“AI is gonna take over your job by…”, who hasn’t seen that headline? For years automation tools have been mostly portrayed as a cheaper alternative to the human workforce. So it is no surprise that when facing the challenge of introducing AI solutions, customer service teams are taken aback. Fortunately, more and more is being said about the fact that using AI agents for cost reduction works only short-term, and AI-human collaboration is the best way to see a strategic, long-term impact on performance.
“In our research involving 1,500 companies, we found that firms achieve the most significant performance improvements when humans and machines work together. “ H.James Wilson, Paul R. Daugherty for Harvard Business Review
Because of how the media portray AI, you might still get a fair bit of resistance even if you want to introduce the hybrid AI model, where live agents closely cooperate with AI agents. The resistance is there because people are scared they are going to lose their jobs. Who wouldn’t be? The best way to bring your customer service team on board is to reduce that anxiety by making sure they know what will happen. Here are four tips on how to do it:
The best way to reduce anxiety about AI and automation is to help people understand it. Lack of reliable knowledge sources for non-experts is one of the main causes behind all the myths surrounding cooperation between people and machines. The best way to debunk these myths is to communicate honestly and openly about how the AI hybrid approach works in customer service. And make it clear that your goal is to increase customer and employee experience, not reduce employment.
Meet up with your customer service team and tell them what your plans for implementing virtual agents are, how their work will change, and address their questions. Prepare for this meeting, bearing in mind that employees come to them because they are afraid of losing their jobs — which means you might be dealing with hostility. The less room you leave for understatements, rumors, and conspiracy theories, the greater the chance that your employees will come out of this meeting reassured and maybe even curious about what their work will be like when robots help them support customers.
Open communication should not end at this stage but continue throughout the implementation. What’s more, if possible, try to include selected people from the team in the project to become AI ambassadors inside your company.
It’s been proven that AI brings the most benefits when implemented to support humans, not replace them. But it doesn’t mean that everything will stay the same for live agents, as at the end of the day, virtual agents take over some tasks previously done by them. The thing is, they take over tasks humans never wanted to do in the first place, the mundane, the repetitive, the mind-numbing tasks like resetting passwords. So while virtual agents take care of that, live agents can do meaningful work — help customers instead of being an intermediate between customers and the system.
So, on the one hand, AI makes the current task scope more interesting and empowering for customer service agents, and on the other, it creates completely new growth opportunities. Customer service reps can become virtual agent designers — they already have the business knowledge to create great conversational experiences. With the right tools, they can build, test, and manage AI agents on their own. It’s important that you show your employees these upskilling opportunities to reframe how they see customer service automation and their role in it.
Let your team know their voice matters
People want to feel appreciated, important and want to be able to show their value. So when you implement AI to take over certain tasks, your human team might start feeling a little bit sidelined. And that can cause a lack of motivation and worse performance: “They don’t care about my work anyway, so why should I care.” You can prevent that and make sure people feel that their work matters by including them in the implementation process. At the end of the day, they will be working alongside AI agents and can provide strategic insights on how to make that cooperation work best for your business and your customers.
Their involvement in the process will depend on whether you create a custom solution in-house, outsource it to a different company, or use DIY builders. But even running a one-off workshop with your team to collect insights about how customer services processes look now will give you a lot of valuable information for the implementation. And, more importantly, show your team that their voice matters to you. Here are a few areas important when implementing AI agents, your customer service team can help you with:
- Find the most important volume — tasks that are high in volume, repetitive, and urgent for customers
- Existing work procedures — how agents use existing systems to look up information or change data about customers, and how these systems can accommodate and facilitate collaboration between live agents and AI agents
- How customers talk about the issues they come with — what questions they ask, how they ask them, do they have their own names for the products you offer? This information will be beneficial when you design the virtual agent conversation flow
Additionally it can help you spot employees that might be interested in managing and training the virtual agent when it goes live.
Make sure it’s clear how it works
Once you implement virtual agents, makes sure it is included in work procedures, training materials, and any other “knowledge” that helps new and existing employees understand how they can best support customers. Ensure that live agents understand how transfers between them and virtual agents work, where they can find conversations between customers and AI agents. If possible, show them the solution used to build and manage agents so they can understand how it works. The more your team knows, the more their focus changes from resistance and curiosity.
The way we work is always changing. It makes people anxious and unsure about their future. With sensational articles claiming that robots will take over our jobs, it’s not surprising that there is resistance among people directly affected by automation. But your hands as a manager or team leader are not tied; you can take strategic septs to help customer service agents understand that the hybrid model has benefits for everyone involved.
If you want to know more about how to automate customer service with humans in mind, read our article about human-centered automation.