Adopting AI and empowering customer service agents

For customer service agents, keeping up with the demands of customers and ensuring a high level of service can often feel like an uphill battle if they aren’t equipped with the tools they need.

As a result, staff are often left burned-out and unsatisfied within their roles. If these frustrations are passed onto their customers, it can have very real and negative consequences. In fact, research shows that more than half of consumers would leave an organisation after just one or two negative support experiences, with poor service estimated to cost businesses $4.7 trillion per year worldwide. It’s here that technology, and specifically, artificial intelligence (AI), can play a key role.

For many businesses, AI tools have been part of their technology infrastructure for some time now. But more recently, generative AI tools such as Chat GPT and Bard have thrust the technology into the limelight, with AI experts, businesses and now consumers all exploring how it can be integrated into their daily lives. Although AI continues to evolve, it has already proven how it can help alleviate some of the common pain points within customer services, such as increasing enquiry volumes, skills shortages and rising complexity.

Given the ongoing discussions around AI’s impact on the workforce, business leaders need to openly communicate and remain transparent about what incorporating such technologies will mean for their staff. Customer service agents need to understand that AI isn’t something to be fearful of, but rather something they can embrace to feel empowered in the role, which will not only boost their performance and value to the business, but improve the customer experience.

Elevate with AI-driven support

In customer service, AI-powered support enables businesses to develop deeper insights and build a better user experience. Chatbots are one of the most popular approaches to AI in customer service, undertaking various activities such as reminding customers to check out during the purchasing process or to write reviews. Chatbots also provide 24/7 support – something we, as demanding consumers, have come to expect. Other technologies such as machine learning (ML) and interactive voice response systems are creating a new paradigm for how agents can deliver customer service.

Central to these AI models is data – they are only as good as the data they are being fed. Businesses have a huge amount of customer data at their fingertips that can be utilised to deliver a more personalised, effective experience for every consumer. By using technology to analyse this data and inform AI models, organisations can boost operational efficiency and identify opportunities, thus delivering impact at scale. Not only will this improve the employee experience, but it will elevate their service to boost the customer lifetime value (CLV).

The impact of AI on the workforce

It’s likely that customer service agents are already seeing the impact AI will have on their role. As a next step, they should recognise how to be empowered by it, rather than feel intimidated by the potential of the technology. This means they need to be comfortable with using AI tools and understand how the data they already possess can feed, train and make the models more accurate. Businesses should ensure they are securing buy-in from the very beginning and make the processes of implementing the technology clear.

Firstly, agents should be consulted on the intended purpose of any AI solution – whether that’s responding to consumers via a chatbot, or analysing the data using ML to segment customers and develop predictions. Agents are at the coalface, so will know where there are gaps in their customer service strategy and how they can best be supported.

Once this is established, the primary channels need to be determined. For chatbots, for example, there is a whole range of options, from websites to social media and mobile applications. Crucially, companies shouldn’t adopt AI for the sake of it. They should only implement tools to suit their specific needs. Finally, businesses can adapt the models by training and testing. The process of training involves uploading data, such as text or images, to the AI model. The machine will improve in precision and accuracy over time – the more data it is provided, the more precise the predictions will be.

Once an agent understands how the model works and how they can improve it, they can then put it into action. At first, it’s important to ensure operations aren’t too complex – businesses can’t throw everything at the model and hope it sticks. Many customer agents know there are various repetitive aspects to their jobs which AI can take over – think of it as ‘AI in the front, human in the back’. When a customer first contacts a company for support, they’ll be met with standard qualifying questions to be answered to understand the situation and adhere to security regulations. When implemented well, AI can act as the front line, providing low-cost support while reserving the more expensive, creative, human-powered support for second-tier escalations or more sensitive topics.

By using AI to solve basic mundane queries, it will build the foundational knowledge to ensure it is learning from the initial interactions. As it continues to train, businesses can test it out to see how it meets the needs of their customers, while agents simultaneously build rapport and digital empathy to elevate the quality of service.

Staying one step ahead

The challenge of keeping up with customer demands has never been greater. Recent Accenture  research discovered just that under two-thirds (64%) of customers expect companies to respond faster to their requirements, but some 88% of executives believe their business is struggling to keep up with the pace. Because AI can handle and process huge amounts of data in seconds, it’s there that it supports businesses, giving them the edge needed to stay one step ahead of their customers. This enables them to offer a more personalised service, or identify any pain points to address in real time. Additionally, having copious amounts of data can help with forecasting trends such as when more staff will be needed or the success rate of a new product or service.

Customer demand for self-service and instant responses can both be met by AI – and considering their first encounter with a business is often AI-driven, this interaction will set the standard for the rest of their journey. AI’s ability to answer basic queries and, thus, cut down average wait times will enable agents to focus on higher value tasks without having to be involved in the qualifying stages of a customer’s journey. In fact, nearly two-thirds of companies that have decreased their call volumes say that improved self-service was a key driver of this. For returning customers, conversational AI can provide forecasting abilities based on historical data so agents can provide a more personalised service. Ensuring the customer journey is as frictionless as possible through responding to them in an efficient manner and demonstrating that they’re understood will drive brand loyalty and increase the customer lifetime value (CLV).

The customer experience is a key differentiator between businesses, and all it takes is one negative experience for a customer to move on. By supporting customer service agents with AI, they can support the business to meet its overall goals by providing optimised recommendations, reducing friction, and more efficiently meeting customer demands. This will all go a long way in ensuring customer service agents feel empowered, and not pushed out by AI. With the appropriate training and implementation, AI will help businesses thrive and unlock the benefits of a fully digitised, data-driven customer service operation.

About the Author

Mahesh Ram is Head of Digital Customer Experience at Zoom. Bring teams together, reimagine workspaces, engage new audiences, and delight your customers –– all on the Zoom platform you know and love. We help people stay connected so they can get more done together. We set out on a mission to make video communications frictionless and secure by building the world’s best video product for the enterprise, but we didn’t stop there. With products like Zoom Contact Center, Zoom Phone, Zoom Events, Zoom Apps, Zoom Rooms, and Zoom Webinar, we bring innovation to a wide variety of customers, from the conference room to the classroom, from doctor’s offices to financial institutions to government agencies, from global brands to small businesses.

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