Put Agents at the Center with AI Assistants

The benefits of providing agents and supervisors with artificial intelligence capabilities extend broader than you might think. In Valoir's recent study, "Assessing the Value of AI and Automation," we found that 39 percent of the average customer service agent's workday could potentially be automated by AI and that automation is already underway in most organizations. The average agents have seen slightly less than 15 percent of their work automated in the past two years. Automation can be game-changing for agents and service organizations, but it's not just about reducing headcount or cutting average call handling time.

In fact, when we dug a little deeper, we found that, for many organizations, the greater potential benefit was in providing AI assistance to agents and managers. This enabled them to do the following:

  • Reduce training time and time to productivity. We found that AI assistance in areas like article and reply recommendations, automated case classification, and conversational search could enable organizations to reduce the time to onboard and train new agents by an average of 30 percent. This was particularly impactful in organizations where agents are hired on a seasonal basis, where ongoing mergers and acquisitions mean bringing agents up to speed on new product or processes, and where new products and services are released on a regular cadence.
  • Reduce the overall cost of agent talent. We found that particularly in fields where specialized expertise was needed, organizations can leverage AI to give less experienced (and less expensive) agents more complex tasks and cases, freeing up experts to focus on only high-level cases. This would also reduce the cost of retaining talent in a shrinking talent pool as experts retire or move on to other roles. This was often most significant in areas like field service, where AI could augment the technical skills of representatives in the field, or in companies that sell medical devices and other high-tech products, where a higher level of skill is needed.
  • Reduce the burden on supervisors and managers. We also found that the ability to use AI as a virtual coach for agents—recommending answers, identifying skills gaps, and suggesting training—enabled organizations to scale the level and frequency of individualized coaching for agents, driving better outcomes while freeing managers and supervisors to focus on other strategic projects. Additionally, providing managers with AI capabilities enabled them to take a much more data-driven approach to management, because they could act based on the knowledge of 10 or 20 times the cases they could have analyzed manually.
  • Increase agent retention. Providing agents with the assistance they need to be more effective in their jobs on an ongoing basis reduces burnout and turnover. Although the delta depends on a number of factors, we found that the combination of better access to knowledge, ongoing recommendations and coaching, and a more data-driven approach to coaching enables organizations to improve agent experience and extend longevity.

Whether you're starting to explore automation today or already on the road to generative AI, putting agents at the center of your AI strategy is critical, but so is getting your data in order. The potential value of AI is only as good as your data hygiene, so taking a critical look at how agents enter data today and how to improve consistency and quality is important.

Now is also the time to rethink training for agents, refocusing your efforts on training how to use AI to deliver answers rather than on the answers themselves, and how you&'ll train for effective adoption and use of the technology without making managers and agents feel threatened.

Our study also found that customer service agents believe that roughly a third of their colleagues could be replaced by AI in the next two years. While there is less potential perceived threat of replacement in customer service than in other departments, ensuring your strategy puts agents at the center—with AI as an assistant—will help drive effective adoption, better agent engagement, and, ultimately, a better customer experience.

Rebecca Wettemann is founder and CEO of Valoir.