The Rise of Contact Center Agents as AI Champions

The global COVID-19 pandemic increased contact center calls by 300 percent and pushed average handle times from six minutes to more than 10 minutes. Through it all, call center agents helped panic-stricken people reschedule flights, receive refunds for public events, and obtain information about health safety.

Stereotypical call center agents get a bad rap for being unhelpful and patronizing when, in reality, they are the true champions of customer service and consumer confidence. The pandemic reinforced the importance of well-trained, motivated agents who were forced to work virtually and deal with more complex customer inquiries.

Customer experience (CX) workers once had to rely on their wits and carefully crafted scripts to manage complicated consumer interactions. Now, a new generation of contact center agents is rising, empowered with artificial intelligence and analytics that allow specialized interactions with every customer.

Artificial intelligence is nothing new to contact centers. A 2018 MIT global survey of 600 executives across 18 countries revealed 90 percent use AI to improve customer journeys. Companies with 30,000-plus employees were 50 percent more likely to have invested in AI for customer interactions and analytics.

Chatbots and automated menus are giving way to AI tools that help contact center leaders collect vast amounts of real-time data on customer interactions. That information is used to provide more personalized agent coaching and support, automate redundant tasks to improve productivity, and keep agents engaged through consistent, constructive performance feedback.

And it's working. More than 95 percent of 250 contact center leaders surveyed for Observe.AI's "2021 Post-Pandemic Contact Center Report" believe agent experience impacts key performance indicators (KPIs), and 64 percent believe the AI shift has already turned their businesses into revenue generators. Improving agent experience is critical to that growth, but CX leaders face big hurdles to sustaining momentum.

Riding the AI Wave to Better Agent Performance

The average annual contact center agent turnover rate is between 30 percent and 40 percent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects our industry to lose 34,500 CX representatives by 2030. Turnover has always been a challenge, but progressive contact centers know that changes in culture, pay, and career growth must occur to keep high-performing agents in their seats.

Before real-time AI data was available, contact centers realistically analyzed and scored 1 percent to 2 percent of agent/customer interactions. Evaluations were manual and tedious. Today, AI's ability to measure tone, pitch, speech rate, and voice volume makes it possible to analyze almost 100 percent of calls.

These real-time insights can be used to immediately coach agents to improve active-listening skills, empathy, professionalism, and deeper discovery of customers' unmet needs. For CX supervisors, AI data on agent/customer interactions helps them identify practices used by high performers, which can be used to coach new and less-experienced agents.

The desired result is agents who feel empowered to solve customers' problems in satisfying and effective ways. Each victory builds confidence and morale, which energizes their next interactions. Supervisors can immediately recognize great work and constructively coach agents with real-time call data. This transparency creates a culture of trust, mobility, and accomplishment and molds a work environment in which agents want to stay.

Artificial intelligence contact center platforms are transforming the way companies interact with consumers. In-depth data captured by AI tools on each customer interaction allows companies to better address concerns and direct callers to new products and services.

But it's contact center agents who are the true champions of great customer experiences. With AI data and analytics to show them what works and what doesn't, agents can control the path of each conversation and tailor responses to the needs and wants of individuals on the other side of a phone line or chat box.

AI platforms are not designed to replace agents. These advanced technologies are meant to re-humanize the contact center by empowering living, breathing agents to connect with human consumers in ways computer algorithms never could. CX agents and AI are partners working for the same goals: give consumers the best possible experiences while boosting company revenue.

Adrian Valenzuela is senior account executive at Observe.AI.