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Balancing The Relationship Between Contact Centre Agents And AI

The Cirrus Chief Operating Officer, Paul Barclay, and Chief Revenue Officer, Jon Dawson, joined forces on a webinar recently to talk about artificial intelligence (AI) and how to balance the relationship between contact centre agents and AI.

This is an important discussion in the customer service industry. Since OpenAI released ChatGPT in November 2022 there has been an endless drumbeat of questions asking if generative AI systems can replace the work currently managed by human agents. Last February, the Guardian suggested that contact centres are finished, but in more recent months the discussion about AI has become more nuanced as the pros and cons have become more widely understood.

So, what is the future of AI in contact centres? As the world moves ever closer to a future in which artificial intelligence (AI) plays a more significant role, contact centres are at the forefront of this change. AI has the potential to dramatically improve customer service, eliminate repetitive tasks and help contact centres become more efficient.

If the robots are not going to replace agents, then what role do contact centre agents and AI have on the interaction between brands and customers?

Blending the traditional role of contact centre agents and AI

The discussion was chaired by Charlotte Hathway, the editor of Comms Business. Charlotte began by asking Paul how contact centre agents and AI can work together?

Paul said: “There has been a mix up and blending of automation and AI in the past so what we are seeing now is true AI, compared to just automation. I’d expect that many people reading this have been exposed to digital interactions before – web chat and so on. What we can see now is tools like voice and text analytics. For the people using chat or email content it is now possible to use AI to do much better analysis of that content.”

On that point Jon added: “It has to be done correctly. If you have a poorly planned AI journey then the customer can end up with the wrong answer or a long and frustrating journey to nowhere. We have all had these experiences. I can name some companies where you immediately go into an AI journey on contact with them and and it’s just deployed badly – it feels like a deflection tactic.” He added: “Most people are contacting the contact centre to either fix something or order something or try and understand something and AI deployed properly, should be able to manage and understand and interact this – so when they get to speak to an agent there has been a benefit.”

The discussion focused very much on the reality of how AI will be deployed to improve contact centre operations, rather than the media hype about generative AI that has filled LinkedIn discussions since ChatGPT was launched.

What do customers expect of contact centre agents and AI?

Recent research indicates that most customers still expect humans to remain involved in the customer service process. This January 2023 survey in the US suggested that 77% of respondents believe that the human touch is still necessary for an excellent customer experience.

A recent report on generative AI by McKinsey backs up this view: “That’s not to say these tools are intended to work without human input and intervention. In many cases, they are most powerful in combination with humans, augmenting their capabilities and enabling them to get work done faster and better.”

So as Jon and Paul discussed on the webinar, there are some key lessons that all contact centre managers and executives need to remember:

  1. ChatGPT and generative AI will not suddenly replace the need for human-assisted customer service
  2. Generative AI can be used to improve the self-service experience, making it easier to find FAQ information for example
  3. The greatest benefit for contact centres will be the use of generative AI to dramatically augment the role of the agent
Contact centre agents and AI are powerful together

AI offers many useful functions inside the contact centre that can turbo-charge the role of the agent. It’s like giving each agent their own personal assistant that can take care of many of the less interesting and repetitive aspects of the job.

  • Onboarding and training: AI can offer a more personal and interactive onboarding experience so the classroom approach to bringing new agents up to speed can be dropped and each agent can work one-on-one with a virtual teacher.
  • Coaching: ongoing coaching and training can be specifically personalised for the individual based on where the system can see that they need to focus.
  • Quality: instead of supervisors checking calls randomly, or checking where they suspect there may be an issue, they can allow the AI to check the customer interaction on every single call or message – highlighting anything the supervisor might want to check out.
  • Next-best-action: the agent should never need to say ‘I’m just putting you on hold while I get some information’ if they have a virtual assistant listening to the call and pulling up all the required information and documents for the agent in real-time.

Whilst it is still unclear exactly what the impact of ChatGPT will be in the longrun, there are a multitude of strategies that can be already be deployed to improve contact centre functionality using the insight generated by AI.

The webinar discussion continued to debate these points in much more detail and you can follow the complete session by following the link below.

To watch the complete video of this discussion please click here. For more information on Cirrus and our products please visit our website or follow our company page on LinkedIn.

More topics:

  • Find out why technology is the sidekick for every contact centre agent. Watch Jon Dawson’s interview here.
  • Find out more about an agent first strategy and the benefits of having one. Read the blog here.
  • Read our article with Comms Business on balancing the relationship between agents and ai here.