At times, the growing ubiquity of chatbot technology casts a long shadow on the world of contact center agents.
The forecasts from analysts and industry experts can be downright hair raising.
The IBM Watson Blog, for one, estimates that “85% of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent” by the year 2020. Gartner analysts predict that, by the same year, “72% of all customer interactions will involve machine-learning applications, chatbots, or mobile messaging.”
Okay, deep breath.
It is not all doom and gloom. In many ways, an efficient customer service chatbot can improve the agent experience by making agents more effective.
1. As a source of information
Depending on how they are integrated into the agent experience, chatbots can be a handy source of on-demand information.
Agents can query chatbots the same way a customer would. With speed and accuracy that humans cannot match, chatbots can pull from multiple data sources (the knowledge base, customer database, and so on) to quickly search for, or suggest, contextually relevant content.
When a chatbot conversation is escalated to a human agent, useful contextual information, such as chat history, language the customer used, and the content that customer has already seen, goes with it. From there, the agent can more efficiently resolve the issue.
If this kind of experience can be integrated within a CRM as part of the agent’s screen real estate, all the better.
2. For turnover control
Repetition and monotony plague the agent experience and can lead to burnout. This is especially true in lower tiers of support, where a considerably high volume of simple, repeat cases can occupy much of an agent’s time.
Who wants to do the same thing, over and over, every single day?
Not too many people, which is why burnout contributes so significantly to turnover. And when agents churn, costs increase, the other agents take on extra burden, and the customer experience is left hurting as a result.
That’s probably why “47% of contact centers with 500-1000 seats rate turnover as the top challenge,” according to a 2018 Contact Center Pipeline Report.
Chatbots can help curb turnover by automating those repeat cases, freeing up agents to work on more complex and engaging issues.
3. In support of scalable support models
Driving a “shift left” not only limits burnout and turnover, but also impacts other aspects of contact center scalability. Customer service chatbots can, for instance, provide 24/7 support, allowing contact centers to automate certain functions during off hours without requiring extra headcount.
Chatbots can also handle interactions up to a certain point before handing them off to a contact center agent. This is often referred to as a “hybrid” experience, in which the chatbot handles the first couple exchanges to determine user intent, before intelligently routing that customer to the right live agent.
In this scenario, the agent is empowered with more contextual information (see #1 above), and the end user experiences a seamless route to a successful outcome. Hybrid chat experiences can be a boon to both agent productivity and service at scale: one telecom company used a hybrid chatbot model to increase productivity 3.5 times.
Indeed, when coupled with a powerful knowledge management and customer self-service strategy, chatbots can help contact centers handle more volume with same headcount.
An assistant, not a replacement
While the emerging chatbot paradigm might change the form and function of an agent’s role—and perhaps support models themselves—most agree that human agents aren’t going anywhere. According to the same Gartner report referenced above, “[by 2020], a human agent will still be involved in 44% of all interactions.”
Sometimes, people would just rather speak to an agent.
For the foreseeable future, chatbots will be aids to the agent experience, both directly and indirectly, not replacements. Ideally, this translates into an improved experience for another group of people, too, the one that makes contact centers necessary in the first place: