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Orchestrating the Agent Experience

Orchestrating the Agent Experience

/ Current Issue, People, , Technology, Omnichannel
Orchestrating the Agent Experience

How technology can help by augmenting it to provide a sound CX.

Just as a symphony’s harmony is only as strong as its weakest instrument, in a contact center, a customer’s satisfaction is intricately tied to the happiness of the least content contact center agent.

Contact center agents are the frontline of the customer experience (CX). And when contact centers are short-staffed, or agents are disengaged, customers bear the brunt right away. It’s not good for customers and that isn’t good for businesses.

High agent attrition is one of the biggest challenges contact centers face today. Add in labor shortages that make it challenging to replace experienced talent and increasing customer expectations, you have the makings of a perfect storm.

This is why many contact centers are looking to accelerate innovation and advance transformation technology to lessen the burden placed on agents: and improve the agent experience. This helps achieve quicker resolutions for customers while continuing to grow and increase profitability.

The Case for Investing

Consider that, for some agents, the contact center - an entry-level position that pays an hourly rate - is their first, real work experience. They are responsible for managing hundreds of customer interactions, week after week.

Yet too often, agents are given these important roles without the proper investments in technology and training. From a lack of systems integration across the enterprise to ineffective onboarding programs, it’s understandable why the contact center is continually challenged with a spate of short-term tenures.

This is not an inevitable outcome. Contact centers that invest in the agent experience are investing in employee retention, as well as in the trio for any business. Namely customer retention, brand loyalty, and a reputation that positively impacts the bottom line.

Using AI to Augment

Contact centers look to advance automation, including the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to support agents and customers.

However, as this technology rapidly evolves, integrating it into the contact center’s existing systems - while ensuring a smooth transition for the agents - can be complex and resource intensive.

Despite this, decision-makers are still lured in by the notion that AI will be a game changer in lowering operational expenditures through reduced agent counts.

As such, many contact centers are rushing to adopt AI applications, including standalone and self-service channels.

This is a false economy.

While AI can help free up agents’ time, more complex customer inquiries still require a level of personalized service. And that agents have access to complex and varied business information and systems.

So, offloading the “easy stuff” onto AI doesn’t equate with simplifying the agent’s job and reducing training requirements. In fact, it is the opposite.

AI today has impressive capabilities to handle basic interactions but is not ready for long-tail applications when a customer goes off-script. This is why when it comes to troubleshooting issues, many customers still prefer human-to-human interactions over automated responses and AI-driven self-help services.

High agent attrition is one of the biggest challenges contact centers face today.

With Conversational AI, the customer often has to input information into the AI application in order to resolve the issue via self-service. But if the AI hasn’t been trained on how to answer the question, it will fail just as assuredly as an agent.

However, when used strategically, contact center AI applications can analyze conversations to guide agents to say the right thing at the right time. As the data sets grow, AI-based guidance will become more accurate, provide agents with more confidence and ensure customer experience consistency.

Using AI to help the agent doesn’t reduce interaction complexity. Instead, what it does do is reduce the training needs of the agent by guiding them interactively through the details of the resolution process.

Similarly, AI-driven bots can also be used to automate some of the agent’s workflows, such as having bots handle tasks and send messages to other agents, supervisors, and customers.

One promising use case is seamlessly integrating a virtual agent assistant application with AI and a knowledge base into an agent’s contact center workspace. AI can augment the agent’s capabilities and provide an effective assistance experience for agents, improving productivity, and with faster resolution for customers.

Without a doubt, as we continue to move into the world of digital CX, the agent’s job becomes more challenging. There is more data being generated and more channels to manage to meet customers where they are. To be effective, agents need to be provided with the right tools.

Contact center experts agree that we are still in the early stages of AI, and as such we need to set realistic expectations by deploying it narrowly, not organization-wide. The focus should be on the needs of the contact center and their customers, and the AI applications that can effectively address those specific needs.

Impactful AI Application Integrations

While cost savings are seen to be the primary benefit of deploying AI applications, customers still expect a personal, human-to-human experience.

Therefore, the best short-term ROI will come from supporting the agent’s performance. Contact center leaders and IT decision-makers need to think in terms of how AI applications help agents improve CX for today’s digital expectations.

Here are three forms of AI application integrations that will improve the agent experience and, in turn, improve CX and the bottom line.

