AI Ushers in a New Era for the Agent Experience

Organisations have long been using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the experience for frontline agents who provide customer service and tech support. Even as generative AI becomes the darling for businesses that want to out-innovate their competitors, it’s just one way that companies can use the technology to deliver seamless, personalised and empathetic employee experiences (EX).

That enthusiasm was evident for using AI to support agents before, during and after interactions at the recent Enterprise Connect 2024. Numerous sessions focused specifically on using AI to support EX.

At a time when agent turnover and customer expectations are creeping ever higher, organisations can see tremendous gains in using AI across the agent experience — to increase retention and satisfaction among both cohorts. In fact, research shows that when agent attrition is below 15%, customer satisfaction (CSAT) improves by 26%, reported Robin Gareiss, CEO and Principal Analyst, Metrigy, during her session “Agent Assist and Virtual Assistants: How Are Companies Supercharging Their Agents?”

Getting Past the AI Hype to ROI

The breadth of opportunities organisations realise with artificial intelligence is clear from their implementation plans. Among the types of AI that businesses plan to deploy over the next 12–18 months are digital customer contact analytics for quality management, CSAT and training; customer journey analytics, sentiment analysis; intelligent knowledge bases; and intelligent call routing, shows research from David Myron, Principal Analyst at Omdia, during the session “Contact Centree/CX 2027: What Will Drive the Market.”

Many organisations implementing AI in the employee experience want lower service-related costs, said Zeus Kerravala, Founder and Principal Analyst of ZK Research, during the “Locknote” session. “It’s a measurable outcome…. Companies are still looking for ROI,” he said. “If the productivity gains from AI are high enough, the ROI will be clear.”

They don’t have to look far for benefits from integrating the tech into the employee experience. “We all want AI, but it needs to show business value,” said Nathalie DeChellis, Senior Director, Product Marketing, at Genesys, during the “Contact Centre/CX 2027” session. DeChellis recommends showing the benefits of AI through measures like reduced average handle time and time saved due to auto-summarisation.

The Future Is AI as an Agent Copilot

Another way to see measurable performance improvements from AI is to create “a single pane of glass,” said Brett Weigl, GM, Digital, AI and Journey Analytics, at Genesys, during the session “Is Gen AI Already Delivering Business Value to Enterprise CX?” Bringing data from across systems into a unified desktop will increase productivity and lower stress. And it simplifies both the interface and interactions, he said.

“That’s what AI copilots can help with,” added Weigl. When AI serves as a copilot, he said, it helps agents during interactions. For example, it might quickly surface knowledge. It helps agents learn, and it helps them advance and deliver higher-value interactions to build deeper customer relationships.

Organisations are using agent assist (i.e., copilots) for a variety of support tasks, said Gareiss, during the session “Job Shifting: Where and How AI Is Eliminating and Adding Positions.” Metrigy research finds that organisations are using artificial intelligence primarily for next-best action recommendations, providing context about a customer or topic, creating transcriptions to reduce post-call work, and helping agent up-sell and cross-sell.

The benefits these organisations are seeing so far from agent assist include improved CSAT, increased sales, reduced AHT and reduced agent attrition, she noted. “AI has a big impact on productivity.”

AI Support for Agent Productivity and Growth

Although there are concerns that screen pops can be distracting, they’re more often a productivity enhancer. Sheila McGee-Smith, President and Principal Analyst, McGee-Smith Analytics, shared a story during the “Locknote” session about one large enterprise that conducted testing on screen pops and found they lower agent stress because they make it easier to do their jobs.

“Keeping humans in the loop is important,” said McGee-Smith, adding that and agent-assist improves productivity. And, she noted, agent-assist interactions outnumber pure automation in 2024.

Retaining skilled agents is so important, in fact, that several analysts recommended organisations increase their training and development opportunities overall. It was advised they also increase the use of AI for real-time and post-interaction coaching. The goal is to use AI to help every agent be your best agent.

“Please don’t think of gen AI as a way to fire agents,” said Max Ball, Principal Analyst at Forrester, during the session “They’re Heeeere: Generative AI Self-Service Applications… Are You Ready?” “Think of it as a way to improve the customer experience,” he said.

Contact centre jobs are transitioning to higher value roles designed to ensure a better customer experience, said Josh Goldlust, VP of Product at Genesys, during the “Job Shifting” session. Generative AI is helping to create content in the moment — and agents can customise or personalise that content in the moment, he said. “Skilled agents can synthesise AI recommendations and solve more complex issues,” added Goldlust.

The skills agents will need will change as AI provides them with more — and better — answers and content, said DeChellis during the “Contact Center/CX 2027” session. “They’ll need more soft skills, more subject matter expertise skills. In the future, especially with predictive routing, there will be bigger agent pools and the interactions will go to the best person to handle each interaction,” she said.

Goldlust echoed that sentiment in the “Job Shifting” session.

“AI will be behind the scenes getting the right interactions to the right agents and then serving as their copilot during those interactions. And then it’s the human-to-human interaction that provide the empathy customers expect,” he said. “Agent needs the right skills to have those empathetic conversations.” Using AI to support and empower frontline agents ensures they do.

“Employees are the heartbeat of any organisation,” said Mila D’Antonio, Principal Analyst at Omdia in the session “How CX and EX Integration Can Boost Your Business Outcomes.” “They shape the experiences customers have with brands.”

Using AI to shape agent experiences is the best path forward in creating a sustainable competitive advantage.

Read our 2024 Contact Centre Buyer’s Guide to understand what technologies you need to create the most value for customers, employees and your business.