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How AI and automation can bring out the humanity in customer service

Sean Callahan, Log in to subscribe to the Blog

What do jet airline pilots and executive chefs have in common? Both are only as good as their second-in-command. Flying a plane and running a busy kitchen each require focus, situational awareness, executive thinking, delegation, planning, and nerves of steel.

If you’re a customer service representative (CSR) reading this right now, you might feel a hint of jealousy. Your job calls for those same skills, but for the most part, you don’t have a copilot or sous chef. It all falls on your shoulders.

The good news is, unlike pilots and chefs, CSRs don’t need a human operator alongside them. With the rapid advancement of AI and automation, they can lean on a customer service platform to handle much of their side work while they focus on more complex tasks.

AI and automation are already evolving core industry functions on an ongoing basis: Think about robo-advisors in finance or intelligent process automation in manufacturing. These tools allow organizations to increase productivity; help deliver better outcomes for patients, customers, or end users; and reduce overhead costs associated with inefficiency or redundancy.

This is the part of the story where the machines take over, right? Not quite.

In most industries, nuanced human intelligence and experience is still necessary to deliver what the customer needs. Customer service is a perfect example: AI and automation can actually make human representatives more effective.

The CSR in the pilot’s seat with an AI navigator

It’s important to keep in mind that AI and automation are tools that humans can leverage to make work easier, faster, and more efficient. In the contact center those goals translate to better outcomes for customers, lower attrition among CSRs, and a bigger bottom line for the organization. Already, leading customer experience (CX) teams deploy AI-powered tools to work alongside reps, in real time, to address customer inquiries. If you’re a CSR, imagine an AI copilot that can listen to your interactions as they occur, suggest next best actions based on behavioral algorithms, capture the salient information as the customer relays it through natural language processing (NLP), and offer up reminders for you to deliver messages or disclosures as appropriate. This isn’t science fiction – it’s just science, and it’s here to make CSRs’ lives easier.

Too many contact centers expect their reps to be superheroes, taking on an impossible degree of multitasking. It’s why the industry has some of the highest turnover rates of any. With better tools, CSRs can be superheroes – but think Ironman, with a high-tech suit giving Tony Stark powers he wouldn’t otherwise have, instead of Mr. Fantastic, stretched in a million directions at once.

An AI that will do your chores

With that said, AI doesn’t just empower CSRs to do more – it can also take work off their plate, so they can focus on higher-order responsibilities instead of the steady drip of manual labor. This can take multiple forms:

  • Better, smarter self-service, so customers can help themselves with an AI that delivers the right information or resources instead of always escalating to an rep.
  • Sentiment detection and NLP that can automatically triage or respond directly to customer inquiries in channels like email.
  • Autonomous form-filling, note-taking, scheduling, and handling of other mindless tasks that happen during a customer interaction.

All of these activities allow agents to do what they do best (solve customer problems) by taking away what they find most frustrating (tedious busywork). Customers love it, too – not everyone needs to talk to an agent for every request; it’s often faster and simpler to route those basic inquiries through an AI.

The future of AI-powered service

So if the high-tech vision of customer service is already available today, what does the future look like?

AI and automation tools will grow more ubiquitous. Organizations, reacting to the new landscape, will discover how the contact center and its representatives can become the face of their brand, a vehicle for revenue via upsell and cross-sell, and the central hub for gratifying customer experiences. And perhaps more notably, CSRs will take on more fulfilling work that relies on well-honed customer skills, replacing the busywork and tedium that dominates their roles today.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – check out Pega’s Customer Service platform for the full breadth of what technology can do for agents and the industry.

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Topic: Customer Service

About the Author

As a Product Marketing Manager for Pega Customer Service, Sean Callahan helps industry-leading enterprises deliver better customer resolutions through AI-powered service and workflow automation.