artificial and emotional intelligence

Contact Centre Intelligence: Emotional or Artificial?

You’ve no doubt heard about artificial intelligence making inroads into the contact centre, initially in the form of chatbots: AI-powered software applications that can take customer queries, either textual or verbal, and produce useful, relevant answers with consistency and accuracy that can match a human operator.

Will Artificial Intelligence enhance or replace Contact Centre jobs?

Depending on whose views you read, AI is either going to enhance the role of human operators, freeing them to handle the more challenging and rewarding queries, or it’s going to relegate them to the ranks of the unemployed.

SMAART Recruitment surveyed over 150 contact centre leaders and decision makers around Australia for its 2017 Contact Centre Leaders Survey. It reported: “Around 7 percent of Australian contact centres currently use AI in their interactions with customers, with an additional 11 percent planning to introduce it in the coming 12 months. A high percentage of remaining contact centres are currently exploring the idea, however, 44 percent of contact centres have no intentions to introduce AI.”

7 percent of Australian contact centres currently use AI in their interactions with customers, with an additional 11 percent planning to introduce it in the coming 12 months

You wouldn’t expect a recruitment company to be promoting mass reduction in employee numbers. Indeed, when discussing the survey findings, SMAART concluded: “AI presents contact centres with great opportunities and challenges in the coming years. Those that learn from it and understand it quickly will be the first to benefit.”

What about emotional intelligence?

The SMAART Recruitment survey also focused on another kind of intelligence that will likely be much more challenging for technology to emulate and/or replace: emotional intelligence.

It said: “Increasing staff emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the key areas of focus for Australian contact centres. In a recent study of contact centre managers and leaders, over 40 percent of respondents indicated that this was an area they needed to explore more and improve in the next 12 months.”

If you look at the definition of EI on Wikipedia, you’ll see why computer emulation of EI is challenging. It is defined as “the capability of individuals to recognise their own and other people’s emotions, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).”

40 percent of Contact Centre respondents indicated that EI is an area they need to explore more and improve in the next 12 months

Wikipedia says the term first appeared in a 1964 paper by Michael Beldoch and gained popularity in the 1995 book by that title, written by author, psychologist, and science journalist Daniel Goleman.

It goes on to note that the concept has not been universally accepted. “Goleman’s 1995 analysis of EI has been criticised within the scientific community, despite prolific reports of its usefulness in the popular press.”

However, there is no doubt EI has been eagerly embraced by the contact centre industry. A Google search will return many results such as “Does Your Contact Center Lack Emotional Intelligence?”; “Is Your Contact Center Emotionally Intelligent?”, “Emotional Intelligence and Its Importance in the Call Center” and, intriguingly one that seems to be having a bet each way: “AI Can Help Boost Agents’ Emotional Intelligence.”

In future posts we’ll explore some of these ideas in more detail.

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