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It’s Time to Embrace Agent Displacement

One of the tired cliches of technology and automation is that workers will be replaced by machines, AI, or other new innovations. “Replaced” implies the poor worker is out on the street with nothing to do because that cold, heartless machine took their job.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Jobs have always disappeared while new ones sprung up. When was the last time you saw listings on Indeed.com for switchboard operators, telegram clerks or elevator operators? The times change; jobs change. Technology changes. Humans will always be required, especially in contact centers.

Here’s why your organization should embrace agent displacement and why it’s a good thing:

Displacement versus replacement

At the risk of offending those well-versed in the English language, I’d nevertheless like to clarify the difference. Replacement simply means switching one thing for another, i.e. a human for a machine. This has often occurred in a factory setting in which a machine is created that can do narrow, repetitive tasks over and over without going to the bathroom or going out for a smoke break.

Displacement means moving something from its current place or position. When modern contact centers first arose with the advent of the 1-800 number, there were no computers, live chat, AI, or mobile phones. Yet today with previously unimaginable technology, contact centers are still chock full of well, regular old flesh and blood humans!

Embrace technology and agent displacement

When you’re thinking about automating service processes, offering self-service or new channels, or integrating AI into your processes for agent assistance, remember the switchboard. You can be sure there were people fighting the change to automate, but is that the world you want to live in? Even the switchboard workers would eventually have to admit that they enjoyed being able to call their friends directly, without going through a switchboard.

Agents are and will always be the most critical part of your contact center. All the technology, automation, AI, and change are built up around them, as supporting infrastructure with your agent being the central pillar. And let’s be honest - nobody wants to do the repetitive, low-value, grunt work that sadly takes up all too much of agents’ time today. And as the customer, I don’t want them to do that either, because it wastes my time.

Agents are being displaced upwards

Even the now common, boring technologies like CRM software are already displacing agent roles as they spend less time thumbing through legacy paper files and instead clicking a button to immediately get a complete picture of the customer.

Think of the value a human agent provides as a spectrum, with the left side being “basic data lookups and entry” to “empathy and complex problem-solving” on the far right. Agents are being displaced upwards to the high-value end of the spectrum. A major factor in agent attrition is repetitive, low-value work, so helping make that a thing of the past benefits your company, customer, and employees.

New technologies such as conversational AI will further take over low- to no-skill work like searching for solutions, gathering initial information, creating an overview of the customer, case, and problem in advance, or making straightforward changes like modifying a hotel reservation. Artificial Intelligence can identify customer intent, route calls, authenticate customers, retrieve information, and capture data. They can’t, however, comfort a Florida homeowner who just lost their house in a hurricane and is calling the insurance company.

Embrace agent displacement because it means your contact center, customer service, and agents are advancing to new frontiers of customer service. You’ll always need agents, just for different reasons than in the past.