Is AI replacing human agents in customer support?

The narrative around AI often swings between utopian visions of technology solving all our problems and dystopian fears of machines taking over.
Priyanshu Anand
March 29, 2024

Is AI replacing human agents in customer support?

The narrative around AI often swings between utopian visions of technology solving all our problems and dystopian fears of machines taking over.
Priyanshu Anand
September 26, 2023

The customer support landscape is undergoing a seismic shift, thanks in part to the advent of smarter bots and AI-driven solutions. The narrative around AI often swings between utopian visions of technology solving all our problems and dystopian fears of machines taking over. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. But before we jump to conclusions about bots taking over human jobs, let's take a reality check.

AI-led solutions have increasingly started to make sense and global factors like the pandemic as well as the recent recession have accelerated the need for it. People have become selective about how they use their resources, and AI seems to be something that can help meet increasing customer demands faster and offer a better customer experience altogether.

But there are certain things that AI can't do and we want to explore a balanced perspective, especially in the realm of customer support where the human touch is often considered irreplaceable.

The Current State of Customer Support

Customer support has always been the backbone of any successful business. However, it's a field plagued with challenges—high turnover rates, repetitive tasks, and the constant pressure to resolve issues quickly. According to the recent state of customer service, being a support agent is one of the top 10 most stressful jobs in the world.

The Challenges

  1. High Turnover Rates: The customer support industry has one of the highest employee turnover rates, averaging around 30-45%.
  2. Repetitive Tasks: Agents often find themselves answering the same questions and solving the same problems day in and day out.
  3. Pressure to Resolve Quickly: In the age of instant gratification, customers expect quick resolutions, putting immense pressure on agents.

How AI has progressed in customer support has alleviated quite a few burdens from support teams but this has led to questions surrounding its impact on jobs and the likelihood of AI replacing human agents.

The Advent of AI in Customer Support

AI is not just a buzzword; it's a reality that's slowly infiltrating every aspect of customer support. Self-service bots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, capable of handling a wide range of queries without human intervention. These bots are programmed to automate repetitive tasks and free up human agents to focus on more complex issues.

AI-enabled intelligence in customer service has handled these customer-related concerns effectively. For example, factors like these have enabled faster response times, higher response rates, and less dependency on human agents -

  • Self-service options: Customers don’t need to wait around for support agents and can get their queries resolved through a bot instantly.
  • Conversational AI: Customers can have entire conversations with intelligent bots and the best part is, that the bot can learn through these conversations to become better.
  • Enhancing human agents: AI can route conversations and reduce the gap between agents and customers. Support agents can also leverage AI to get answers to queries and enhance their abilities to provide better support.
  • Optimizing knowledge bases: Understand how AI uses your knowledge base and use that to improve your existing knowledge base.

What Humans Can Do That AI Can't

While smarter bots are impressive, they lack the emotional intelligence that a human agent possesses. Humans excel in understanding nuances, empathizing with customers, and offering personalized solutions. No matter how advanced a bot becomes, it can't replicate the authentic intelligence that humans bring to customer interactions.

Emotional Intelligence: The Human Edge

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one's own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. In a customer support context, this means being able to empathize with frustrated customers, understand their problems from their perspective, and offer solutions that not only solve the issue but also leave the customer feeling valued and heard.

Think of a scenario in which a customer has had a bad experience because of unexpected downtime, technical glitches, or maybe even technical mistakes - these reasons are out of the ordinary and can’t be empathetically handled by bots or any sort of AI. Only human agents and understand, empathize, and figure out the right response to give under a situation like this.

In an interview from Harvard Business Review, Karim R. Lakhani talks about how AI will not replace humans - but humans with AI will replace humans without AI.

Artificial Intelligence vs. Authentic Intelligence vs. Augmented Intelligence

The Synergy of Augmented Intelligence

Augmented intelligence is the future of customer support. It combines the data processing power of AI with the emotional intelligence of humans to create a customer support system that is both efficient and empathetic.

According to a PwC report, the potential contribution of AI to the global economy by 2030 is $15.7 trillion. A significant portion of this will come from improvements in customer support, driven by the synergy of artificial and authentic intelligence.

The Balanced Approach

The future of customer support is not an "either-or" scenario; it's a collaborative effort. AI won't replace humans; instead, humans with AI will replace humans without AI. This coexistence is where the real magic happens. AI can handle data-heavy, repetitive tasks, while humans can focus on offering personalized, emotionally intelligent solutions.

A balanced approach involves using AI for what it's good at—data processing, automation, and quick solutions—while relying on human agents for tasks that require emotional intelligence, nuanced understanding, and complex problem-solving.

AI and humans complement each other beautifully in a customer support setting. Bots can quickly sort through data and offer instant solutions, acting as the first line of support. Human agents can then step in for more complicated issues requiring emotional intelligence and nuanced understanding, thereby offering a more comprehensive support solution.

An ideal customer support team in the age of AI would consist of both bots and human agents, each playing to their strengths. Bots would handle the routine, repetitive tasks, acting as the first line of defense. Human agents would then take over for more complex, emotionally charged situations, providing the level of service that customers not only expect but also deserve.

Leveraging AI to Improve Support Operations

Support teams can leverage AI in multiple ways to improve operations:

  1. Automating Repetitive Tasks: Bots can handle tasks like ticket sorting, allowing human agents to focus on problem-solving.
  2. Data Analysis: AI can analyze customer data to identify trends and offer proactive solutions.
  3. Training: AI can help in training new agents by simulating different customer scenarios.

Coexistence of AI and Humans in Customer Support

The advent of smarter bots in customer support doesn't spell doom for human agents. Instead, it offers a reality check on how both can coexist and complement each other. By understanding the unique strengths and limitations of both AI and human agents, businesses can create a more efficient, empathetic, and responsive customer support system. The future is not just artificial intelligence or authentic intelligence; it's augmented intelligence.

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What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

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