The prevalence of artificial intelligence (AI) in service-based businesses is growing. Thanks to AI’s ability to rapidly contextualize information via vast stores of data and adaptive reasoning, it’s no surprise that its use alongside traditional business approaches has skyrocketed.
Take call centers and contact centers, for example – they have begun incorporating AI tool sets into their daily operations to speed up issue resolution rates and improve customer satisfaction. But not everyone sees the same promise in this technological revolution. Many have begun to show concern with AI’s potential for disruption to the detriment of existing human skill sets, leading invariably to the loss of jobs and careers.
Although AI is indeed a force to be reckoned with in the industries it has begun to be employed in, its limitations are many and its capacity to usurp human workers’ positions has likely been overhyped. In fact, many of the integral functions human service providers perform cannot be handled by AI at all.
The above is especially true for call center representatives and customer support agents of all stripes. The unique skills talented service reps bring to the table lend a human touch to customer interactions that cannot be replicated with AI-enhanced automation alone. The important role live agents have on the customer experience is immensely positive and impossible to overlook.
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Read on to discover over 25 key interactions and judgments AI cannot handle as well as humans can.
Where Emotional Judgment is Key
1. Employing empathy to comfort callers.
“The CallMiner Churn Index shows that listening is critical to keeping customers loyal. When asked about their emotional state before making a call to a call centre, the top response by almost half of consumers (46%) is that they just want someone to listen to them – in other words show empathy!
“Listening to a customer seems like a relatively simple ask, but many call centre agents are getting it wrong. Shockingly, only half the number of people (23%) reported they felt listened to after contact with a call centre agent.” – Frank Sherlock, 3 Reasons Why Agent Empathy Makes for Happier Customers, CallMiner; Twitter: @CallMiner
2. Taking responsibility for a caller’s situation.
“Expressing empathy is a good, natural, and honest way to promote relationships, both personally and professionally. Using an empathetic statement or short phrase can create a connection during a customer conversation. It requires your complete attention to the conversation, and you are ready to take responsibility for them.” – Snigdha Patel, 30 Positive Phrases, Words and Empathy Statements for Customer Service, REVEChat; Twitter: @REVEChat
3. Inspiring loyalty in appreciative callers.
“Customers know when they’re being treated with care and value, and it makes them want to do business with your company in the future. As a call center agent, you can be the difference between a customer abandoning a brand whose employees don’t show empathy and becoming a loyal follower.” – Empathy for Call Center Agents: Importance & Improvement, Study.com; Twitter: @studydotcom
4. Looking at situations from the caller’s perspective.
“UCLA neurologist and neuroscientist Marco Lacoboni suggests in his book, Mirroring People, that we don’t have to waste our time wondering what people mean based on their behavior. Instead, he believes that we automatically relate to one another by putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.” – Carla Jerez, 30 Empathy Statements and Phrases That Show Customers You Care, Comm100; Twitter: @comm100
5. Expressing genuine interest in callers’ concerns.
“Be genuine, honest and be yourself. Reading standard empathy phrases without being authentic creates resentment and can increase anger. It is more important to be natural, calm and positive than to get the exact phrasing correct.” – 18 Empathy Statements That Help Improve Customer-Agent Rapport, Call Centre Helper; Twitter: @callcentrehelp
6. Acknowledging and accommodating anger and other negative emotions.
“John let Janet rant for another minute and then, when she stopped for breath, literally pushed himself into ‘her space’ and immediately assured her that he would do his best to help her. He acknowledged her frustration and anger and told her that he would do his best to resolve the situation. […] John had enough experience as a call center agent to know that he needed to cater his responses, tone, and suggestions to Janet specifically, and not all ‘angry customers.'” – Examples of Dealing with Call Center Scenarios, Universal Class, Inc.; Twitter: @universalclass
