Tech vs people: South Africa's skills conundrum
So what then is the fate of the call centre agent? Well, while AI can give the right answer, it struggles to give the right experience says Ryan Falkenberg, co-CEO, CLEVVA.
South Africa has a skills problem and an unemployment problem. Many companies find it difficult to source the skills they need to grow their services, while simultaneously the millions of unemployed battle to find jobs in an economy that has developed beyond what they can provide.
In this landscape, technology that will improve efficiencies and save costs, but results in job losses, provides both a moral and ethical conundrum for business, says Ryan Falkenberg, co-CEO, CLEVVA.
With the onset of intelligent systems capable of outperforming humans in many areas, the threat of mass job loss is real. Wherever decisions and actions are guided by known and repeatable formulae, technologies can increasingly outperform people, rendering them redundant.
This is the situation the contact centre industry faces. Technology like cognitive computing, machine learning and other types of artificial intelligence (AI) can replace humans. AI will always get it right, never have a bad day, and can evolve, almost seamlessly, as a company's products and services do.
So what then is the fate of the call centre agent? Well, while AI can give the right answer, it struggles to give the right experience. And that is where humans still have a valuable role to play. The trick is to find a way to help agents get to the right answers without them needing to know all of the answers, so they can concentrate on creating the right customer experience.
This super agent, capable of handling any call like an expert, and who is the master of the customer engagement rather than the call content, is increasingly being seen as the solution. The challenge is finding an AI solution that can offer the real-time, context-relevant conversation support to make this happen. This solution needs to overcome the decision-tree limitations of historical scripting and case-base reasoning tools; technologies that attempt to capture call logic but fail to offer the level of contextual guidance required to realise a super agent outcome.
Artificial technologies certainly offer an exciting alternative, yet most AI tools are being built to completely replace humans, such as virtual assistants. Few are being designed to augment human performance, and help agents have better conversations with less reliance on their product, policy and procedural knowledge.
This is changing, and increasingly contact centres are being offered AI-powered technologies that are designed specifically to navigate agents through calls, not replace them from the service experience. These technologies have overcome the scripting limitations, and work like real-time call navigators, adjusting instantly to changes in conversation direction, much like a GPS adjusts to the driver changing direction.
These call navigation technologies keep the human interface intact, and augment the human's 'back-end' with expert logic that removes the need for them to know the specifics. Rather, they can focus on the customer experience, while the navigator ensures they ask the right questions, offer the right answers and take the right actions, based on what the customer says and the relevant product, policy and procedural rules they need to apply.
Decision navigators (GPS') enable companies to offer comprehensive advisory services without having to build and deploy specialist teams in their sales and service centres. Instead, they can create Super Agents who can answer all calls with less reliance on their content knowledge. By navigating all agents through the optimal call routes, key measures such as first call resolution, average handling times, compliance and net promoter scores can be maximised with generalist teams who require less training and support to deliver this performance.
Staff navigators, by guiding staff through all required decisions and actions as if they were experts, allow contact centres to compete with automated self-service. It turns staff into a competitive advantage again, by allowing them to focus on the customer experience while the technology focuses on the call content. This merging of AI with people results in accurate sales and service conversations that deliver a wow experience. Something AI alone will struggle to achieve.
By offering AI that empowers, not replaces people, companies can effectively unlock staff capability, and turn staff into value-adding assets not risks or liabilities. By ensuring they consistently apply the company formula, it liberates them to focus their efforts on adding new value. This value sits within the customer experience, as well as in identifying ways to do things better, more innovatively and more creatively.