Keep Agent Morale High Through AI/Automation

Historically, contact centers have been plagued by low morale and high churn among agents. Leaders have applied new tools and techniques to try to address these challenges, with limited success. But they might be overlooking the most obvious solution—artificial intelligence and AI-driven automation—out of fear of the unknown or a misperception about how it works.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that AI is vital to contact center success. Organizations need to use AI to support their customer service teams and create better experiences for their agents. In parallel, they must convince employees that automation is an ally, not an enemy.

While AI advocates are singing its praises, many knowledge workers are singing a different tune. One recent study found that 74 percent of those who work remotely are concerned about their employers monitoring when and how much they work, and 76 percent of workers who use computers are concerned about their employers monitoring their communications.

Contact center agents work in a high-pressure environment, with rigid scheduling and metrics tracking to account for their time and performance by the hour and even by the minute. And though agents' schedules are fixed in advance by workforce managers, customer calls are not. Sudden spikes in call volume often throw off pre-planned training or coaching sessions, which can leave agents frustrated and feeling like their development is a low priority for the company.

The disconnect between dynamic demand (incoming calls) and static supply (pre-scheduled agents) to meet that demand often results in frustrated agents and dissatisfied customers. This translates to high costs, frequent agent churn, and a poor service reputation.

How Can Automation Help?

Advanced technology can bridge the gap. Intelligent automation can process massive quantities of call center data in real time and leverage it to take immediate actions to quickly solve or even head off problems before they occur.

Intelligent automation can do the following:

  • Identify unforeseen moments of opportunity, like idle time when call volume is low, for agents to engage in important development activities like training, coaching, and other critical development activities, ensuring that agents are well-prepared to be successful.
  • Help agents avoid getting stuck on calls that cut into their break time by prompting them to go to break early and updating their schedules automatically.
  • Deliver surprise breaks to reward individual agents or promote wellness at times that are still good for the business (i.e., at moments when enough other agents are available to ensure service level continuity).

AI manages these issues in real time to ensure great service delivery, no matter how heavy call volume gets, and leaves agents better trained, less stressed, and better able to satisfy customers.

Leadership Required

Introducing advanced automation will require change management, and proper change management starts with leadership and communication. Contact center leaders must reassure agents that AI and other tech will improve their experiences and customer experiences. Yes, the technology is engaged in monitoring; but it's not engaged in surveillance in the negative sense that's usually understood by that term. Intelligent automation monitors data flows for opportunities to improve efficiency; it doesn't monitor agents for opportunities to point out failures.

Managers need to communicate clearly with agents, showing them what's being captured and how it's being used. They should provide regular updates on how automation is improving performance, such as handle time, occupancy, adherence, training delivery, etc. They should highlight the technology's ability to streamline scheduling issues, such as breaks, overtime, and time off. And they should leverage the technology to surprise and delight employees with bonus breaks and rewards, ensuring that agents will want to engage and adopt automation as part of their daily lives.

A consistent approach to managing the adoption of AI-powered technology will convince agents that they're part of a team and an organization that cares about their well-being and professional development. More engaged agents will demonstrate a firmer commitment to delivering consistently excellent customer experiences. And it will reduce the all-too-common practice of agent churn.

Pandemic Lessons

The past 18 months accelerated the use of automation as a means to bring about change in contact center processes. One of the lasting legacies of the pandemic has been a heightened focus on agent well-being, including more frequent check-ins and communication to provide the assistance agents need to perform better and feel happier at work.

The transition to remote work has had its ups and downs, but one significant up was the unique ability of AI-driven technologies to allow contact centers to maintain and even improve customer service delivery, even under duress. Intelligent automation empowers agents to work better and smarter, and it gives managers more insight so they can be better team leaders.

People First, Always

Customer service has always been and always will be a quintessentially human activity. Technology is constantly evolving to streamline work processes, but no technology can replace the human touch in customer service. Intelligent automation supports agents and helps them be more successful. With positive reinforcement and open communication, contact centers can effectively implement intelligent automation and begin seeing better results immediately.

Jennifer Lee is chief strategy officer of Intradiem. She has 20 years' experience in the contact center industry, including roles in operations, quality, workforce management, and client services.