7. Acknowledging and validating a caller’s emotions.
“If someone is calling customer support because a new gadget isn’t working properly, that customer is likely to be annoyed or frustrated. The representative might say, ‘Mrs. Smith, I understand you are frustrated. Let’s see how I can help resolve this problem.’ Once you’ve assured Mrs. Smith that you appreciate how she is feeling, a foundation has been laid for further conversation. Even if her problem is one that can’t be immediately remedied, she is much more likely to be grateful for your attempt to help, simply because you’ve acknowledged how she feels.” – Richard R. Shapiro, Guest Blog: Active Listening is the Key to a Successful Customer Experience, ShepHyken.com; Twitter: @Hyken
8. Thinking through emotionally charged exchanges before contributing.
“Examining calls as communication genre revealed that agents and customers have conflicting organizational, service, and efficiency needs that undermine communication. But three types of empathic expression can mitigate these conflicts in some interactions. Affective expressions, such as ‘I’m sorry,’ were less effectual, but attentive and cognitive responses could engender highly positive responses although customers’ need for them varied tremendously. Thus, customer service agents must use both diagnostic and enactment skills to perform empathic communication effectively, a coupling that we call empathy work.” – Colin Mackinnon Clark et. al, Is Empathy Effective for Customer Service? Evidence From Call Center Interactions, ResearchGate
9. Identifying things that upset callers.
“Empathy is integral when it comes to understanding what upsets customers and what they respond to positively. Customer service representatives should utilize their empathetic skills to understand exactly what upsets customers when they call their customer service center and use that knowledge to their advantage.” – The Importance of Empathy in Customer Service, 3C Contact Services; Twitter: @3CContactServic
Where Creativity is Required
10. Going ‘off-script’ and dealing with high-stakes issues.
“Companies are now designing service flows in which virtual agents and people work together. Such workflows help free human representatives from the drudgery of rooting through computer systems to find information. The human agents can instead concentrate on the exceptions — customer problems the system has not encountered before, or frustrated customers that demand empathy. The virtual agents solve the common problems efficiently, while the human agents deal with the high-stakes issues that don’t fit the usual pattern.” – P.V. Kannan and Josh Bernoff, The Future of Customer Service Is AI-Human Collaboration, MIT Sloan; Twitter: @mitsmr
11. Choosing to stick with callers until their problems are solved or redirect them to a more appropriate division as the conversation develops.
“Maintain an air of calmness; always be willing to redirect them where they need, find information from other departments, and accommodate them in any way you can. Convey an eagerness to help, even if it’s not in your normal character.” – Stefanie Amini, Problem Solving Tips for the Call Center, Customer Think; Twitter: @customerthink
12. Handling particularly complicated issues efficiently.
“The proliferation of advanced tools that deflect easy calls and enable customers to solve their own problems, has reduced the population of calls. But the issues that do get to the switchboard tend to be the hardest problems. In previous research Dixon and company have showed that the kind of rep most successful in this situation is one who takes control and synthesizes a solution for a customer.” – Denis Pombriant, The next evolution of the call center – network judgment techniques for problem solving, Diginomica; Twitter: @diginomica
13. Coming up with custom solutions for unusual problems.
“By being able to tailor make a solution, agents can ensure a positive customer experience that will resolve the issue in an efficient and timely manner.” – 8 Most Important Qualities Of A Call Center Agent, Playvox; Twitter: @playvoxcx
14. Working with callers adaptively to find a solution.
“Having nailed down the solution’s details, discuss it with the customer. Walk through it with him or her step by step and ask for feedback. Be ready to adjust the plan. After the customer approves the solution, it’s time to execute it. Follow up to certify the progress of the solution, that you’re meeting any deadlines and where you stand with the budget. Re-work your plan, if necessary.” – How to Improve Problem Solving Skills in Customer Service, Unicom; Twitter: @unicomcorp
15. Creatively questioning callers to determine the root causes of their problems.
“For every caller’s concern, there will be a root. In some cases, the root is a lack of understanding. In others, it is a faulty good or service. In order to provide the best possible customer service for each call, the agent must be able to determine why the problem exists. This can be done through a series of questions about how and when the problem arose and what the customer has done to fix it.” – Effective Problem Solving: 9 Steps Contact Center Agents and Managers Can Take, SpiceCSM; Twitter: @spicecsm
