this point you will want to think about call volume and whether an AI-powered application can help reduce those numbers. Running a cost/benefit analysis will get you closer to answers about the viability and value of adding AI.

Act Now or Wait It Out?

Ultimately, the whole point here is to recommend doing your due diligence when considering a huge project like investing in AI. Also, be aware of the AI hype train. Having an AI may be a great thing… for other businesses. Given the particularities of your company, you may be able to better serve callers with more conventional IVR applications, and then optimizing those to improve customer experience.

While it’s true the costs to entry in the AI game have started to come down, it’s still not cheap to adopt, both in terms of time, man-hours, and capital. Like any technology, AI-powered applications require maintenance, often specialized, so you’ll want to be sure that you have the resources in-house to handle that, or a vendor that manages maintenance for you. Again, these are simply additional factors to consider when making your decision.

Having an AI-powered IVR does not guarantee that you have the best system. Relying on conventional IVR applications does not mean that your voice channel is insufficient. The idea that AI is easy and therefore it is good or better needs to be discarded. Technology in itself does not make a process good or bad. Rather, how companies choose to use technology makes a huge difference in customer experiences.

At the end of the day, optimizing technology to best serve your customers is the only system that is good or right for your business.