AI is here to help agents, not take their jobs

As AI becomes more and more commonplace, people are questioning “Is my job safe?”. Looking purely at the news coverage from mainstream outlets, you’d think that we’d all be out of a job by tomorrow and robots are taking over the professional world.

Despite these sensationalistic, click-bait headlines swirling around the interwebs in a frenzy, this notion of AI swooping in and taking your job is highly unlikely. Not least because AI doesn’t live in a vacuum; it can’t go on the internet and apply for jobs on Indeed or talk your manager into replacing you. 

Seriously though, the proliferation of AI is not threatening your job. Technology isn’t nearly advanced enough for AI to threaten to wipe out vast swathes of the employed population.

Agent jobs are far more threatened by the idea that humans and AI are mutually exclusive and interchangeable. While contact center roles do offer opportunity for automation, some people assume that means we can cut agents out of the picture. That will never be the case – even hundreds of years in the future, AIs will never be able to provide service that’s full of wisdom, empathy and, well, humanity.

Those that hold an agent-replacement mindset are missing out on an opportunity to really take advantage of AI’s true benefits. The relationship between AI and humans is symbiotic: machines need humans and humans can reap endless benefits through automation.

What is AI?

Before we dive in too deep, it’s important to understand what AI is, how it works, and what it does in the context of customer experience.

Science fiction often portrays AI as robots with human-like characteristics, more often than not looking to destroy the world (thanks Terminator). Those types of autonomous, thinking AI are what’s known as General AI – technology that we are nowhere near to making a reality.

Today’s definition of AI encompasses everything from chatbots, to voice assistants like Google Duplex, and even the recommended playlist pushed to you on Spotify. These AI applications are properly known as narrow AI – meaning that they are designed to perform narrow tasks.

Examples of narrow AI used for customer experience are Chatbots, Intelligent Assistants, and Sentiment Analysis – all forms of AI that are built to perform a single function.

In the middle of narrow AI and general AI is strong AI – a single form that would be able to perform all the functions of chatbots, intelligent assistants, sentiment analysis and more. While scientists are working on creating strong AI applications in a number of fields, we’re not at the place right yet where this exists in the contact center.

A common misconception with AI is that it’ll displace humans when that is simply not the case given that AI is currently only ideal for narrow use cases. Because of this, a smart AI strategy is to pair AIs with humans to take advantage of the best aspects of each.

Humans and bots, working together

One of the difficulties with the term “Artificial Intelligence” is the assumption that AIs are smart enough to deploy themselves. That’s not correct – AI, like any customer communication software, needs to be set up properly otherwise it won’t work. There’s no magic button that’ll kick it into action. Deploying AI takes time, effort, and a comprehensive plan in order to be successful.

Even then, AI needs routine maintenance, updates, and “tuning”. Think about agents who have just finished their onboarding – these agents still need feedback and help to grow into agents with experience and expertise. Just like agents in training, AI needs to be trained to provide optimal responses too.

On the end of the spectrum, humans can certainly benefit from AI’s automation capabilities. Depending on how your knowledge management system is structured, it can take a long time and much clicking for an agent to find a specific knowledge base article, user guide, or relevant resource to help them resolve a query. Agent-facing AI cuts out this manual work by immediately suggesting the relevant resource based on the context of the customer query – solving queries quicker and freeing up agents to focus on more important work.

Cutting corners a good customer experience does not make

A successful customer experience strategy strikes a good balance between being customer-centric but also being realistic in what your business needs, goals, and bandwidth are. Customers want service in the channels they prefer, whenever they want it. As a result, deploying technology does not equal immediate user adoption.

When McDonald’s and other fast-food chains started implementing self-serve kiosks, media outlets were whipped into a frenzy, prophesizing the death of cashiers and the minimum-wage workers. Two years later and this phenomenon has still not been realized. Customers still flock to cashiers to order rather than the self-checkout for a very simple reason: They just prefer to interact with a human.

That’s not to say roles and preferences will stay static while AI adoption continues to take off. Simply, adopting AI gives everyone more and better choices.

  • Customers get to choose from quick, consistent AI service versus deeper human engagement when required.
  • Agents get to send AI to work on monotonous, repetitive queries, making their workload lighter and less boring.
  • And organizations get to make savings or double down on quality improvements once AI reduces agent workloads.

As this technology becomes more prolific, jobs will actually change and evolve depending on the needs of the industry. One of my coworkers was recently hired as a “Chatbot Architect”, a role that didn’t exist twenty years ago.

AI is not a replacement for agents by any means and it is not taking jobs. If anything, it’s driving change and evolution within the professional world. As this evolution progresses, the outdated mindset of bots over humans will hopefully evolve as well.

About Kaye Chapman

Kaye is Comm100’s Learning & Development Manager, an internationally-experienced writer and trainer, and an MA student at University College London, the world’s #1 center for Education and Social Science. Kaye has worked with Fortune 500, governmental and private firms across the world to advance customer service operations and embed leading learning and development strategy. As a specialist in Contact Centers, Kaye is passionate about using technology and training to improve experiences for customers and employees alike. Connect with her on LinkedIn.