AI Ethics: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of the Contact Center Employee

Artificial intelligence (AI) might be maligned at one extreme—with notions of a robot apocalypse—and to a lesser extreme with mass unemployment or boredom resulting from automation. But when it comes to contact centers, AI can enhance the experience and make it more human. And now we’re in the midst of a customer experience revolution that’s driving a need to create a more engaging workplace for contact center employees.

Because of AI, the future of the contact center employee looks brighter—AI-based software will assume responsibilities for dull, repetitive tasks.

Companies now realize that a focus on tailored and engaging interactions with customers can positively affect the bottom line. They also recognize that this experience can’t be dictated from the top down in an organization; it must be nurtured in employees who hold direct contact with customers. To do this, you need to re-engage employees and make sure they’re motivated, knowledgeable and that they share your company’s vision.

AI provides the tools to augment this engagement and, over the next decade, we’ll likely see this contribute to happier, more capable employees—and even happier customers.

I Have the Tools

In Marcus Buckingham’s book First, Break All The Rules, he discusses 12 questions that lead to high employee engagement and happiness. One of the more important questions to which employees must answer “Yes” is if they believe they have the tools needed do to their jobs well.

In contact centers, the tools go beyond just a headset, a pen and a pad of paper. The table stakes are software that can present the employee with all the relevant information needed to perform properly, such as the caller’s name, transaction history and contact history with outcomes of the various touch points. However, AI looks at characteristics of the call and compares them—in real-time—with thousands, or even millions, of similar calls. And this gives agents suggestions and predictions on how to respond next.

Agents can use these insights to inform conversations with customers in ways that are helpful to everyone. For example, if hundreds of customers call with a similar issue, an AI-based system identifies this pattern and alerts the employee. That employee can then reassure the customer that the company is aware of the issue and that it’s not a problem limited them.

More Flexibility Leads to More Control

Top-down policies and scripts are pushed onto contact center employees to eliminate runaway costs or to prevent customers from developing bad behaviors. The feeling of many policymakers is that exceptions lead to norms, and policies need to be more concrete. As a result, when conflicts between customers and company policies arise, employees must enforce the policy or defend the company’s position. Often, the employee might not agree with the policy but is left to advocate the position anyway.

An AI-based system can perform real-time monitoring of costs associated with policy adjustments. It then alerts the management of issues or potentially provides an adaptive policy optimized for customer retention, satisfaction or other metrics. The result is that companies can give employees more flexibility to handle customer requests while still controlling costs.

For example, an online retailer allows their employees to handle customer issues in any way they choose up to a predefined dollar limit. The result is that employees exercise more creativity to find a solution, feel ownership in their work and, ultimately, have more control over their success. This leads to higher motivation, happier customers and better retention rates.

With an AI-based adaptive policy, companies can help empower employees to operate with more autonomy.

Diffuse Situations Before They Even Happen

Contact center workers are always on task; they might spend most their shift in conversations with customers, either on individual calls or while handling up to five chat-based clients simultaneously. Even when calls go smoothly, it can be exhausting. And when calls don’t go well, contact center employees usually bear the brunt of customer angst and abuse.

Over the next few years, AI services will be able to assess how these conversations affect employees by analyzing sentiment. They’ll then be able to suggest potential remedies to alleviate employee stress or even add an element of gamification and fun.

Contact center solution providers like nGUVU are adding elements like gamification for employees to compete on calls for prizes based on KPIs. Taking this further, AI-based solutions could diffuse stressful situations by inserting animations on the agent’s screen or even modify the their voice to sound less angry or upset

As contact centers use AI-based tools to better resolve inbound customer solutions, agents might see their focus shift more to preventative outreach. AI will become better at predicting issues, and employees will be tasked with establishing connections with clients and ensuring that issues are eliminated before they even occur. This might also open the door to direct employees to establish deeper, unique relationships with customers and generating more revenue and goodwill for the company in the process.

Agent roles will shift, enabling them to develop creative solutions, rather than following scripts. And that will lead to happier employees and happier customers.

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A version of this blog appears on CustomerThink.