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Rethinking Roles – Agents in the Age of Automation

Sep 26, 2023, By Maddy Hubbard

Automation and AI have transformed the contact center. How has this newfound productivity and efficiency affected the compensation, training, and workplace experience of call center agents?

Automation and AI have transformed the contact center in many ways. Typically, when we talk about this evolution, we tend to focus on the customer experience (CX). As these technologies and applications continue to reshape the way customer interactions are handled, chatbots and virtual assistants are cementing themselves as integral components of the customer service landscape and changing the speed, accuracy, and level of service. As the landscape changes, new questions surrounding metrics, benefits, and incentives have emerged: How has this newfound productivity and efficiency affected the compensation, training, and workplace experience of call center agents? How will the dynamics of agent motivation and career development transform (or not) with the continued rise of automated technology in the contact center? 

The Changing Dynamics of Agents 

The role of the agent has evolved. While still the linchpin of customer interactions, responsibilities have shifted. Operational tasks and processes that once consumed a significant portion of their time are now handled efficiently by automation. Naturally, this transformation requires a reevaluation of how agents are rewarded and incentivized. Traditionally, rewards were closely tied to metrics – time, volume and efficiency. With the integration of automation, however, these metrics are being reassessed. While process knowledge remains vital to the job description, what separates Golden Agents from the rest is their ability to handle complex inquiries, demonstrate empathy, and build rapport. 

Incentives Re-imagined 

Historically, bonuses were directly tied to achievements and targets. Chatbots and automation process integration have taken a wrecking ball to these targets. New agent targets focus on tasks that require human intervention – such as resolving intricate issues or providing personalized account support. Agents now play a vital role in training and supervising chatbots and automation as well. Agent experience in customer nuance and preferences has become invaluable in refining and optimizing these systems. The ability to tie incentives and bonuses to training chatbots and AI not only reinforces the symbiotic relationship between agents and automation but lays the groundwork for agents to take on a more holistic business viewpoint and expand training and development opportunities.  

Dynamic Training  

Automation has also upended contact center training in style, philosophy, and methodology. New technologies have forced a literal paradigm shift in agent education and development.  

While technical proficiency remains crucial, the new dynamic of training emphasizes the skills that differentiate agents from chatbots. Emotional intelligence, active listening, and the ability to navigate complex customer interactions have always been a vital component of a successful agent curriculum but are now the hallmarks of specialized agents and customer service.  

Training must also stress a comprehensive understanding of chatbot capabilities and cultivate a proficiency in using and managing the automation tools. All training scenarios should identify and define rules for where human intervention is necessary.  

Enhancing Employee Experience 

Perhaps the most significant change that automation offers is the opportunity to enhance agent job satisfaction and retention. By redefining the metrics for success and recognizing their contributions to training and optimizing chatbots, organizations create an environment where agents feel valued and motivated. This new evolution of agent roles lends to greater career progression; new roles and positions such as automation strategy, training, and QA are tailor-made for elite and knowledgeable agents. These expanded roles and responsibilities help foster professional growth and connect agents as indispensable partners in the evolution of the business. 

The role of agents is evolving; and the contact center is changing for the best. Subsequently, this requires a reevaluation of incentive structure, employee expectations, and career development arc and timeline. Organizations must prepare and equip agents with the skills that complement and support automated systems as well as the ability to know when to intervene. When agents remain at the forefront of customer interactions, your service strategy succeeds. While automation will continue to reshape the contact center and the service industry, it’s imperative not to compete with processes, but to truly collaborate with the technology. By recognizing the changing dynamics and reimagining the new agent role, organizations can create the ideal environment where agents and technologies work in synergy and deliver ideal customer service. 

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