ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Two Reasons Why AI Won't Replace Contact Center Agents, And One Reason Why it Might

A major conversational shift around artificial intelligence (AI) occurred in 2017. For the first time, AI was considered leading edge for a wide range of business applications – and no longer “bleeding edge.” Some pundits are fearful that AI will replace certain groups of employees entirely. While the jury is still out on that concern, contact centers and their agents will experience a significant boost in productivity and their ability to deliver exceptional customer experiences through AI.

Here are two reasons why AI will support, not replace, agents and one reason why AI has the potential to possibly replace the contact center agent role.

Will AI replace contact center agents?

Exceptional Customer Experience Still Relies on Agent Assistance

In my last article, I introduced the two-thirds rule when it comes to customer service and agent interactions, as revealed by the CX Transformation Benchmark Study:

  1. Over two-thirds of all customer service interactions, or total volume, are with live customer service agents (e.g., voice or chat).
  2. Over two-thirds of customers prefer agent assistance over self-service.
  3. Over two-thirds of self-service interactions also end up involving agent assistance.

When it comes to customer service, most customers still prefer to engage with live agents. In fact, consumers rate phone calls with live reps as the number two channel that elicits the most positive emotions. Yet a study from Aberdeen shows that the average customer service agent spends 15 percent of his or her time finding relevant information vs. quickly resolving the customer issue. Here, AI’s strength lies in providing agents with enhanced tools and the context they need to support customers most effectively. The two-thirds rule is clear – agents aren’t going anywhere. But the winning combination is the live-agent experience, powered by AI support, which leads me to my second reason AI will not replace contact center agents.

AI, Blended with Live Agents, Enables Contextual and Quick Omnichannel Interactions

Customers interact with businesses in more ways than ever. Between phone, text, chat, web, and email, customers expect multiple options for how to engage, often simultaneously. AI plays a shared role with agents in enabling exceptional omnichannel customer experiences, where fast and accurate resolutions are key. Today, AI in the self-service space (e.g., chatbots) helps provide fast service for transactional or traditionally self-service issues. But live agents are still key to resolving more complex customer needs.  Here, AI’s proactive, context-inclusive handoff of chat sessions to live agents enables quicker and more complete resolutions. AI doesn’t just automate self-service interactions, it improves and elevates agent-assisted interactions – enabling humans and machines to work together to provide a better, more contextual experience.

The ways that consumers connect with businesses will continue to change, with new channels arising nearly every year. Customer-facing AI is evolving rapidly and is often industry or use case specific. To best prepare for a dynamic future of AI innovations, contact center leaders should ensure their customer experience solution is built on a flexible, open cloud platform with a rich set of modern APIs so they can use or swap out multiple AI technologies as they mature.

Meet NICE at inContact at ICMI Contact Center Expo, May 21-24 in Orlando, FL. 

AI Will Increasingly Handle New Interaction Growth

As channels continue to proliferate, customer service interaction volumes are expected to increase over the next two years, according to a Deloitte study. At the same time, omnichannel interactions will become more complex. Contact center professionals are looking to talent-related initiatives as well as new technology solutions, like AI and analytics, to deliver exceptional customer experiences. While the Deloitte study found that 20 percent of contact centers plan to expand staff, 66 percent and 34 percent plan to make investments in advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, respectively.

AI has the potential to play a larger role in customer service as the volume and complexity of customer service interactions grow, especially if contact centers do not have the staff to match demand – prompting them to rely on AI and bots to handle the additional traffic. Customers reported in the CX Transformation Benchmark Study that quick resolution of issues is the most significant driver of channel success, and AI’s potential in preventing longer resolution times is too great to ignore.  This means AI will likely be responsible for slower hiring of new contact center agents than the growth in customer interaction volumes would traditionally demand.

Powering Exceptional Customer Experiences

Artificial intelligence is primed to fundamentally change the way businesses interact with their customers. Used correctly, it can empower agents to create the exceptional customer experiences and offer even more AI-attended channels for consumers to interact — driving greater loyalty and long-term revenue.

If you’re interested in learning more about what it takes to drive a modern, successful customer experience, check out the full series below, or download the NICE inContact CX Transformation Benchmark Study here.