The New World in Contact Centers: Are Virtual Agents Better than Human Agents?

The contact center industry is seemingly changing overnight.  From artificial intelligence and bots to natural language processing, companies are faced with more options for creating powerful customer experiences than any other point in time. Long gone the days when slow and static IVRs were the state of the union in customer service.

One industry goal, though, has remained constant–attracting and retaining satisfied customers. Customer service agents serve as the front line for most companies, not only helping consumers with issues but also building relationships and enhancing the consumer’s experience.

Customer service plays a vital role in customer acquisition, retention, and attribution. Seventy percent of buying experiences are based on how the customer is treated. Eighty percent of customers claim that the service provided is as vital as the company’s product itself. Additionally, customers are 4x more likely to buy from a competitor if they encounter a customer service issue.

If companies offer excellent customer service, according to Salesforce, 67% of customers will pay more for the experience. So, in a world of computers, Virtual Agents, and artificial intelligence, how can a company provide a stellar experience, focusing on attracting and retaining customers?

Promoting Human Agents

We can often get lost in the excitement and ease of technological advances. There’s no doubt that computers make our lives easier, but not to the exclusion of the human touch. Let’s face it—there are many things human customer service agents can do better than a computer.

AI bots, and in the last couple of years, AI voice virtual agents came a long way. AI-powered voice bot on the phone can answer callers, resolve issues on the fly and speak back with no latency.

For example, bots can’t be empathetic. They can be designed to pretend to care, but it will be disingenuous. Bots will not be creative and think out of the box. Bots are great doing precise work, cross all the Ts and dot all the Is when humans thrive on being creative and innovative.

Bots are great for routine tasks, that human agents get bored performing 50 times a day. One of Replicant’s customers uses us to run an eight minutes employee onboarding and verification call. Before Replicant, the same agents had to run this call 40 times a day and often went off script just to add some spice to their day. The result was employees that got the wrong information or not provided all the data needed. When a bot runs this call, it will never go off plan or forget a detail. The callers will get a consistent experience, and the agents that worked on this call flow are now assigned to more creative and impactful calls.

With implemented technology taking care of routine, repetitive tasks, human agents can focus on high-level issues, such as escalated matters or exceptions to the rules that bots can’t.  Humans can emotionally connect with the customer, demonstrating understanding, creativity, and empathy. Human agents can concentrate on nurturing customer relationships throughout the buyer’s journey.

Incorporating the human touch in customer service contributes to high-quality experiences, keeping your customers coming back for more. By appreciating the customer’s journey, human agents can enhance the customer experience by bringing unique skills to each customer connection.

Adding Bots to the Mix

To allow humans to serve in their highest customer service capacity, companies should add technology to the mix. Enter the bot. Let’s make clear from the get-go that bots shouldn’t be implemented to replace human agents, but instead work with human agents. After all, how can human agents get the opportunity to work on more complicated, emotionally-based consumer issues if they are continuing to answer the same mundane questions over and over and over?.

Although humans are better than bots on more complex and emotional type of tasks, there are some tasks that AI bots win hands-down. For example, bots are better at inputting data. Without the introduction of human error, bots can capture all relevant data, input it into the company database without spelling errors or missed documentation, and can even confirm addresses against geo-databases for correct shipping or billing. Bots are also better for updating and retrieving information. As a caller, you will not hear “let me put you on hold while I update your records”. The bot will perform a quick API call, and within a second can retrieve your record, issue a refund or update your order. Bots are on-call 24/7/365. They don’t mind the midnight shift, and they don’t get their feelings hurt.

Finally, bots will wait forever without getting impatient. If a customer needs to set up a smart television, a bot can walk the customer through the steps, waiting as the customer turns the TV on, finds the remote, and shuffles through the screens. If it takes 30 minutes or 5 minutes to complete the set-up, the bot doesn’t mind.

Bots can improve human agents’ jobs by taking over the tasks that, frankly, humans disdain. Who really want to walk to their car during a Chicago January at 4:00 am in the morning after finishing a late shift? Who wants to answer the same question for eight hours? By implementing bots into the customer service platform, companies can create challenging, stimulating, and creative workplaces for human agents, increasing engagement and overall job satisfaction.

Enhancing the Customer Experience

To provide the most effective customer service, companies should combine the skill sets of human agents with the automation of bots. By partnering with human agents, bots can supplement the customer experience by handling routine inquiries faster and more efficiently than their human counterparts. With technology handling everyday tasks, human agents will have time to focus on high-level customer issues.

Bots can enhance efficiency by gathering pertinent information and re-directing more complex issues to human agents. By assimilating data from multiple platforms, bots can also save human agents time.  For example, according to MIT Sloan Management Review, bots can handle approximately 80% of initial inquiries. However, if the issue is complex or the customer is upset, the bot can escalate the inquiry to a human agent. Armed with the right data, human agents can focus on empathetic solutions as opposed to hunting for information from disparate systems.

As technology advances and bots can increasingly handle more complex customer concerns, the human agent role will continue to change. Humans will find themselves in bot-supervisory positions, overseeing multiple customer interactions, increasing productivity. If a bot struggles with an inquiry, a human supervisor can tag the issue, allowing the AI-powered bot to learn from the situation.

Bots can also improve human agents’ satisfaction at work, increasing engagement, and productivity. Since bots can handle routine day-to-day questions, human agents can work on more challenging customer service issues, enhancing the customer experience. And not only are human agents happier, but the customers are as well.

Over 80% of company decision-makers claims that they must transform their customer service to stay competitive in today’s market. One way customer service teams will change is by increasing the uses the technology. For example, according to a recent study, over the next 18 months, customer service teams will be expanding the use of artificial intelligence—which includes bots—by 143%.

However, when transforming their customer service offerings, companies can’t be myopic, just focusing on technology and technology alone. The human-bot collaboration will increase efficiency and proficiency while making employees and customers happier. By pairing technology with human agents, companies can enhance their customer service by giving employees time back, allowing them to do what they do best—solve problems.

If you want to find out more about how to strengthen and add value to your customer call center, give us a call.

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