Who interacts with customers more than anyone else in your company? Your service agents do. They are the ones who connect with, engage, interact with, and console your customers. Yet oftentimes agents aren’t given the respect they deserve.

In Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he explains that the key to motivation is a sense of mastery or the desire to get better at something that matters — to have a purpose like being “in service” to something larger than oneself. And most customer service agents want nothing more than to be in service to your customers. They want to use their problem-solving skills to help customers solve issues, resolve problems, and answers questions that make a difference in whether customers purchase or remain loyal to a company.

But instead of being motivated to build rapport and trust, agents are bogged down by routine, mundane tasks that don’t use those incredible people skills. Day in and day out, a good part of their day is spent resetting passwords, changing addresses, determining order statuses, processing returns, and the like. With 60% of customer service contacts consisting of these routine-type requests, it’s no wonder agents are always on the lookout for the next job, which drives agent turnover and attrition sky high. And as an expert in contact center leadership, you know finding, training, and retaining amazing reps not only is costly but directly affects the customer experience.

What if there was a way to change all that? What if the contact center was a place where customers and agents could truly spend their time building authentic relationships? What if instead of spending money on attrition, the money you spent on the contact center had a direct and positive effect on the customer relationship?

For many years the technology in contact centers has been transaction based. The technology was focused on efficiency, but unfortunately this focus came at the expense of the customer and agent experience. In short, we were focused on transactional metrics. But in the new age of service, where the focus for agents is to be a brand ambassador, agents must be empowered with the best technological solutions to deliver awe-inspiring service and experiences.

The increasing capabilities of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), when used correctly, can be an agent’s new best friend. AI drives improved efficiency without negatively impacting effectiveness. How does it work? In short, AI automates repetitive tasks and relieves agents of the humdrum type of work that creates frustration with their job — and that automation has the added benefit of helping customers find answers faster. With the tedious work being done by AI, agents can focus on cases requiring their problem-solving skills, which leads to a greater sense of motivation, value, and pride in their work when serving your customers.

Not only can AI relieve agents of the tasks they don’t like, it can actually build the competency of every agent. AI helps facilitate making all agents “A” players by providing them with recommendations on what to do next and suggesting answers that help upskill all your agents, no matter how long they’ve worked for you. With assistance from AI, agents can get up to speed faster and quickly drive dynamic and emotionally engaging relationships with customers. Not only does this increase the morale of agents, it also reduces the cost of onboarding and training them.

And agents assisted by AI can better understand customers’ preferences, behaviors, transactions, and sentiment. When agents have that “extra” information, they are better able to influence a customer’s choices, decisions, and the outcome of the call. This drives better CSAT and NPS scores, as well as employee engagement.

What’s the key to making AI actually drive efficiency without sacrificing the agent and customer experience? AI is not magical. For AI to deliver on the promise of better self-service and agent-assisted experiences, it has to have your business data to learn from. AI needs data to be able to look at data patterns to respond in predictable ways. Your journey to understanding how AI can truly transform your contact center starts by looking at how AI is configured.

Is AI built into the CRM platform, where the customer record resides? Is it built into the agent console where the customer interaction history resides? The only way AI can deliver on its promise is for AI to be built inside the solution.

So is that all it takes to reach AI nirvana? Not quite. Consider what it would be like if AI were built into the applications used not only by customer service, but also by marketing, sales, and ecommerce. With AI built into the entire customer journey, a customer’s needs are met no matter when they reach out to you. That integrated intelligence can be the difference between delivering awe-inspiring experiences and being the company that doesn’t “get” their customers or their needs. You can’t afford to be the company with customers silently voting with their feet, hearts, and wallets. Remember, we know that 57% of consumers say they have switched brands because of a bad experience (“State of the Connected Customer”).

Here are some things to think about as you start your journey. We know that this seems like a lot to consider and not everything may apply to your business. When customers have shared their best practices with us, they tell us that these have been great conversation starters.

  • Get AI smart. Gain an understanding of how AI works and how it can contribute to your contact center.

  • Dare to be the change-maker. Be the one driving innovation, disrupting your industry, and propelling the future of your company and your own career. Understand how fast the marketplace is changing, and enroll your CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, and CIO — your whole executive team — in understanding why you want the budget to add AI to the business.

  • Educate your stakeholders. Enroll your whole organization, with the understanding that AI isn’t going to replace people, but will rather make it easier for customers to get simple requests answered and for agents to be empowered with more fulfilling work, leading to better customer relationships.

  • Determine your strategy. Ask your team, “What are we trying to accomplish by implementing AI? What customer service business metrics do we want to affect? FCR? AHT? Call deflection? CSAT? NPS?” Technology without strategy just makes us do the wrong things faster. Once you determine the metrics that matter, you can develop a strategy to execute a technology solution that delivers business results.

  • Use a design-thinking approach. Put both customers and agents at the center of your design to make sure AI can deliver on expectations. Use a solution with a built-in UX/UI interface that makes using AI intuitive, natural, and fun for both customers and agents.

  • Choose technology to support your strategy. Is AI built into the CRM platform as well as the customer service applications and digital channels? Does it have a drag-and-drop interface for your contact center and AI workflow development? Without this, you will be looking at custom development, big consulting fees, and a long time to value.

  • Decide what to automate. Once you have an idea of how you want to change the business metrics, look at your most frequently asked questions. What do customers ask that could be easily automated? Start with that FAQs.

  • Supercharge self-service. Collect data from your knowledge base articles and existing FAQ. As you begin to ramp up, keep the initial tasks for AI self-service simple while the system is learning and training.

  • Empower your agents. Look at the agent experience and determine your customers’ routine requests as well as repetitive, time-syncing tasks like case classification or pre-filling fields — things that could be automated. Then design your strategy to power up AI to be the “new self-service” as well as your agents’ kryptonite.

  • Iterate and pivot. Key to any initiative is using an agile mindset in setting up and delivering new capabilities to the organization. Best practices? Start with small sprints. Check to see if the current direction is working. Then iterate and pivot quickly to change what isn't working. This will allow you to reach your business goals and see quicker time-to-value.

Use these conversation starters to begin to develop your strategy with your team and take the next steps in using AI to empower your agents.

Being a customer service leader is full of challenges. It’s difficult to balance operational excellence with service innovation while keeping the lights on. Companies are faced with a choice: Transform the way they engage with customers or be forced out of the marketplace by companies willing to provide the innovative interactions customers want and demand.

What’s the best way to ensure the demands of your customers are met? Start by meeting the needs and expectations of the next generation of agents. Not only will that improve agent morale, but it will also reduce attrition and increase CSAT and NPS scores. Who knows, by implementing AI, your contact center could be “the place” every agent wants to work.

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