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Automation Can Lead to Opportunities for Agents

Service agents are being displaced upwards in the value chain. Technology is taking over the mundane, repetitive, and narrow work, pushing humans upwards into the tasks requiring emotional intelligence and non-linear problem solving. To use a hotel comparison, agents are moving from bellhops to concierges.

It’s no secret that agents face a variety of new challenges. Despite the classic curse of “May you live in interesting times,” these are rather calls to action that will ultimately make your agents happier. They include:

  • Searching for the right information
  • Growing number of channels to serve
  • Questionably effective self-service options
  • Better informed and diverse customers
  • Increasingly diverse and complex products and services
  • More time-sensitive inquiries

While you should absolutely take your overall tech stack and architecture seriously, you need to closely analyze and redefine your agents’ roles. Many agents and team leads may find themselves in jack-of-all-trades roles, but these roles will continue to be further divided up into specialist roles.

To take an airline example, you may train a group of agents specifically on dealing with issues around passengers who booked through a third-party site like Expedia and another on documents like visas, vaccination certificates, or transporting animals. These are both common issues on a global scale, yet nearly always complicated and likely won’t be solved by the best self-service.

Phone calls, live chat, messenger, social media and even video calls all require different skillsets and have their own nuances. For the more technically savvy among your contact center staff, you may move someone into a part time or full time “application specialist” role who acts as a bridge between IT, your vendors and staff for ongoing support, optimization, and requests. These workers will essentially become business analysts who still have one foot in support.

Redefining agent roles in the context of new technologies requires clear business thinking. After all, technology today isn’t passive. You must actively work with it to properly map requirements, plan the project, implement, and continue to optimize and scale. Even if you chose the absolute leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for every software choice, if you install and forget, you’re going to be disappointed.

To paraphrase Peter Drucker, the larger impact on most contact centers of new technology is not features but that they force you to think through and organize your processes and information more clearly and logically. In that context, you must do the same for your workers and not focus on processes. Where will people be required? Can you move human resources into other areas once you say, automated 40% of your phone interactions? What new roles will be required to serve and maintain the new technology?

Moreover, since attrition will still remain a challenge for the foreseeable future, it’s an opportunity to create a contact center that can handle more with fewer resources. In summary, new technology and the many challenges discussed today are real but thinly veiled opportunities to hire, train, and benefit from more highly skilled staff. Higher skilled roles are more fulfilling and better paid, which will reduce attrition problem and increase job satisfaction.