How AI Will Transform the Customer Service Agent Workforce

Every company job, including every front-office job, is being affected by the march of artificial intelligence into our systems and processes. Customer service organizations are no different.

Automation and AI will increasingly handle routine tasks, with agents dedicated to customer exceptions and escalations. These agents are higher skilled and compensated. For example, a tax software service company that has adopted robotic process automation extensively now hires tax accountants and software experts as front-line help to their customers instead of classic agent profiles.

AI and automation will push today's contact center labor into the following four categories:

  • Agents who will lose their jobs. Modern self-service technologies, such as chatbots, knowledge management, and process management, will empower customers with answers to straight-forward reproducible questions and resolution to straight-forward issues, ultimately displacing generalists and tier-one agents. Smaller, digital-first companies that are less burdened with legacy technology will see this shift earlier than large enterprises that have just started their journeys with AI.
  • Agents whose jobs will morph. Modern self-service technologies demand rich content and dialog flows that do not write themselves. Self-service also often fails. Agents can be repurposed as authors of content or chatbot dialogs. They can also be used to supervise chatbots and address failures to improve self-service operations.
  • New superagents who will be product or ecosystem experts. Customer service organizations will become high-touch centers that handle critical customer interactions, which will require deep subject matter expertise or product ecosystem expertise. Superagents could have advanced degrees and specialized skills. They could have other jobs in the back office and only work on occasional issues that are specific to their areas of expertise. They could also want to work as contract or gig economy labor for a set of companies to better control their work environments. Airbnb, Pinterest, and TUI already use gig-economy workers who are routed work based on skill, reputation, and availability.
  • New contact center jobs. Data scientists, automation specialists, and application developers just scratch the surface of new AI and automation jobs. These personnel will be responsible for implementing and maintaining self-service and agent-facing automation and AI initiatives.

Companies of all sizes are already experiencing this shift in resources. Organizations will have to learn to live side by side with automation and AI, and this will shape not only the labor skillset but also the technologies for how agents and automated bots are scheduled and forecasted.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Related Articles

The certification is awarded after a selective process and is only given to call centers that rank among the top 10 percent of companies that BenchmarkPortal—a research firm offering benchmarking, certification, training and consulting tools—evaluates.

Posted December 28, 2018

For toy manufacturers like Mattel, a turnaround might be coming thanks to its commitment to customer service in this critical fourth quarter.

Posted December 21, 2018