Bye, Bye Customer Service and Support Agents. Hello, Generative AI
- Generative AI impact on customer support. Investment in generative AI will lead to a 20%-30% reduction in customer service and support agents by 2026, according to Gartner.
- Reskilling for the AI era. To mitigate fears among customer support staff, leaders are urged to share plans on AI integration, its impact on job roles and new opportunities arising.
- Effective application of generative AI. Generative AI can be used to automate recurring tasks, resolve low-complexity issues and perform tasks it has been specifically trained for, thereby enhancing the productivity of customer support agents.
When it comes to generative artificial intelligence and jobs, you’re either on one side or the other:
What’s the fate for customer service and support agents, particularly? One analyst firm says, “Yes, generative AI will replace customer support agents.”
Gartner released a prediction this week that found by 2026, investment in generative AI will lead to a 20% to 30% reduction of customer service and support agents. However, the analyst firm added, generative AI at the same time will create new customer service jobs to enable generative AI in customer service and support.
So, some customer support agents jobs will be lost. But they won’t necessarily lose their jobs entirely. New jobs will emerge in customer service thanks to generative AI.
“The hype around workforce reduction needs to be quelled,” Uma Challa, senior director in the Gartner Customer Service & Support practice, said in a blog post Aug. 3. “Gartner predicts that investment in generative AI will lead to a 20-30% reduction in customer service and support agents by 2026, but not a wholesale shuttering of the live customer service function.”
Customer Service Leaders Must Quell Agent Fears
Phew. If I’m in customer service, that’s a welcome thought. But the prediction still remains — two to three out of 10 customer support agent jobs will be reduced.
What can customer support and customer experience leaders do for a worried, troubled customer support staff that continues to see these headlines and predictions?
Gartner suggests sharing with customer support agents how the organization plans to integrate generative AI to help reps to be more productive, the impact generative AI adoption will have on certain agent activities, how the role will change as a result and the new opportunities that will be created to enable generative AI.
Leaders should also work to “future-proof the workforce” by upskilling and reskilling current employees’ skill sets so customer support representatives can learn to work with generative AI.
Related Article: AI-Enhanced Contact Center Platforms for World-Class Customer Service
Where to Apply Generative AI in Customer Support
How can organizations integrate generative AI successfully into customer service arenas like contact centers?
According to Challa, generative AI can be applied effectively to act as an assistant to service agents in the following ways:
- Automate recurring tasks
- Resolve low-complexity issues
- Perform specific tasks on which the generative AI model is trained
Generative AI works best in customer support when it provides reps with context around the customer, product and interaction as well as guidance on how to best solve the customer’s issue, according to Challa. When technology provides customer support agents with context and guidance, they perform better than those without these capabilities, Challa added.
“Customer service organizations can’t wake up one day and decide to implement generative AI,” Challa said. “Depending on the type of investment, it could take a few months or even a few years to adopt the technology depending on many factors such as access, language model type and risk.”
Related Article: Report: Customer Experience Is the No. 1 Focus for Generative AI Investments
The Balance Between AI and Human Support
Not all are convinced with the 30% customer service and support agent reduction prediction.
Micah Solomon, customer service author and consultant and CMSWire Contributor, said he thinks the “premise is a little weak.” “It comes from a position of assuming that customer service at best is a cost center rather than a way to build a brand’s position in the marketplace,” he added. “If you think of this the latter way, you could be thinking of AI as improving the customer experience — by supporting agents in giving better answers, etc. — rather than at best keeping it status quo.”
Joanna Clark-Simpson, head of PR and marketing at PissedConsumer.com and a CMSWire Contributor, believes that ultimately, AI should complement, not replace, human customer service.
“AI surpasses all expectations with its ability to learn and adjust,” Clark-Simpson added. “Any business rushing into staff layoffs must carefully consider the risks to service quality and overall customer satisfaction. According to online reviews, customers prefer speaking to human support rather than interacting with a robot. It is what AI technology lacks: a human approach and empathy.”
Organizations should seek a balance between AI and human support, she said. “AI can be helpful in monitoring, and resolving basic and repetitive tasks, while human support can focus on more complex cases,” Clark-Simpson said. “Furthermore, it is the role of human support to train and enhance AI technology to ensure exceptional customer service is delivered to consumers.”
Is There Hope for Customer Support Agents?
While customer support agent jobs may be reduced because of generative AI, it doesn’t mean others won’t pop up because of the same technology. After all, about 87% of enterprises believe that AI and machine learning are important in achieving business goals centered around growing revenue, increasing operational efficiency and boosting customer experience.
The hope and optimism for generative AI’s infusion into customer service and support seems to be there in many circles.
“While Gartner may be predicting aggressive displacement in short time, progressive business leaders need to stay focused on the value already being delivered by AI in the customer service application,” said Nikola Mrkšić, CEO and co-founder of PolyAI. “People managers who are no strangers to churn begin to lead AI competency centers, and capable, vested agents are being upskilled to higher paying, more strategic positions implementing and managing sophisticated AI applications still within the contact center. The generative AI infusion is already underway, and in the short term it may result in fewer jobs within some customer service centers, but those that remain effectively take on top tier agent responsibilities for sensitive, high value situations that are core to the customer experience.”
Just this week, CMSWire Contributor Declan Ivory wrote about new roles popping out because of generative AI in customer service: knowledge managers, conversation analysts, conversation designers and prompt engineers/problem formulation engineers, to be specific.
So it appears to be a case of traditional jobs being lost, but new ones emerging thanks to generative AI in customer support. Is it an even tradeoff? Is it as easy as a laid-off customer support agent diving into one of these newly emerged roles?
Likely it won’t be that smooth, but being equipped with the skills to use generative AI effectively in customer support seems to be the soon-to-be standard operating procedure for customer support reps.
And that, again, goes back to customer experience leaders. Are you equipping your customer service and support agents with the tools to be successful with generative AI?
“Customer support leaders need to consider training their support agents,” Ivory wrote, “to hone their troubleshooting and subject-specific expertise and consider adding new AI customer service roles that will enable teams to evolve alongside technology and consistently meet customer requests and needs.”
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