Picture it: The year is 2030 and customer support as we know it has been completely turned on its head. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the relocation of customer service support agents from the contact center to the home. Alongside this, AI has stepped in to work its magic on improving the customer service experience. Customers today have a more personalized and fluid experience than ever before.
But what’s often overlooked is how AI has improved the employee experience over this decade. Tedious tasks that once took agents hours upon hours to complete — be it boring data entry or replying to repetitive questions — are now relegated to computers.
Machines didn’t steal any jobs. Nope — just the opposite. Instead, they actually improved the customer service agent experience, making the role far more rewarding and enjoyable.
This is what customer service expert and influencer Harald Henn envisions for this decade, anyway. So we sat down with him to delve deeper into how AI will improve the employee experience, and he had some compelling insights. Let’s take a look.
Why the employee experience matters
To understand how AI can improve the customer service employee experience, it’s integral to first understand why you should even bother being concerned with this aspect of your company.
After all, doesn't the customer come first?
Harald says no, pointing to the Hal Rosenbluth book “The Customer Comes Second.” When you put the employee first, Harald explains, it can help turn the modern contact center workplace into a synergistic powerhouse where people produce consistently incredible results.
And it makes perfect sense. Think about it: who is going to go out of their way for your customer — an employee who is underpaid, overworked, and doesn’t feel appreciated? Or an employee who’s treated like a valued member of the company?
The latter, of course!
“Well-trained, well-informed, well integrated employees provide well above average customer experiences. Companies such as Zappos, Ritz Carlton enjoy high customer loyalty based on high employee customer engagement.” Harald adds.
And Harald says putting your employees first can ultimately improve all the most important aspects of your business, "Profit and growth are stimulated primarily by customer loyalty. Loyalty is a direct result of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is largely influenced by the value of services provided to customers. Value is created by satisfied, loyal, and productive employees. Employee satisfaction, in turn, results primarily from high-quality support services and policies that enable employees to deliver results to customers. Employee experiences directly impact the company's bottom line.”
But how to improve these employee experiences?
More on how AI has transformed customer service
How AI can improve the employee experience
When it comes to how AI can makes employees happier, according to Harald, you should reverse engineer the question: “What makes an employee unhappy?”
The answer? "Repetitive, monotonous work, searching for relevant information in various systems, to name a few of the big frustration points.
AI can support employees by eliminating tedious search tasks. AI-based “internal search systems” will find relevant information in a fraction of the time."
Harald goes on, "This is even more important in situations where customers get angry or become very demanding. Employees feel the time pressure from the customer to find the necessary information as fast as possible.
The same holds true for automating simple tasks like asking for a shipping date on a recent purchase, changing an address or credit card information. AI chatbots will handle those simple, monotonous tasks, freeing the employee from the tedium of repetition.
Especially during peak times like Christmas, when every customer wants to ensure his purchase will arrive on time. Answering the same question 80 to 100 times a day doesn't make any employee happy. So, AI will look up where the parcel with the long-awaited gift for the grandparents is and answer this.”
Harald points to Finnish POSTI as an excellent example of the application of AI technology in such a scenario. The company has automated 80 percent of its incoming inquiries, freeing up its 22,000 customer service agents around the world to focus on the more complex, rewarding tasks that require human attention.
The result? The company received a top-ranking happiness score in 2019.
Bots working hand-in-hand with humans
The capabilities of AI can go far beyond automating simple, repetitive tasks, if we consider how AI can work together with humans to create a team of what are essentially super employees.
AI will also help to guide employees through more complex customer journeys.
AI will be a cooperation partner for your agents. A ‘friend’ that will look over their shoulders and offer advice and support along the process, customer journeys. For example, the AI can trigger another process or update information in the CRM.
And as chatbots and virtual agents are adopted more widely and become better, automation rates will increase, escalation rates will decrease, customer service will become more efficient, and everyone will be happier.
In 10 years’ time...
Of course, all of the above shifts are already taking place. So what we can expect from AI and the employee experience at contact centers this decade?
Harald paints an interesting picture:
“We will see a continuous shift in contact centers: AI will relieve employees from monotonous and transactional tasks. Currently we see isolated approaches by AI such as robotic process automation (RPA), which is used to automate some easy transactional data entry jobs. In the years to come, we will see a merging of different AI technologies.
AI chatbots will identify a customer intent, and based upon what the customer needs, pass this request on to RPA. Which means that in some cases, an employee will not even realize that a customer request has been successfully handled.
This will give a lot of extra time for employees to do what human beings can do best: engage with a customer, empathize and build a strong relationship.”
Virtual agents and AI chatbots are already being used by leading companies, but the thing is, they need fairly regular maintenance and training. This is another way AI is enabling better employee experience — it's enabling customer support teams to upskill their employees to AI experts, conversation designers, and chatbot builders. In this way, AI provides your agents with promotion opportunities and a prestigious career path.
Final thoughts on AI for agents
Harald rounds things off with some advice for any customer service leaders looking to implement AI to improve their own employee experience.
“One of the biggest challenges — as with any other AI project — don't try to save the world in the first step.
Reducing the expectations and narrowing down the initial release to one or a few use cases, is certainly a wise approach.
Once employees feel supported by AI and regard the AI tool as a support in their daily work, employees will accept any further development."
Improving the employee experience can boost your business in a big way. It's clear that AI can make employees happier. By taking away repetitive tasks, AI can work together with humans to augment their work, making them faster and more effective at every task. Furthermore, AI provides you agents with invaluable opportunities to advance their career. Lastly, AI also allows them to concentrate on problem solving and being emotionally available for customers — exactly what humans are best at.