January 10, 2019 | By

New Year, New Agents: How AI is Breathing New Life into Customer Service

So here we are, 2019.  It’s not quite the future many sci-fi movies predicted (thankfully, in most cases), but as tradition, the start of a new year begins with a look into how we think the world will be different over the next 365 days.  I’ve already provided my overall predictions around AI in 2019, but another area I think we’ll see a dramatic shift away from the status quo is in how customer service teams work overall and, fundamentally, how they  approach and grow in their careers.

While customer experience is front and center these days, the experience of the customer service agent often gets overlooked. These unsung heroes work tirelessly behind the scenes to meet ever-higher customer expectations and volume. Burnout happens fast and turnover rates are high. Companies are constantly scrambling to hire and train replacements. But there’s good news ahead for agents and their employers: As more and more companies embrace AI-powered customer service, including AI chatbots, agents will start to enjoy a better work life.  Here’s why:

Chatbots will handle the grunt work.

Thanks to AI chatbots, agents won’t have to be living and breathing FAQ sections anymore. Chatbots can intercept and respond to basic, routine inquiries like return policies, shipping, store locations, account balances, etc. and automate monotonous tasks like data entry and reporting.

As a result, agents will be free to work on more interesting, high value work: helping customers make product choices, offering recommendations and insights, or troubleshooting complex problems—in other words, work that’s actually fulfilling. A recent study showed that 79% of customer support professionals feel that handling more complex customer issues improves their skills. 72% feel they can have a bigger impact in the company when chatbots handle the easy questions and tasks.

The pressure of metrics will ease up and agents will have time to shine.

Average handle time, time to respond, deflection rates and other metrics will go by the wayside as the role of agents is transformed. With the rise of what analysts call the “empathy economy,” it’s increasingly important that brands address customers’ pain points effectively, and make them feel that their needs and concerns matter.

With chatbots sharing the customer service workload, agents will have the time and energy to provide something chatbots can’t: the human touch. Instead of being expected to work through customer queues as fast as possible, agents will be expected to be actually spend time with customers, as allies, problem solvers, and brand ambassadors. And not only will they be building customer loyalty—they’re also more likely to stay loyal themselves.

Keyword fails will be a thing of the past.

Rudimentary chatbots rely on keywords to try to decipher inquiries and route customers to the right agent. But not always successfully. For example, if a customer inquires about an unrecognized charge on their credit card, the bot might pick up on the word “credit” and route the customer to an agent in the returns department. The customer gets annoyed, the agents dealing with the issue are frustrated, and nobody is happy. AI Chatbots with Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities, on the other hand, can actually understand intent, enabling them to get customers to the right agent or self-service resource the first time, making things more pleasant for everyone involved.

Agents will be better prepared.

In customer service, a big part of job satisfaction is feeling that you’re actually being helpful to customers. AI helps agents know the right moment to reach out and engage with customers, when they’ll be receptive and appreciative of the expertise the agent can provide. AI also gives agents relevant background information on customers—demographics, browsing history, stage in the buying journey, etc.—so agents can fine tune the help they offer, and successfully deliver the answers customers need.

Meanwhile, every agent will be a mentor.

The feedback agents provide on AI-assisted engagements and data is what enables the AI to get better and smarter. Agents will know they’re playing a critical role in shaping the technology that helps them do their job better.

Chatbot critics and skeptics love to predict that AI will drive agents into extinction, or edge them into less vital roles when in fact, just the opposite is true. Chatbots are already making agents’ jobs more interesting, rewarding and vital to the success of companies everywhere.

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