What will be the role of the customer care representative in the contact center of the future?

Will the growing capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) mean that people are no longer needed, or will the march of technology lead to a new breed of super-agent? These are the questions we posed to four of the industry’s leading analysts during EmpowerCX Americas 2019, Sitel Group’s annual client event.

What do the growing use of social media channels, smart vocal assistants such as Amazon Alexa and chatbots all have in common? They’re changing the role of the contact center agent.

“The agent of the future won’t be there to answer basic questions,” believes Juan Gonzalez, Research Director for Frost & Sullivan in Latin America. “Based on our analysis, they will be interacting with customers in a different way.”

But the increasing sophistication of technology doesn’t mean that we’ll no longer need agents or that they will be pushed to the sidelines. “The idea that automation or bots are going to replace the best agents out there is just not real,” states Jan Erik Aase Director ISG.

The emergence of the super-agent

That’s because rather than replace agents, these innovations, spearheaded by AI are about to give contact center representatives new powers.

“What we’re seeing is the emergence of a super-agent,” explains Melissa O’Brien, Vice President, Customer Engagement, Retail and Travel Strategies for HfS Research. “The agent of the future is starting to appear right now as we see some of the impacts of automation coming into play.”

“There is excitement around it,” adds Shirley Hung, Vice President, Business Process Services at Everest Group. “The profession is going to get a lot more interesting and exciting to enter into than what people tend to think today.”

New opportunities to engage

With smart automation such as chatbots and voice bots plus better options for customer self-service, the agent will be able to focus on delivering a differentiated service in those circumstances where it matters the most.

“Really smart companies that are looking at their contact center more strategically should be looking at what types of interactions do we not even need to have any more because the issue is in billing or with a product that we can resolve before the interaction needs to happen,” says O’Brien. “Then the remainder will be handled by an agent and those are opportunities to engage.”

And this will be particularly true in emotional situations.

“Agents will need to be really trained for empathy,” says Gonzalez. “[Technology will] leave the agent free to bring new capabilities that are unique to us, to humans.”

As automation increases, the value of soft skills and of human-to-human interaction will rise exponentially.

“No matter how advanced the automation, it is not able to mirror emotional sentiment,” Aase points out. “It’s not able to understand when it’s needed or to give it back to the customer.”

Technology at their fingertips

However, as well as increasing levels of empathy and emotional intelligence, agents are going to need to be able to leverage these new technologies for the customer’s benefit.

“The skill sets are also going to move more towards problem solving and analytical skills,” states Hung.

“The agent of the future is someone who is able to use a lot more technology,” agrees O’Brien. “Because they’ve got things at their fingertips – analytics, data, personalization – and they’re able to use those opportunities when they’re interacting with the customer to actually make a connection, have a more meaningful experience or up sell and cross sell.”

But the skill set, much of which can be honed through well-tailored training and development, is only one element.

“What’s most important is that we empower agents,” says Aase. “They need to know they have the authority to make the decision. What we are seeing is the combination between really good automation and a really smart agent it is the best formula for the future.”

Sitel Group