16. Mixing marketing into customer interactions for added value.
“Yes, call centers have become part of the marketing and customer engagement process. That’s why, for example, global leader in customer experience as a service TeleTech now refers to its locations as ‘contact centers.’ That invokes the idea of personal touch and dialogue because it can include not just the traditional call-in method, but also live chat functionality.” – Angela Ruth, Solving Contact Center Woes With Customer Engagement, Entrepreneur; Twitter: @angelaruth1309
17. Using affirmation sounds and other techniques to reassure callers they are being understood.
“When the customer is talking, make sure you insert some affirmation sounds like ‘aha,’ ‘mmm,’ etc. at the right time to let them know you are still listening intently to what they are saying.” – Justin Tippett, Active listening skills for call centre agents, CX Central; Twitter: @cxcentral
18. Going the extra mile to ‘wow’ callers.
“Many times, when a customer is explaining what went wrong and what they expect, service employees can read between the lines of the conversation and determine exactly what it will take to ‘wow’ them and win them back.” – Adam Toporek, The Importance of Listening in Customer Service, Customers That Stick; Twitter: @adamtoporek
19. Training coworkers and mentoring others on the job.
“To make the work environment more conducive you could create a system where a new hire is teamed up with an experienced employee. This system will help agents open up and will provide them with the initial support that is needed.” – 8 Training Tips To Boost Call Center Communication Skills, CallHub; Twitter: @CallHub
20. Patiently educating callers on service details that are directly related to their problems.“
Call centers can be a highly stressful work environment. A number of situations can arise, such as dealing with customers who are not familiar with the product/service and need to be educated from the start, hostile customer complaints or even learning how to use new software feature updates.” – Daphne Lefran, 3 Key Soft Skills Every Call Center Agent Must Have, Win The Customer; Twitter: @flavmartins
Where Planning is Pivotal
21. Offering up alternative solutions that are relevant to a caller’s needs.
“In situations where customer oversight was the only issue, a specific remedy may not be necessary. When your company, product or service makes a mistake, resolution is important for customer retention and positive word-of-mouth. You need to offer alternative remedies to suit the situation.” – Neil Kokemuller, Problem Solving Steps in Customer Service, Chron; Twitter: @HoustonChron
22. Leveraging insights from fellow agents while ‘AFK.’
“Exchanging your customer experience with your colleagues is a great way to discuss different perspectives and see if you could have resolved an issue in a more efficient way – especially if you are a beginner. Even if you aren’t a beginner, getting to know your product takes time, and colleagues that are more experienced than you can give you great advice.” – Ani Miteva, 10 Call Center Tips for beginners in Customer Service, Cloud Worldwide Services; Twitter: @CloudWorldwide
23. Reserving judgment until callers have finished explaining their situations.
“Call center agents often handle similar issues on a day to day basis, and doing so may make the job feel repetitive to them. Because of this, agents may fall into the trap of jumping to conclusions when a customer talks about an issue they’ve heard many times before. This is a critical error [that] customer service representatives need to avoid at all costs.
“When listening and talking to customers, agents need to keep an open mind. This ensures that they’re not missing out on critical information and subtle cues that can help them arrive at the best solution.” – Jimmy Rodela, Five Effective Ways of Maintaining Active Listening in the Call, Executive Boutique; Twitter: @eb_call
24. Working as a team to handle complex issues.
“In today’s world where virtual and cloud-based call centers employ agents located all over the world, it would be easy for individuals to work in isolation. However, all call centers work best when agents work as a team, utilizing everything a full-featured call center software solution has to offer. It is important for agents to foster relationships with other team members and for them all to be on hand to provide support to each other when necessary.” – Top Qualities of a Successful Call Center Agent, EvolveIP; Twitter: @EvolveIP
25. Figuring out what additional issues might arise with the caller once their problem has been solved.
“After resolving the problem, don’t just rush to get the customer off the phone. Take time to apologize once again for the difficulties the person encountered, thank the customer for their patience, and ask if there’s anything else you can assist with. Let the customer be the one to end the call – not you.” – Rieva Lesonsky, Is Your Call Center Frustrating Customers?, Small Business Trends; Twitter: @smallbiztrends
What do your service reps do that AI can never replicate?