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Are you ready for the shift? Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language understanding are changing the nature of customer interactions. We’ve already seen technology implemented in customer engagement in the form of IVR, and now we are approaching the tipping point for automation. According to Forrester, within five years robots and so-called intelligent agents will eliminate many positions in customer service, among other industries, amounting to 6 percent of jobs. That might sounds alarming, but really, it’s a positive indication of the direction the industry is headed.

Though some jobs may be eliminated, the customer sales and service experience will be improved overall as a result of automation. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, agent services and automation systems are not aligned in most company’s customer engagement offerings based on how difficult it is to get through a call without having to repeat information. However, as technology continues to develop, this problem will disappear. Many of the same interactions that are being escalated to a human agent right now can be taken care of by intelligent automation. These automated smart agents (automated sales and service reps along the same lines of Cortana, Siri, and Alexa) will use machine learning and AI to build context around the instances in which customers reach out for sales and support; these systems will know customers’ location, purchase history, and any reasons why they have reached out in the past. By using natural language understanding, smart agents will be able to respond intelligently to customer inquiries and requests without having to constantly ask for information to be repeated. This might seem like a utopian vision of the future, yet it is completely plausible and, according to Forrester and others, inevitable.

This does NOT mean that humans will be completely replaced, however. The nature of human roles in contact centers will change from the current wide range of responsibilities to more specialized tasks. The creativity of humans will be put to use on the more complex tasks, such as when smart agents are not able to resolve customer issues or for premium, high touch service for “platinum” customers. Humans are not going away any time soon, they’re just moving.

What does this mean for your hiring process? Customer service positions will likely need a higher education level, more experience, and a wider range of skills, seeing as they will only be working on the most complicated interactions. Any human agent will, by nature of the job, be delivering high touch, white-glove service, requiring a higher level of agent quality. The simple interactions will be taken care of by automated smart agents, leaving the more complex interactions to skilled humans.

2021 is not that far away. It’s time to start preparing now for the workforce of the next five years. Although eliminating 6% of human jobs may sound alarming, it’s no cause for panic. Humans will need to adapt their skill sets to the changing nature of jobs. Humans will always be needed in customer engagement; it’s why they are needed that will change.

So, are you ready for the automation domination? Start your preparations today.


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