The year is 2029 and customer service has undergone something of a transformation over the past decade. The COVID crisis led to the relocation of customer service support agents from the contact center to the home. Alongside this, AI stepped in to work its magic on improving the customer service experience. The customers of the late 2020s have a more personalized, 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 of boring data entry, and repetitive responses to common customer service cases, are now tasks relegated to computers.
Machines didn’t steal any jobs, you see. Nope — just the opposite. Instead, they actually improved the customer service agent experience, making the job role far more rewarding and enjoyable.
This is what Customer Service Expert and Influencer Harald Henn envisions for this decade, anyways. So we sat down with him to delve deeper into how AI will improve the employee experience this decade, and he had some fascinating 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, isn’t it the customer who comes first, we hear you ask?
Harald says no, pointing to the Hal Rosenbluth book “The Customer Comes Second.” This well-known proverb in the customer service industry, Harald explains, which puts the employee first, 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 experience. Companies such as Zappos, Ritz Carlton enjoy high customer loyalty based on high employee customer engagement.”
And Harald takes things a step further by introducing another complementary theory that further explains how putting your employees first can ultimately improve all the most important aspects of your business:
“The Service-Profit Chain is a theory and business model evolved by a group of researchers from Harvard University. It establishes relationships between profitability, customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity.
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, to elevate the entire service-profit chain about which Harald speaks?
How AI can make employees happier
Looking at how AI can improve the employee experience, according to Harald, starts with a simple question: “What makes an employee unhappy?”
And the answer? “Repetitive, monotone 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.
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 my address or credit card information. AI-based chatbots will handle those simple, monotone 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.
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, essentially, super employees.
“AI will also help to guide employees through more complex customer journeys so that all necessary tasks are performed.
AI will be a cooperation partner for the employees. A ‘friend’ that will look over the shoulders of an employee and offer advice and support along the process, customer journeys.
For example, the AI could write parts of an answer, trigger another process, update information in the CRM. Intent recognition is another way AI will certainly improve the employee experience.
This will help chatbot and voicebot implementations to increase the adoption rate of simple processes and reduce escalation rates to employees.
In 10 years’ time...
Of course, all of the above shifts are already taking place. So what does that mean for 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 monotone, receptive and transactional tasks. Currently we see isolated approaches by AI such as 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.
Cognitive 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 notice 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.”
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.
If the first release fails due to low acceptance, it will be hard to convince employees in the future."
When it comes to introducing AI to your customer service team, Harald offers some ideas:
“I always try an entertaining, fun and play approach with customer service teams. When they use some tools, techniques themselves, organise a virtual event, experiment with systems themselves in an entertaining way, most of the time (or almost every time) employees find out themselves that digitisation can be fun. Fun and success will make resistance and concerns way easier to handle and overcome.”
Theories like “the customer comes second” and the “service-profit chain,” demonstrate exactly how improving the employee experience can boost your business in a big way. By taking away the repetitive, monotone tasks, AI can make employees happier by allowing them to concentrate on problem solving and being emotionally available for customers — exactly what humans are best at. Furthermore, AI can work together with humans to augment their work, making them faster and more effective at every task. But it must all be implemented slowly and with great care. Employees should be engaged with the technology, which should be introduced in small steps.
Harald finishes off with a final, sage word of advice: “Companies should stay curious, positive about AI. Experiment, pilot and learn the benefits of early adoption.”