A human punching bag. This is how The Los Angeles Times has described customer service agents. And this was before the pandemic. By many accounts, it’s now even worse.
Customers are more abusive than before, taking out frustrations on delayed flights, lost packages, or late meals on agents at staggering rates. It’s gotten so bad that call centers have been described as free “psychological counseling centers” for distraught customers.
The Cost of Turnover
The difficulty of the job is exacerbated by budget cuts, supply chain issues creating problems outside of a company’s control, and a remote and sparse workforce. In this reality, it should come as no surprise that 74 percent of call center agents are at risk for burnout, and turnover rates hover between 30 percent and 45 percent, among the highest of any industry.
This high attrition rate is costing businesses big time. While many customer service teams are squeezing their budgets, U.S. companies are forced to spend $13 billion annually to hire, train and onboard new agents. This is because it costs about 30 percent of an agent’s salary to fill their seat when they leave. The negative impact is more than just cost, though: Team morale takes a hit and customer experience also suffers inconsistency and longer response times.
Even if these aren’t reasons enough to prioritize retaining agents, hiring is harder than ever. The customer service industry has been greatly impacted by the labor shortage; it’s estimated that there are approximately 25 percent fewer agents than pre-pandemic, and many offshore call centers have not fully reopened.
In this environment, it’s more important than ever for companies to improve the agent experience to reduce turnover going into 2022. Recent advancements in modern AI could help.
The Impact of AI on the Agent Experience
While AI in customer service is often discussed in the context of enhancing the customer experience, there are many applications of AI that can also better the agent experience. Here are four ways AI can enhance the agent experience, and as a result, reduce agent turnover:
Offloading repetitive work. Agents often perform the same non-challenging task again and again. AI-powered chatbots can automatically resolve highly repetitive tickets like refunds or order status. These are the tickets that can make human agents feel like robots themselves. With the mundane, monotonous work taken care of, agents can focus on more fulfilling work that requires creativity and complex problem-solving.
Uncovering tech-focused career advancement. With the right training and oversight, AI-powered chatbots can automate more work over time. This training, though, needs to be supervised. Many companies are finding their human agents are the best ones to oversee the optimization of these platforms. Agents can monitor the conversations the AI is having with customers to correct it when it’s wrong, uncover opportunities to enhance its training of new utterances for a topic or even identify new use cases the AI could respond to. It’s not an IT department, but customer service agents who have the expertise of how conversations should go and what the right course of action is. Empowering agents to take on this responsibility often leads to upward mobility and new career advancement, which directly impacts longevity within an organization.
Sentiment routing. Many agent desk platforms offer ticket routing based on agent expertise, turn taking, or round robin, but AI agents can take this one step further and make an impact on the agent experience. By monitoring agent conversations, AI agents identify who is having more difficult customers based on sentiment and nature of the issue. By also factoring in things like the length of the conversation, AI can anticipate agent stress level and the micro-impact closing a specific ticket will have on an agent’s immediate well-being. With every incoming ticket, the AI can deflect more difficult issues or customers with heightened emotions to agents who have had lower-stress cases. This avoids situations where one agent gets irate customers back-to-back, which takes a direct toll on their job satisfaction.
Real-time training and support. AI can be tasked to gather information preemptively from back-end systems, say a customer’s order history or loyalty status, and message agents in the moment to help them close tickets faster and more accurately. If an agent is unsure of a certain policy, AI agents can also pull relevant training documents or draft responses.
AI is being deployed in the call center in many ways, from data analysis to customer-facing chatbots. Improving the agent experience is just one of the exciting applications that can have a real impact on the daily operations and spend. As customer expectations continue to rise for effortless and immediate resolutions, 24/7 and across even more channels, keeping agents satisfied and engaged is more critical than ever. After all, “happy customer service agents mean happy customers,” according to Forrester.
It’s a job seekers market. When companies have agents, it’s essential to prioritize the agent experience to keep them engaged, happy, and helping customers—no matter how rude they can sometimes be.
Puneet Mehta is founder and CEO of Netomi, a leading customer experience AI platform that autonomously resolves customer service issues. He has spent much of his career as a tech entrepreneur as well as on Wall Street building trading and capital markets AI. He has been recognized as a member of Advertising Age’s Creativity 50 list, and Business Insider’s Silicon Alley 100 and 35 Up-And-Coming Entrepreneurs You Need To Meet.
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