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Can AI Fix The Employee Experience For Frontline Customer Service Reps?

A version of this blog first appeared on the North Bridge Group website.

You’re a CSR, and there’s so much you hate about your job. Customers shriek at you all day. Your boss’s expectations are unreasonable: “Answer faster! Reply better! Improve CSAT! Keep costs down!” The information you need to do your job is stored in multiple separate systems that can’t communicate with each other. The knowledgebase is out of date. Your team must clean up messes made by the Marketing, Operations, and Web Development teams.

You’re a CSR, and there’s so much you love about your job. You’re proud to represent your company because you believe in its products and services. You’re glad to be a member of a team that puts customers’ needs first. You have the soul of service; you’re personally motivated to listen to customers and solve their problems. You’re ambitious and plan to advance to your next role: team lead, supervisor, manager, and beyond.

Can AI fix customer service? Who knows? With AI, there’s so much hope and hype, it’s hard to know what to believe. To say the contact center world is ecstatic over AI may be an understatement. Here are just a handful of the claims about how AI will fix customer service:

  • AI will cut labor costs by replacing outsourced and in-house agents.
  • AI will use customer data for tailored, individualized cross-selling.
  • AI will solve all Tier-1 issues. No humans needed!
  • AI will personalize every customer interaction.
  • AI algorithms can analyze customer sentiment instantly and “teach” non-human agents to recognize the customer’s emotional state and respond empathetically.

It’s wise for us to be skeptical about what AI can do when vendors, leaders, and the press are telling us that AI can do “everything.”

So, can AI fix the employee experience for frontline customer service reps? Yes, in some ways it can indeed. Thoughtful, un-hyped AI implementations can—and are—improving CSRs’ work lives.

  • Gen AI can read a customer’s incoming email and draft a reply. The rep can review and edit the reply then click “send.” AI can relieve the monotony of answering the same question over and over.
  • AI can offer agents advice about how to meet sales quotas or service KPIs by providing next-best-action recommendations. Netflix uses it, Amazon uses it, and next-best-action is great for customer service agents, too. AI tracks the customer’s every interaction—emails opened, links clicked, products viewed, mobile apps logged into, purchases made online and in-store, and so on. AI processes this customer data to determine the right next-best action. Companies have been using this predictive power to boost sales, and they are now also using next-best-action to support agents’ efforts to meet sales goals or KPIs and earn incentives for hitting the mark.
  • With automated note-taking, AI can help complete after-call work. Without the pressure to take notes during the call, the rep can listen to the customer more intently. And shortening the after-call work—which is never a “most fun” part of a rep’s job—will improve the employee experience.
  • AI can synthesize knowledge from diverse sources, so reps can give customers correct information. No more hopping from application to application to find the right answer. AI can synthesize knowledge from in the agent-facing knowledgebase, the customer-facing FAQs, documentation, a dashboard, and an online ordering system, so the rep doesn’t have to look everywhere to find anything.
  • AI can create custom documentation guides by pulling source code and capturing a rep’s screen as they go through a process. Reps can then send this bespoke documentation to customers who need troubleshooting help. Being able to create help content on the fly certainly makes reps better at and happier about their work.

So, will AI fix the employee experience in customer service? The driest answer to this question is, of course, “No. AI can’t fix the employee experience if it costs CSRs their jobs.” Customer service reps are worried about being replaced by AI, and they should be. If it works even half as well as the people selling it say it will work, AI will eliminate customer service jobs. The hope is that the remaining customer service jobs will be more fulfilling for the people who do the work.

What can you do to ensure your AI implementation improves employee experience for your customer service reps? Involve them in the process, every step of the way. Spend the money required to do AI right. Commit to customer-centric, employee-centric AI implementations only. Vow to stay away from those clunky chatbots that serve up stale FAQs and make customers angrier, so conversations with live human agents are longer and more contentious.

Finally, in all the hype about AI, remember that your customers and your employees are human, and humans—social creatures, all—want to interact with and bond with each other. If you want your employees to enjoy their jobs, preserve and protect the aspects of their work that create human connection.