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How AI can help your customer service agents be more productive

According to a Harvard Business Review studythe average cost of a live service interaction (phone, e-mail, or webchat) is more than $7 for a B2C company and more than $13 for a B2B company today and this is set to increase further. Despite such a high cost, we wake up to stories of frustrated customers slamming brands every day due to poor customer support. A research shows that poor customer service is costing businesses more than $75 billion a year. This makes one wonder – where are things going wrong? 

Productive agents = happy customers 

When delivering superior customer experiences is defining strategy for companies of all sizes across industries, poor service is not an option. But if your agents are inundated with customer queries and spend hours on mundane, repetitive tasks, perhaps making the customer connect might not be top of their mind. 

In essence, efficient and happy employees mean satisfied customers. But the benefits of improving agent productivity are much more than this. Some other benefits are –  

  • Cost savings from spending less time serving customers and reduced customer churn. The shorter your response time, the more your benefits; while actual response time is real, it is the perceived response time customers judge agents by  
  • Better employee motivation and team morale from offloading mundane tasks and giving agents the right tools, such as a common interface, which allows them to focus on work that’s more interesting and infinitely more rewarding; empowering your agents by providing them with easily accessible, relevant information and letting them use their know-how and experience to optimize processes go a long way 
  • Low attrition and better hiring because with a balanced workload, these happier, more engaged agents are less likely to suffer from burnout or quit 

So, investing in creating a delightful experience for the people who work for you and with you makes perfect business sense, doesn’t it? 

Productivity challenges are different for different channels! 

A one-size-fits-all approach will not work to improve productivity across channels — chats, email, phone calls, blogs, and web forums. When you offer multi-channel support, agents need to find customized ways to deal with specific challenges. 

For example, on email, the service could be slow and asynchronous. Emails might not work when the product or service you offer is rather complex or you want to build close customer relationships. Slow email support will mean a frustrating customer experience and higher resolution time (average response time is 12 hours and 10 minutes says a SuperOffice study!). Further, long turn-around times at either side mean that often agents need to read an entire email thread again to refresh their understanding before replying. 

As live chat grows in popularity, companies such as financial institutions are finally focusing on better customer service. It has some advantages over email. One agent can talk to several customers at the same time, increasing agent productivity. Operational costs are higher than email but chances of first contact resolution are typically better. However, live chat comes with its own challenges. Productivity and effectivity can take a hit as some sessions can stretch for over 30 minutes for complex issues. An agent might spend less time on phone calls or emails for the same things. Also, many customers are not comfortable typing long responses or the to and fro messages to get their issues resolved satisfactorily.  

While customers can be directed to the right resource after a series of pre-qualifying questions to ease the process, ensuring consistency and satisfaction can be difficult. What’s worse is when customers have to interact with a customer service team that gives them different answers to the same query. This happens when products and services get upgrades or change at a fast pace and the agents can’t keep track. Often, live chat is a mad dash for overworked agents trying to respond politely, helpfully, and quickly to an overwhelming number of requests. While it may be user-friendly, 24/7 live chat availability and follow-ups can be a problem. 

AI: Empowering both customers and agents  

Interminable queues, clogged systems, annoyed customers, and stressed reps don’t augur well to scale an amazing experience for the hyperconnected customer. But there’s help: artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent process automation (IPA). 

Using these you can free up your agents' time to enable them to use higher-value work and redefine customer serviceRather than being bogged down with trivial, repetitive tasks such as tagging emails and rerouting calls, they get to do what they are best at: empathetic supportThis way they will be able to put themselves in customers’ shoes and communicate creative solutions with understanding and assurance.  

Customer service automation using AI and IPA streamlines complex, time-intensive tasks to achieve such goals: improved average handle time (AHT), reduced errors from manual processing, reduced cost-to-serve by promoting self-service, and increased agent satisfaction and happiness. Unlike legacy solutions, advanced analytics and visualization and NLP and AI models built on cloud infrastructure are reliable and scalable. 

Here’s how these solutions can deliver business impact by improving customer service and the bottom line: 

  • Triaging customer requests to manage workloads: When your reps are inundated with urgent customer requests, sorting the more critical cases into the right categories and getting the right solutions can be a nightmare. Here, automation and machine learning improve routing time, elicit quicker responses, and customer satisfaction. Algorithms are trained on existing data to automatically segment incoming cases; the models learn and improve over time. Surely, your agents can do more with their time than sort support tickets all day. 

  • Giving the right response recommendations: You can’t expect your agents to have answers to every query and communicate in record time. Typically, they have to go through a long list of macros to see if it holds the answers or scan past tickets for similar queries and responses. And if the agent is unsure about what the perfect response should be, it’s more waiting for the customer while the agent checks up content repositories. Then again, there’s always writing it from scratch too. None of these seem sensible when there are scores of questions to find solutions for and leave the customer happy — every day.

    However, with AI, you can declutter your content across different content repositories (knowledge bases, blogs, other internal and external sources) to suggest the right solution to an incoming query. Similar response suggestions are also shown automatically by learning from past ticket history. 

  • Automating repetitive processes: By automating lengthy, repetitive processes, agents save a lot of time not having to manage several backend tasks. For example, suppose a customer for an ecommerce website submits a request to cancel an order for a pair of headphones. The agent servicing that customer has to go to a back system and pull out the customer’s order history, check business rules to ensure order cancellation is permitted, calculate the refund amount, cancel the order and apply refund, update the backend logs, and type a confirmation response to the customer. This is a time-consuming and error-prone process. 

    With IPA and AI, all it requires is a single click! AI models learn how each task is executed and perform the suite of processes every time it’s triggered. Using their NLP capabilities, these solutions can also extract information such as customer order details and other information from tickets, further saving agent’s time.

Embrace AI to up-level your customer support 

In a landscape of constantly changing customer expectations and competition, companies no longer dispute the need for AI and IPA to stay ahead. But to ensure every user gets the best experience, irrespective of the channel, they have to evolve in previously inconceivable ways to respond to new levels of customer service with end-to-end solutions. 

Obviously, you don’t want to take the human element out of customer service. So, what’s the ideal approach? Companies should adopt a combination of human and AI-powered agent assist technology to enjoy myriad benefits: reduced turnaround time with self-evolving search, centralizing disparate information repositories, evaluating and optimizing agent productivity, and valuable insights into the customer journey.  Arming your agents with productivity tools is a huge step forward to focus on great customer conversations. An increasing number of organizations are using AI tools such as AnsweriQ’s triaging and routingresponse recommendationand process automation software to help agents perform to their potential. As more organizations warm up to the concept of agent AI software, one thing is clear—AI-assisted human support is the future of customer service.