One of the biggest challenges contact centers face is agent morale. Most managers struggle with high rates of absenteeism and turnover, whose costs hit a company’s bottom and top lines. While many organizations have made some strides in this area— by allowing agents to work remotely, for example—most continue to ignore the issue that drive down productivity and performance: boredom from having to process routine tasks that could be better handled by a machine.
The good news is, artificial intelligence is making it possible for companies to move banal, mundane processes like data entry and search to automated systems and leveraging advanced analytics to make contextual exchanges easier, better and more effective. That helps companies free up human agents to work on high-level, complex interactions on a variety of channels and in a number of ways—all while taking advantage of the context and analysis AI provides. That, in turn, increases morale, reduces turnover and results in measurable improvements in common Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), including better customer satisfaction scores and higher revenues per customer.
Of course, like any significant technology upgrade, new contact centers require new approaches to management and performance. In order for these new approaches to take hold they must be driven by changes in both upper management and among the agents themselves, whose jobs will transform significantly. Once you offload rote tasks to intelligent software systems, you’re left with higher-value opportunities that also require higher-value skills and input. Somewhat counter-intuitively, when companies introduce AI, agents are usually required to take more proactive action. They must get used to thinking on their feet and make the gradual, but important transition from support to sales—and their managers must give them the tools they need to do so.
That starts with ongoing training and support, not just on the new technology, but also on the new culture, and the expectations it will place on agents and their managers going forward. One of the best ways to do that is to train employees on the new technology, and then let them run with it. The reality is, AI is only valuable when human beings are free to use the resulting information to improve the interactions they have with customers—and that might mean stepping outside their, and their companies’ comfort zones. For instance, while intelligent bots rely on scripts to maintain process and order within the system, when agents are fed information by those bots, they need to be able to react to it in real-time, without worrying about restrictive policies and procedures.
AI can help agents understand a given customer’s value to the organization, suggesting personalized remedies or incentives for dealing with complaints and offering insight into how to de-escalate a difficult and heated discussion.
Companies should also look at changing how they measure agent performance, focusing more on the value they bring to the organization (which could be measured in dollars) and less on the time and costs they save by quickly “resolving” issues that may not, in fact, have been settled to the customer’s satisfaction.
This is the first in a series of posts. Next, I’ll be focusing on how to turn the contact center into a revenue generator.
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