How AI Can Change the Course of the Great Resignation in Contact Centers

Months before the COVID-19 delta variant disrupted plans to return to the office, many workers had already decided they were not coming back. Economists have been predicting a Great Resignation, as COVID-era employees re-evaluate their priorities and career possibilities, and now we are seeing that come to fruition. In the United States alone, 4 million people quit their jobs in April, followed by another 3.9 million in June, according to the Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary. A recent study estimates that more than 40 percent of the global workforce is considering leaving their current jobs in the next year.

For many contact centers, the Great Resignation is a regular occurrence. A 2021 study by Five9 and ICMI found that the average rate of agent turnover for contact centers was 58 percent year over year, with increased workload and a lack of growth and advancement opportunities cited as the top two reasons for attrition. Research by Quality Assurance and Training Connection indicates a much higher turnover rate for routine order-taking positions or outbound telemarketing, where burnout is high. In more specialized, higher-level jobs, turnover is lower but can still be a challenge.

So what can contact centers to do to offset the Turnover Tsunami of 2021? It's time to put artificial intelligence to work.

Despite the misconception that artificial intelligence will replace contact center jobs, service leaders who implement this technology often do so to empower their agents, avoid burnout, and improve their well-being. This is critical, given employee burnout is the primary trigger for 95 percent of workers considering leaving their jobs, according to a recent survey from And, with more than half of >contact centers (55 percent) handling a higher volume of customer interactions, the potential for burnout in customer service is extremely high.

Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) can take some of the pressure off. They use AI and speech recognition to provide more hands on deck every day and during spikes in demand. IVAs can serve as a digital workforce alongside live agents to answer calls or chats, greet customers, assess their needs, handle routine requests, and accurately route interactions to live agents best suited to help. This helps prevent customers from being passed around, which is a frustration that call center agents frequently bear the brunt of. IVAs can also pass on information and context from conversations with customers to live agents so they are better prepared with a warm handoff, thereby reducing customer frustration and hopefully leading to shorter time to resolution.

IVAs also now have the intelligence to handle simple service tasks, such as answering frequently asked questions, checking the status of an order or account balance, processing a transaction, or booking an appointment. In some cases, we've seen IVAs reduce calls to live agents by 40 percent or completely automate high-volume tasks so agents can be reallocated for higher-value work.

Creating More Meaningful Work

Repetitive, monotonous tasks have been proven to negatively impact agent engagement and performance. One in five respondents to the ICMI study said this type of work was the leading driver of a negative agent experience and engagement.

With IVAs handling more of the mundane service tasks, agents can spend their energy on conversations that benefit from their human understanding and abilities. This type of work increases agent engagement, leading to better opportunities for promotion and advancement.

For example, at a high-end resort that uses IVAs to automate routine guest requests, like asking for more towels, customer service representatives will have more time to book reservations and sell upgrades. Agents can now earn more in commission and drive more revenue for themselves and the resort.

AI can also eliminate tedious administrative tasks in agent workdays through workflow automation (WFA). WFA can perform actions, such as creating a service ticket, inputting data, adding notes to a CRM system, or sending a follow-up email, during and after a customer interaction. Unburdened by this work, agents can use their energy for more meaningful activities.

Increasing the automation of any task in the contact center can ultimately reduce overall service costs, which means businesses can afford to provide more career advancement opportunities and benefits for agents.

Encouraging Professional Development

Allowing agents to sharpen their skills on more complex tasks provides built-in learning and development opportunities, which are now a major driver of employee retention. Nearly 90 percent of millennials say professional development or career growth opportunities are very important to them in choosing a job.

AI can play an important role in upskilling agents via real-time coaching tools. These tools can capture and transcribe the content of customer conversations, analyze them using speech recognition and natural language processing, and provide guidance to the agent in the moment. This can help shorten the learning curve on complex topics, such as compliance and regulatory issues. Furthermore, by integrating agent assist tools with a knowledge base, articles can be automatically surfaced to coach agents to the best possible customer service outcomes. Suggestions for improving performance can be provided after a call as well to contribute to the overall knowledge base.

Additionally, we have seen these tools save agents as much as 20 minutes a day on call summarization, time that can be invested in growing their skills.

With the right mix of contact center automation, the role of an agent can be more manageable and even more rewarding. The Great Resignation is proving that employees need more from their jobs than a paycheck, and AI provides the tools to make customer service a more satisfying career. It's time to give contact center agents a reason to stick around.

Callan Schebella is executive vice president of product management at cloud contact center company Five9.