Blog · 14 Jul 2021

Why automation is the key to retaining contact centre agents

Contact centres are facing unprecedented levels of agent churn, making it critical to improve the agent experience – and AI could be a game-changer.

Karine Palacios, BT and Jeremy Payne, Enghouse Interactive explain how AI could be a game-changer for contact centre agents.

Contact centres are heading towards a huge staffing crisis.

New research commissioned by Enghouse Interactive reveals that 91% of contact centre professionals are set to leave their jobs in 2021. This UK research should be a red warning flag for contact centres around the world.

So what’s brought agents to this point, and what can contact centres do about it?

Pandemic pressures have upped agent stress levels

Contact centres have seen five years-worth of evolution compressed into five short months, and the rate of change has left agents reeling. Almost overnight, they found themselves homeworking alone, without the safety net of supervisors standing by, ready to step in to help with stressful call situations.

On top of this, their workload has become more intense. A rise in customer self-service for routine transactions means the calls they’re taking are more emotionally charged, so agents are primarily dealing with upset customers looking for solutions to complex situations. These are what McKinsey calls ‘moment of truth’ transactions, where agents must respond with emotional intelligence to earn the customer’s trust and loyalty.

The result is extremely low job satisfaction and high levels of mental distress. Of those thinking of leaving the industry, 48% said stress or emotional burnout was a factor in their decision.

It’s essential to accept the need for change

The agent experience has to change to keep skilled agents in the industry. Organisations need to find new ways of operating that support agents – and also deliver an excellent customer experience. Smart organisations are taking this opportunity to fundamentally assess their approach. They’re recognising the breadth and depth of the change that’s still going on, looking at the growing role of self-service, and then planning how to deal with the more complex queries this pushes to the contact centre. And they’re reassessing the agent role, accepting that higher levels of skills will be necessary to manage the calls that come through. The agent of the future will be a more expensive resource that’s harder to find – and holding on to them must be a priority. 

Success comes when you put people first, and technology second

However, there’s a significant threat to an organisation that thinks the answer to dropping agent numbers is to replace them with technology, particularly one that sees AI as the key to cost-cutting. Replacing agents with bots rarely cuts costs in reality. Instead, organisations should move towards a contact centre shaped around collaborative intelligence, a symbiosis of human and AI, where bots deal with routine enquiries and assistive technology supports highly skilled agents to solve the more complex issues. Ideally, AI systems will use closed-loop feedback and analytics to learn from users and agents, enriching the organisation’s data – and allowing agents to handle challenging queries expertly, boosting their wellbeing and job satisfaction.

Automation and bots offer incredible potential

Automation and bots offer amazing possibilities – if done right. Unfortunately, it’s not just a question of ‘getting some AI’. It must be an informed decision that’s grounded in the capabilities of AI and based on a clear specification. We find it often helps to ask clients what their potential bot’s job description would be to tease out the detail of exactly what tasks they want it to undertake, and what good and bad performance would look like.

In reality, automation and bots work best for tightly predefined journeys, acting like junctions on a roundabout that offer a clear choice of five or six exits with no unknown variables. But for even this to work smoothly, good data is critical. However, organisations often don’t realise that ‘data is the new oil’ that takes investment to maintain – so they run the risk of their automation letting customers down, knocking confidence in the organisation.

Key questions to get AI that supports the agent and customer experience

To help you make the right choices for your organisation, I recommend asking the following questions.

Ask your organisation:

  • Are you measuring how your agents feel? Think about using end of call satisfaction surveys and technologies like real time speech analytics to gauge agent (and customer) mood.
  • How well is your AI supporting agents (and customers) and improving their experience? Think about using agent assist technology to free agents and customers from the need to look for information so they can focus on what really matters.
  • How much do you understand the importance of investing in good data processes and practices to support effective AI?

Ask a potential supplier:

  • How will you help me build a digital-by-design approach to customer service that blends agent, customer and AI input into one effortless journey?
  • How will you help me improve my agents’ experience, improve efficiency and generate knowledge?
  • How will you support me to drive AI adoption by my agents?

A partnership that drives innovation

Bringing automation and bots into the contact centre can transform the agent experience, making their working life much more satisfying and less stressful. And happier agents stay in their jobs.

But the man-and-machine balance has to be judged carefully. Your approach has to support the agent, presenting the right technology in the right moments. It’s critical to understand the whole customer journey in order to identify exactly where you can apply AI to improve the customer and agent experience.

The Enghouse Interactive and BT partnership supports organisations to manage exactly this. It brings our cutting-edge cloud customer experience technology together with the enormous depth and breadth of skills and solutions provided by BT. Together, we make migration to a cloud-based contact centre easy and ensure organisations are ready to support the agent and customer experience – no matter what’s around the corner.

To find out more about a pure pay-as-you-go, truly global and easy to adopt omnichannel contact centre solution, visit our webpage