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How to Train Your Agents for the Next Generation of Contact Center Work

Since the dawn of time, humans have used technology to improve the way we live. From our earliest forays into fire-making to building the first cars, it’s human ingenuity which has helped us take raw materials around us and transform them into new inventions to make our lives easier.

In the present day and the realm of the contact center, we’re on the cusp of widespread adoption of a new technology. One which holds the promise to make business faster and easier, for us and for our customers – and that’s through automation, with Chatbots leading the fore.

Any technology requires human skill and knowledge to make it work. Even those first humans making fire needed to understand how friction could be transformed into sparks, applying their abilities in combination with materials to produce those first licks of flame.

Just because a technology is advanced, doesn’t mean it can create or maintain itself, and Chatbots are no different. Behind every great Chatbot experience is a great human – someone who can design a service which effectively meets customer needs, and who grows the bot’s capabilities over time through testing and feedback.

Despite all of the hype and excitement around Chatbots, there’s often little said about the humans behind the bots. What sort of people are building bots? What skills do they require? And what do contact center leaders need to do to find, grow and nurture these people to help their centers get ready for automation?

To help answer these questions, I’ve called on Comm100’s resident Chatbot expert, Matthew Jinks. Matt has been instrumental in building our own chatbot on our website, as well as helping companies around the world get great results from their chatbot implementations, so he’s well qualified to share what’s needed to nurture a budding bot building specialist.

Next generation contact center work

Hi Matt! What got you interested in building and training chatbots?

I liked the idea of working with emerging technology. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of AI, and I thought it was a great opportunity to expose myself to something which will probably play a growing role in our lives moving forward.

Personally, I don’t like waiting for service for something simple. Waiting on the phone for 20 minutes to update my billing address when I move is a waste of my time. If more businesses offered bots for functions like this, I would jump at the opportunity to use them. That being said, I know there are a lot of interactions which shouldn’t be automated, and I wanted to develop something which frees up agent time to handle those more complex and sensitive interactions.

Are specific technical skills or knowledge, like coding, for example, needed to build and train chatbots?

There are a lot of great software companies out there who make it easy for non-technical people to build chatbots, without needing to code. If you’re implementing sophisticated chatbot functions like account management or order taking, this side would normally be handled by an IT team. But for the bulk of the building and ongoing training of a bot through an established chatbot platform, this doesn’t need to be handled by people with an IT background, and someone without a lot of technical skill could definitely get to grips with the work.

What about specific personal attributes and attitudes which are likely to gear bot builders up for success?

The bulk of the work that needs to be done when building a chatbot is researching which questions your customers are asking, identifying which ones can be automated and then crafting clear and concise answers. This work is ideal for someone with strong communication skills, who enjoys understanding customer behavior, and a passion for delivering great customer experiences.

It’s a plus if a person enjoys systems-oriented thinking. Sometimes customers ask questions which require the bot to ask clarifying questions before it can return a proper answer. For complex interactions like this, it’s best to map them out beforehand, so you understand how to get the customer where they are trying to go to as quickly as possible.

What's most interesting or rewarding about working with chatbots?

When I deploy a new chatbot or significantly upgrade one, I read all of the bot’s conversation transcripts to see how it’s doing. There’s no real need to do this since we have analytics and learning components that tell me where the bot may be falling short. But seeing someone come in with a query or service request and having it successfully handled by a response or workflow I’ve created is really satisfying. You put in all this work and thought into the chatbot, but never know whether customers will like it or not until it’s deployed. It’s great when that work pays off.

What advice would you give to a contact center manager looking to help an employee take on chatbot responsibility?

Give them time to understand the technology. The more their skillset grows, the more complex interactions they’ll be able to design. This is an emerging technology, and there’s a lot to learn. If you let the person handling your chatbot deployment invest time and effort into understanding the technology, you’re going to have a much better internal SME and an even better chatbot deployment.

Understand that they probably won’t get the whole thing right on the first go-around. Test out your chatbot thoroughly internally before launch, keep fine-tuning and making things better. Be patient, because the rewards for doing this task well are immense.

Thanks, Matt for your time and insights!

Automation promises to change the working world fundamentally, and our contact centers are no different. McKinsey state that by 2030, as many as 375 million workers – around 14% of the global workforce – may need to switch roles as digitization, automation, and advances in AI change the way work has been done in the past.

But there will always be a need for human oversight into customer interactions, even if Chatbots handle them. Rather than agents being replaced by Chatbots, the contact centers of the future will need employees to act as stewards of this technology, guiding and training bots to perform the best they can. Customer needs are never static, so that fine-tuning will take place well into the foreseeable future.

I hope this interview with Matt has shown that there aren’t better candidates for these roles than the stars that work within almost every contact center out there – those agents who are technologically savvy, emotionally intelligent, and who already understand customer needs inside-out.

These could be great roles for staff who are keen to develop beyond traditional contact center career paths. Job descriptions in this area could be filled with vital and pioneering new responsibilities to tackle, such as:

· Creating sophisticated, personalized Chatbots which adapt to different types of customers, different types of processes, or different places in the customer journey

· Using AI to sort and categorize messy data, uncovering hidden customer trends and insights

· Customer Journey Mapping specifically to find areas where automation could do better than the status quo

· Knowledge Management responsibility (the backbone of many good Chatbot implementations)

· Chatbot building for internal uses (Onboarding bot, anyone?)

· Chatbots that sit alongside internal knowledge bases to suggest answers for live agents – and even suggest answers to be added to the knowledge base from agent interactions.

AI is becoming better and more sophisticated by the day, offering more possibilities for businesses who are seeking to scale in ways that don’t just involve hiring more staff. The days of “easy calls” are already largely gone, due to self-service. The contact center landscape is changing fast and adapting to these changes can seem intimidating.

But I know that all of our contact centers contain bright, talented people who can help us to get there. There’s certainly no rulebook for adapting to technological change – we’re all on the cutting edge together.

The beauty of starting change through adopting chatbots is that software is now at a place where we don’t even need much of a rulebook. We don’t need our automation SMEs to have an IT degree and know how to code in 15 languages. We just need to develop the bright, talented people within our centers in the right ways.

The more that contact centers can create career paths which align with new technology, the more that our businesses and our people will be able to really benefit from technological change – making the next generation of contact centers pioneering, future-ready, and truly exciting places to be a part of.

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