If you’re in customer service and support, you’ve no doubt been told that chatbots and the AI avalanche will be taking away all customer service jobs in short order. Several analysts predict near total replacement of live agents with chatbots. Gartner, for example, predicts the use of virtual customer assistants (or chatbots) will jump by 1,000 percent by 2020. Juniper Research forecasts that bot interactions in the banking sector (those completed without human assistance) will move from 12 percent bot-related currently to over 90 percent in 2022.
Well, it was a good run, customer service agents — let’s pack it up and go home. But is the chatbot invasion really the beginning of the end of customer service agents as we know them?
It’s no secret that the desire to avoid human contact as we focus on our phones is well upon us, and more and more people are open to using chatbots for simple interactions and transactions. In the 2016 Aspect Consumer Experience Index research, two thirds of consumers said they feel good when they can handle a customer service issue without having to talk to a live person. And most of those folks (61 percent) think chatbots will allow for faster issue resolution and question answering.
But let’s look at this from the customer service agent’s perspective. In the survey, customer service representatives revealed that, on average, 70-80 percent of the calls they take are easy to moderate requests. Nearly half of the agents prefer it that way, according to the 2017 Aspect Agent Experience survey. Answering the same few questions over and over, week in and week out, may not make you happy, but it won’t make you miserable, either. So as a whole, agents across the board are fairly happy in their jobs. Sixty-two percent of agents said that they are generally satisfied in their role — which is good, but not great. Millennials, which represent the largest generational workforce, reveal that they are even more satisfied than the average agent (70 percent).
But here come the chatbots to change all that. Rather: Here come the digital employees to help with all that.
Chatbots, by design, take the responsibility of handling easy, frequently asked questions intended for agents and leave the agents to resolve the more transactional or complex questions that take more time and resources. There are now 33,000 business chatbots on Facebook Messenger alone, and that number continues to grow — clearly no one is stopping the rise of the robot. But how do the agents feel about this? When they are tasked with handling complex queries, even though half confess to prefer taking easy questions, agents end up feeling more satisfied in their jobs and more committed to the company. A large majority of agents see a lot of opportunity:
- 79 percent said it will improve their skills.
- 72 percent said it will make them feel like they are having a bigger impact in the company.
- 64 percent said it will enable them to provide more personalized service experience for customers.
- 59 percent said it will make them feel more satisfied in their jobs and more committed to the company.
Also, 44 percent of agents see chatbots taking the monotony (and mendacity) out of their jobs — meaning they become more engaged when they have more interesting work to do. And this is really the impact no one’s “chatting” about. By bringing more challenge to the customer service agents, chatbots create more engagement, which in turn enhances human productivity. Engaged agents said they were twice as likely to reach their goals more consistently and service their customers faster. Plus, 78 percent of engaged agents said they were satisfied in their jobs.
Of course, there are expected generational differences. Gen Z agents feel like taking complex questions makes them frustrated because they are currently measured for speed of completion, while Gen X agents were most likely to say taking complex questions presented them with an opportunity to shine for management.
The notion that all customer engagement will be void of human interaction is clearly an exaggerated prediction. Forty-two percent of consumers surveyed said they want a live person to help them handle complex questions and requests, and no analyst or prognosticator is predicting the evolutionary end to complex questions and requests. And nearly all the consumers surveyed said they absolutely want the ability to transfer to a live agent should an interaction become too complicated for a chatbot to handle.
But as the data shows, customer service chatbots are not just addressing customers’ self-service desires for simple query resolution. They also offer the opportunity to create skill boosts across the contact center and enable agents to provide more personalized experiences. With chatbots serving as the junior assistant to contact center agents — a resource for them to offload the repetitive and easily answered questions — agents can then expand their knowledge base, provide more value to the organization, and more than likely, stick around for a lot longer.
Joe Gagnon is chief customer officer and GM of Aspect Software‘s cloud solutions. For over 20 years he has studied the evolving relationship between companies and consumers and how content and customer interaction affects that relationship. He has worked with companies from Penn Foster, to IBM, Exit 41, and E&Y.