Ep. 2: Art Schoeller – How to Blend Human Agents and Chatbots

Andrea Lowe | October 25, 2018

Are the machines really taking over?  Any time we experience fast-paced change, it’s often accompanied by plenty of conjecture as to how the new technology will impact the lives of humans, and today's emerging AI chatbot technologies are no exception. In fact, there is plenty of "chat" about whether these virtual agents will completely displace humans in customer support roles in the near future.  Art Schoeller figures it’s more about learning how to blend human agents and chatbots to enhance your customers’ experience with your brand.

Art is a Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, and he figures industry needs to pick up the pace to meet up with not only consumers' current expectations, but also the reality of how they're living their lives in a world of interactive devices such as Alexa and Google Home.  In light of the proliferation of such devices, Art says, “Certainly it’s seeding the market with an expectation that there will be a conversational interface, a way to ask for things or a way to process a request.”

Chatbots Aren’t Here Steal Our Jobs
The pervasive (and confusing) message on the lips of so many contact center professionals today is that chatbots are coming and they’re here to do away with contact centers, eliminating the human touch in favor of improving efficiency.  

To level set (and perhaps offset a certain amount of unwarranted hysteria,) it’s important to consider the root proposition that machine learning offers in customer service.  Even as far back as when robots first began to appear in industry, such as their role in automotive plants over the last few decades, their primary purpose has been to efficiently and effectively handle high volumes of repetitive and even undesirable tasks, freeing their human colleagues up for jobs that require analytical power more closely associated with humans.

Projections for customer support point to a continuous rise in interactions for the foreseeable future.  If your team is getting tied up solving the same few simple issues over and over, you’re likely already seeing an excellent use case for a virtual agent.  (It’s also a great segue into Art’s next point!)

Customers Want to Self-Serve, Chatbots Are the Enabler
“Certainly, when we deflect calls, we are reducing cost,” Art says.  However, that's selling the whole chatbot virtual agent proposition a bit short.  "If we reduce friction, we're boosting customer satisfaction.  Most people want to self-serve today, and that means that customers are empowered so that their affinity with a brand and with an application that's servicing their needs builds that brand loyalty."

Art figures the real value of AI in customer service will begin to be truly realized when the virtual agents have collected data from enough interactions that companies can build out models for providing customer service proactively.  In other words, these models would empower your support organization to push solutions out to customers pre-emptively, facilitated by artificial intelligence, before they've even begun their inquiry.

This last point is a compelling one because it forms the basis for an infinite and virtuous cycle of continuous improvement over time.

Your Support Team Has A Retention Problem
Many people entering the contact center business underestimate how demanding the job is going to be.  Case in point: “One bank I spoke to said that after seven weeks of training, their turnover spiked to sixty percent," Art shares.  As commerce itself becomes more complex, so too do the demands on human agents, making it increasingly difficult to onramp new team members by tasking them with simpler inquiries.  With this added complexity comes the need to ensure that your organization has as many adequately skilled human agents as possible to handle the volume and take as long as they need to in resolving issues. This puts institutions in a tight spot, where they need to provide interesting work in order to attract the necessary talent it takes to get that work done.  

Thus, another great way human agents and chatbots can co-exist symbiotically is that the chatbots can have the effect of cherry-picking the interesting work and forwarding it to the human agents while, like their automotive predecessors, the more mundane tasks are handled by the machines.

The Potential of Chatbots & AI 
Clearly, this human agent/chatbot integration is not just about deflecting calls.  “It’s really important to understand customer journeys,” says Art, “and what’s the customer satisfaction level at every step along the way.”

Yes, blending human agents and chatbots can be viewed as a cost-cutting measure, but the real promise lies in using the resultant data insights to smooth out your customer's journey with your brand, increasing satisfaction by providing an uncommonly helpful brand experience.

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