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The New World in Contact Centers: Are Virtual Agents Better than Human Agents?

The contact center industry is seemingly changing overnight.  From artificial intelligence to natural language processing, companies are faced with more options for creating powerful customer experiences than any other point in time. Long gone are the days when slow and static IVRs were the state of the union in customer service.

One industry goal, though, has remained constant–attracting and retaining satisfied customers. Customer service agents serve as the front line for most companies, not only helping consumers with issues but also building relationships and enhancing the consumer’s experience. 

Customer service plays a vital role in customer acquisition, retention, and attribution. Seventy percent of buying experiences are based on how the customer is treated. Eighty percent of customers claim that the service provided is as vital as the company’s product itself. Additionally, customers are 4x more likely to buy from a competitor if they encounter poor customer service. 

If companies offer excellent customer service, according to Salesforce, 67% of customers will pay more for the experience. So, in a world of virtual agents, how can a company provide a stellar experience, focusing on attracting and retaining customers? 

Promoting Human Agents

We can often get lost in the excitement and ease of technological advances. There is no doubt that computers make our lives easier, but not to the exclusion of the human touch.  

AI chat agents, and in the last couple of years, the emergence of AI voice agents, have come a long way. For customer service phone calls, modern AI-powered voice agents can answer callers, resolve issues on the fly, and speak with no latency. AI voice agents can process data at lightning speed, consistently and error-free. AI voice agents also do not get frustrated or bored with performing routine tasks, day in and day out.

However, there are some things that virtual agents or AI voice agents cannot be programmed to do. For example, virtual agents cannot be empathetic. They can be designed to pretend to care, but it will be disingenuous. Virtual agents cannot be creative by thinking out of the box. Humans excel at creativity, innovation, and empathy, where virtual agents perform extraordinarily well at precise work, crossing all the T’s and doting all the I’s.  

Where virtual agents are not bothered by performing routine tasks, human agents get bored performing the same or similar task fifty or more times a day, contributing to job fatigue and lack of engagement. For example, one of Replicant’s customers uses our technology to run an eight minute employee onboarding and verification call. Before Replicant, the same agents had to run this call forty times a day, often diverging from the script just to add some spice to an otherwise boring day. As a result of implementing Replicant’s technology, the bots correctly gathered all pertinent caller information, where human agents did not gather all required information or recorded incorrect data. With the virtual agents, callers experienced consistency, where human agents could dedicate their time to more complex, creative, and impactful calls. 

With implemented technology taking care of routine, repetitive tasks, human agents can focus on high-level issues, such as escalated matters or exceptions to the rules that virtual agents cannot. Humans can emotionally connect with the customer; demonstrating a sense of understanding, creativity, and empathy to ultimately concentrate on nurturing customer relationships throughout the buyer’s journey.

Incorporating the human touch in customer service contributes to high-quality experiences, keeping your customers coming back for more. Human agents can enhance the customer experience by bringing unique skills to each aspect of the customer journey.

Adding Virtual Agents to the Mix

To allow humans to serve in their highest customer service capacity, companies should add technology to the mix. Enter the virtual agent. Let’s make it clear from the get-go that virtual agents shouldn’t be implemented to replace human agents, but instead work with human agents. After all, how can human agents get the opportunity to work on more complicated, emotionally-based consumer issues if they are continuing to answer the same mundane questions over and over.

Although humans are better than virtual agents at complex and emotional tasks, there are some tasks that virtual agents win hands-down. For example, virtual agents are better at inputting data. Without the introduction of human error, virtual agents can capture all relevant data, input it into the company database without spelling errors or missed documentation, and even confirm addresses against geo-databases for correct shipping or billing. Virtual agents are also better at updating and retrieving information. As a caller, you will not hear “let me put you on hold while I update your records.” The bot will perform a quick API call, and within a second, can retrieve your record, issue a refund, or update your order. Virtual agents are on-call 24/7/365. They do not mind the midnight shift, and they do not get their feelings hurt. 

Finally, virtual agents will wait forever without getting impatient. If a customer needs to set up a smart television, a virtual agent can walk the customer through the steps, waiting as the customer turns the TV on, finds the remote, and shuffles through the screens. If it takes 30 minutes or 5 minutes to complete the set-up, the virtual agent does not mind. 

Virtual agents can improve human agents’ jobs by taking over the tasks that, frankly, humans disdain. Who really wants to walk to their car during a Chicago winter at 4:00 am in the morning after finishing a late shift? Who wants to answer the same question for eight hours? By implementing virtual agents into the customer service platform, companies can create challenging, stimulating, and creative workplaces for human agents, increasing engagement and overall job satisfaction. 

Enhancing the Customer Experience

To provide the most effective customer service, companies should combine the skill sets of human agents with the automation of virtual agents. By partnering with human agents, virtual agents can supplement the customer experience by handling routine inquiries faster and more efficiently than their human counterparts. With technology handling everyday tasks, human agents will have time to focus on high-level customer issues. 

Virtual agents can enhance efficiency by gathering pertinent information and re-directing more complex issues to human agents. By assimilating data from multiple platforms, virtual agents can also save human agents time.  For example, according to MIT Sloan Management Review, bots can handle approximately 80% of initial inquiries. However, if the issue is complex or the customer is upset, the virtual agent can escalate the inquiry to a human agent. Armed with the right data, human agents can focus on empathetic solutions as opposed to hunting for information from disparate systems.

As technology advances and virtual agents can increasingly handle more complex customer concerns, the human agent role will continue to change. Humans will find themselves in virtual agent partnership positions, overseeing multiple customer interactions, increasing productivity. If a virtual agent struggles with an inquiry, a human agent will be looped in, allowing the AI-powered agent to learn from the situation. 

Virtual agents can also improve human agents’ satisfaction at work, increasing engagement, and productivity. Since virtual agents can handle routine day-to-day questions, human agents can work on more challenging customer service issues, enhancing the customer experience. And not only are human agents happier, but the customers are as well.

Over 80% of company decision-makers claim that they must transform their customer service to stay competitive in today’s market. One way customer service teams will change is by increasing the uses for the technology. For example, according to a recent study, over the next 18 months, customer service teams will be expanding the use of artificial intelligence—which includes virtual agents—by 143%. 

However, when transforming their customer service offerings, companies can’t be myopic by just focusing on technology and technology alone. The human-virtual agent collaboration will increase efficiency and proficiency while making employees and customers happier. By pairing technology with human agents, companies can enhance their customer service by giving employees time back, allowing them to do what they do best—solve problems.

If you want to find out more about how to strengthen and add value to your customer call center, give us a call. 

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