1. Deploy a Unified Agent Desktop

As AI is still new for contact centers, IT leaders need to view it as more than just a way to automate operations.

Instead, the focus should be on AI applications that enhance the agent experience by automating repetitive tasks. Also, by providing critical intelligence at the precise time when it can make the biggest CX impact.

Advancing the agent desktop experience requires a level of customization that supports seamless integration with all your existing tools and applications.

AI represents new capabilities, and your agent desktop should have enough flexibility to support the AI applications you’ve selected. As AI use cases grow in the contact center, so will the number of applications and integrations.

2. Shorten the Learning Curve for Agents

Increasing speed to competency is a key benefit of AI for overall contact center operations. Agent training is a great use case for AI applications. They can help agents upskill in less time and more effectively than with other learning tools. AI is better at pattern recognition than humans and can identify which behaviors produce the best outcomes for each specific situation.

There is a powerful multi-win synergy between AI and its use for simplifying the agent training experience. The more agents you have, the larger the data sets will be for training: this is the single most important factor for AI’s effectiveness.

As such, your initial results may not be perfect, but they will absolutely improve as things progress, and you will soon reach a point where the payoff for AI will be evident.

Aside from helping agents broaden their omnichannel capabilities, there is another important operational need AI can address.

The rise in contact volumes is not subsiding, and AI’s automation capabilities can help manage that traffic. However, the challenge of keeping contact center staffing levels high will prove to be an uphill struggle.

And aside from the churn that is inherent in the customer service space, contact centers are struggling to attract new agents. Investments must be made to shorten the recruiting and training cycles and effectively onboard new hires quickly.

For example, AI-powered assistants are an effective way to shorten the onboarding cycle and accelerate agent training: while simultaneously freeing up other contact center resources.

Agent capabilities and productivity can be enhanced with an agent desktop that integrates with multiple AI applications to construct conversational answers to simple queries. It can also assist agents with intent, sentiment, suggested responses, and more. Agents quickly benefit from AI-powered guidance to provide meaningful, proactive, and fast resolutions.

3. Empower Agents

What really matters in providing great CX is ensuring that agents have access to the right information at the right time. Aside from being able to address customer issues in the moment, agents must strive to make each interaction personal, so customers feel valued and heard.

AI-powered assistants [can] shorten the onboarding cycle...

When contact center agents aren’t empowered with the right tools, it can have a ripple effect, negatively impacting agent satisfaction, increasing handling times, and reducing FCR rates.

An integrated agent-centric omnichannel desktop that provides full visibility to the customer journey and context data, streamlines workflows, and allows easy access to systems and data, is essential for agent success.

How Technology Can Drive Agent Success

Every business with a high volume of contacts in industries like finance, healthcare, travel, utilities, retail, and more, can benefit from a better, unified, and tightly orchestrated contact center solution.

As customer service becomes increasingly omnichannel, an integrated desktop is critical for agent performance. This enables agents to seamlessly shift from channel to channel based on customer preferences and have ready access to both applications and co-workers concurrently.

AI-based applications are iterative and will get better the more you use them.

The demands of CX today mean that all of this must be seamless as agents cannot afford to waste time transitioning from window to window, or app to app. When these capabilities become part of the agent desktop, your agents will have deeper visibility into each customer journey, empowering them to provide next-level customer service while improving their own experience.

The potential for actionable insights and reports with FCR data and analytics across channels, with detailed interaction reporting and data, is limitless. With these comprehensive analytics, the business can unify its systems and channel data for a concise and meaningful analysis of channel usage, member experience, and agent experience.

AI-based applications are iterative and will get better the more you use them. AI is still in its nascent stage of adoption in contact centers and is constantly evolving.

If AI applications are added in silos, the task of integrating all of them into a seamless agent experience becomes much more difficult. The key to a successful deployment, then, is being nimble and evolving with AI over time to improve the agent and CX and overall business value.

And that’s music to your business’s, agents’, and to your customers’ ears.

Rob McDougall

Rob McDougall

Rob McDougall is the CEO of Upstream Works, a provider of omnichannel contact center desktop solutions that simplify and improve agent and customer experiences. He is an accomplished contact center leader and catalyst for change and has a continued focus on omnichannel innovation and enhanced AI integration capabilities.

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