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AI and the Contact Center Staffing Challenge

March 2024

It’s challenging and costly to hire, train, and onboard new contact center agents, and it’s often more difficult to retain them. Contact centers have always had an employee attrition problem because it’s a tough, underappreciated, and generally underpaid job. Although the Great Resignation brought the contact center staffing and retention issue to the attention of senior executives, they are losing interest in this challenge now that employer/employee relationships are stabilizing in many other enterprise functions. 

This is one of the many reasons artificial intelligence (AI) is proving to be valuable for contact centers. AI can provide some relief to organizations struggling to hire and retain contact center agents. Artificial intelligence contributes to contact centers in many different and important ways, one of which is to augment agent performance by functioning as a virtual assistant and delivering real-time guidance, next-best-actions, knowledge content, or by generating an automated response, all of which help agents succeed during a customer interaction. Another way AI helps is by enhancing the conversational capabilities of self-service solutions, improving their ability to understand customer inquiries/requests and delivering accurate responses. This increases the number of interactions it can address and automate, reducing the volume of conversations that require live agent assistance. As importantly, when advanced self-service solutions leverage machine learning and generative AI, they can identify inquiries they cannot fully resolve, track how live agents handled similar issues, find patterns in those resolutions, and propose a response for future use. In each scenario, AI improves both the customer and agent experience, while increasing productivity and reducing operating costs. 

Market influencers and pundits are stirring up debate about AI technology replacing live agents. While the thought of bots taking over human jobs can be disconcerting, many contact centers have little choice about utilizing them, since it has become increasingly difficult to hire and retain live agents. This is particularly the case for companies that are scaling up and require a growing number of resources to handle their expanding inquiry volumes. 

Bots have several significant advantages over live agents: they perform their job on a consistent basis without taking breaks or vacations; they do not come in late or leave early; they do not take up real estate (particularly if they are cloud-based); and they do not respond negatively when a customer is impolite. Bots are also ready and willing to work around the clock, filling difficult-to-staff shifts, such as weekends and the middle of the night. Artificial intelligence has ushered in a new generation of automation, one that is changing the way people do business, but it’s not going to fully eliminate the need for live agents, although it will change their role. 

Final Thoughts

Artificial intelligence is here to stay, and nothing is going to stop its rapid deployment in contact centers and customer service organizations as it offers significant benefits. AI augments the agent’s job by helping them find the information they need to quickly and accurately respond to customers and by automating low-value inquiries and interactions that do not require human reasoning or empathy.