Does The Rise Of AI = The Fall Of Human Customer Service Agents?

Brian Cantor

An excerpt from CCW Digital's Executive Report on Performance & Agents:

Man against machine.

It is a story businesses have encountered for generations.  How does new technology impact the human workforce?

When it comes to contact center management, the latest iteration of this question involves the emergence of artificial intelligence and its application to self-service.

A whopping 64% of businesses are considering AI-driven contact center technology, while 30% are committed to investing in AI this year.  The rise of artificial intelligence has indeed begun.

How will the rise of this technology affect the role humans play in customer management?

Will it eliminate the need for human agents?  Will it transform the role humans play in the customer experience journey?  Or, will it simply be used to improve human productivity within the contact center environment?

Organizations generally favor the latter two scenarios.

Asked how they anticipate AI technology impacting their workforces, 43% of organizations say it will primarily play a backend role.

Nearly 26% of businesses envision AI being used to assist agents, such as by helping them navigate the knowledgebase.  Nearly 18% of businesses, meanwhile, plan to leverage AI technology to more productively qualify and route customers.

This group of organizations – which nearly comprises a majority – sees AI as an enhancement rather than a replacement for live agents.  AI technology is not better than humans when it comes to interacting with customers.  It can, however, make those humans better at interacting.

While 27.4% of businesses anticipate AI playing a more direct role in customer engagement, they do not believe it will eliminate the need for the human workforce. 

These organizations foresee AI-driven self-service handling transactional matters, while live agents primarily focus on deeper, more complex matters.

This dynamic reflects acceptance that man is better-suited than machine to handle nuanced, emotional matters.  Self-service technology can quickly resolve basic, recurring matters, but live agents represent the best option for connecting with human customers.

Not simply used to explain the need for human agents amid the rise of artificial intelligence, this argument has been used to explain the need for the voice channel in a world of digital communication.  Fairly or not (and inevitably or not), there is a belief that customers who need help with difficult matters will instinctively call to speak with a live person.

Support for the dynamic is widespread, but it is not universal.  10% of organizations plan to leverage AI-driven self-service for most (if not all) customer support interactions.

Only half, however, see the technology markedly reducing the human workforce.  The other 5% of organizations will use AI for customer support inquiries, while transitioning human agents into sales, marketing and other engagement functions.

Many organizations believe the technology has considerable value, but only a few believe the rise of AI will coincide with the fall of the live agent.  Most organizations will leverage man and machine in their pursuit of the most efficient, most effective customer experience possible.