In the previous installment, I described the massive disruption artificial intelligence introduces to the global market for customer service employment, possibly eliminating millions of jobs across North America and the rest of the world. It’s a scary thought and none of us in the AI industry take it lightly. Fortunately, our experience operating AI-based customer care solutions for large enterprises makes us think this is incorrect. AI in customer service won’t put people out of work, but it will massively change these jobs.

There’s a ratio I think will eventually be flipped – it’s 80:20, and let me lay it out for you.

As it stands today, we have a high volume low quality customer service environment where very few customer questions are answered by an AI solution. Some will end up in forums or knowledge bases set up by a company, but the vast majority, more than 80 percent, still end up in a contact centre speaking or chatting with a customer service representative. These customer service reps have to deal with a massive volume of inbound cases and have very little time to satisfy each customer. This is the 80:20 world we live in today.

Only 20 percent of inbound questions are diverted to a system that does not require human intervention. But, customers have made it clear that they prefer immediate, 24/7 answers through digital channels for the majority of their needs. This is only possible at scale using an AI-based solution that can understand and pinpoint their needs.

In the next few years we will see these numbers reverse, with 80 percent of inbound needs solved by an automated AI-based system, while 20 percent will end up with a live representative. This will be the new low-volume, high-quality customer care world of the future. That seems like an enormous risk to jobs, but maybe not.

The 20 percent that do escalate in the future will end up in a very different customer service environment which bears little resemblance to the contact centre and service level we’ve seen for the last few decades. This new type of human support will consist of 2 main components, the dedicated employees of a next-generation contact centre, and the outsourced experts of a next-generation forum (or community). In this low-volume world, companies will have the resources to deliver exceptional customer care – something that would bankrupt most companies today.

This low-volume of inbound needs will give representatives in either environment the opportunity to see cases through to real customer satisfaction. Gone will be forced time limits to close customer cases long before they’re actually resolved. Representatives will spend significant time taking care of the most complex cases and follow up with customers, ensuring they are truly satisfied.

In this wonderful new world customer frustration will plummet. Representatives will experience less frustration, better pay, better training, stay with companies longer, and have a real opportunity to help customers. Talking with a customer service representative will be pleasant, through the channel of your choice. These support teams will provide the ultimate compliment to new AI-based solutions.

Great companies would still employ vast numbers of reps, who in turn respond to one-fourth or one-fifth the volume of inbound cases than before this AI revolution. Does this mean they simply have large swaths of free time in between calls and chats? Absolutely not.

Next-gen customer service reps will have more time to dedicate to complicated user problems.

The quality of interaction will go up and queues will go down, the holy grail of customer service management! More resources will be dedicated to training, both in product and customer satisfaction, and without the time crunch associated with  traditional contact centres, representatives can take much more time with each customer interaction. Whatever time commitment and resources are needed to solve cases and tickets from start to finish are suddenly available. And reps have the ability to communicate using all channels a customer prefers.

With specialized training, employees become much more valuable to the company. Call centre jobs will be considered a major investment, making the field more competitive, reducing turnover and ensuring wage increases to retain this new, highly trained class of customer service agent.

All this requires roughly the same number of people as today, and luckily today’s contact centre reps are in the right position to move up to these new roles. It’s up to us, both AI platform vendors and enterprise, to train this group for the evolution of these roles; they are by far the best candidates.

Admittedly, this is an optimistic outlook on the future of customer service roles in the AI era, but it also appeals to the sensibilities and goals we set for ourselves when we innovate in this field: empowering users to receive service in a way which is most convenient for them, giving time back to users they might otherwise be wasting in queue, making their lives easier, and creating high-quality, well paying jobs along the way.

AI-based customer service is not some job-munching boogeyman, instead it has the power to accomplish these goals given the investment and commitment from those building the future of digital care.

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