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May 1, 2018updated 04 May 2018 11:19am

What’s Next for Customer Service Jobs in the Wake of Automation?

Automation and AI are transforming the customer experience. But does this means humans roles will be eliminated?

By April Slattery

Customer Service roles are some of the most common jobs in the UK. But, as automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes hold, what does the future look like for these professionals? According to recent research from Centre for Cities one in five jobs could reportedly be lost to automation over the next 12 years with retail, customer service and warehouse jobs most at risk.

Automation and AI are transforming the customer experience. Questions that once could only be answered by a human on the other end of a phone line can now be answered just as fast and accurately by a chatbot, virtual assistant, or automated message. For once, a personalized customer experience, on-demand and at scale, doesn’t have to come at the expense of adding more processes, people, and line-items.  

And consumers are very much on board. As expectations around response time rise, consumers are increasingly looking to self serve. The Harvard Business Review suggests 81% of all customers will attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative.

But does this means humans roles will be eliminated? Whilst emerging technology like machine-learning applications, chatbots, and mobile messaging will play a much larger role in customer interactions in the next five years, we don’t believe so. Gartner agree, their research suggests that humans will continue to be involved in 44 percent of customer interactions. However, we know that these interactions, and these jobs, will lean heavily on technology and look quite different than they do today.


Proactive support

In the future, more people will get their problems answered before needing the help of an agent. Support will become more proactive. For example, a helpful message may trigger if a person has visited a certain page multiple times, or an email will automatically send if a sensor in a warehouse detects that a certain item is out of stock. When help is needed, smarter search tools, chatbots, and knowledge management applications will direct customers to content that, correctly answers their question.


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Augmented Agents

What’s Next for Customer Service Jobs in the Wake of Automation?

John Walls, EMEA Customer Success Director, Zendesk

Technology will put more relevant information at customers’ fingertips; however, there will continue to be questions that require the problem-solving skills and empathy only a human agent can possess. But where and how we talk to customers will look different too.

A common complaint I hear is when people have to interact with an automated customer service and can’t get through to a human. The frustration is that people get stuck in an endless machine loop. People are quite happy if a machine can answer the question they have quickly and efficiently, or direct them to the right way to solve it. The frustration arises when brands block customers from accessing the help they need and lock people into automated services.

In circumstances where automation or self-service can’t help, customers will be seamlessly passed to human support. Agents backed by intelligent software will have a choice of ways to personalize the customer experience of tomorrow and serve customers faster, more accurately, and with more empathy than ever before.


Segmented, Personalised Service

Tailoring the customer experience so that customer service agents are only used in the highest value interactions is one way to really get the benefit of investments in automation and self-service. How differing organisations approach this will depend very much on their brand ; their customers’ needs and the scenario customers find themselves in. Examples might be providing high touch service to VIP customers; offering human based service at key points in a lifecycle e.g. adding chat service on the checkout page of website or proactively contacting customers impacted by a service issue.

Put Down the Phone

Although it varies dramatically by industry and business-type, currently 40 percent of all customer service interactions take place on the phone, the most of any channel. However, by 2022, this will shrink to just 12 percent. It’s predicted that one million phone-based customer support agents will see their job disrupted by technology by 2020. But, what this statistic doesn’t show is the opportunity that arises for these agents as other support channels grow more popular.

Channels that comprise only 11 percent of support today will make up 72 percent of support in 2022. Some of these are channels familiar to agents today, such as chat and social, while others, like screen sharing, video chatting, and VR/immersive support, are still in their infancy. Not only will agents be needed to help customers in these new places, human brain power and effort will be needed to onboard these new technologies within organizations, develop best practices, and train colleagues.


New Jobs and New Skills

A Deloitte study of automation in the U.K. showed that whilst 800,000 low-skilled jobs were eliminated, automation also created 3.5 million new jobs. Those jobs paid on average nearly $13,000 more per year than the ones that were lost. A new era of Customer Experience calls for a new era of jobs. Designers and curators of Customer Experience will emerge. This role will combine data analytics skills, brand knowledge and human empathy to create incredible digital experiences for their customer.

Let’s not forget the humans that will continue to train automated systems and virtual assistants. These professionals, who know exactly what good looks like, will hunt out the best possible experiences and interactions. Their mission will be to ensure AI only learns from the best of the best, constantly refining, improving and tweaking training data to ensure that AI performs well. For example, Dollar Shave Club used Zendesk’s Answer Bot to resolve around 10% of customer interactions which saved the customer experience teams a lot of time. With the extra time, they created a task force that generates additional knowledge articles for Answer Bot to use and also review Answer Bot tickets to check it’s learning from the best.

With happier agents, better services and new roles the future looks bright for customer experience.

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