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How is AI impacting employee engagement in the customer service sector?

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Conversations about artificial intelligence (AI) have been dominating the business space in recent years. For better or worse, this technology is changing the way we work, perhaps forever. Roles are being redefined, new jobs are being created, and barriers to progression are increasingly broken down. On the other hand, some people are losing their jobs, or their skills are being outpaced by non-experts using AI tools. 

Customer service is at the core of every business; no matter how good the product, if the service is bad, businesses run a high risk of clients going elsewhere. However, this is a sector that is seeing increasing outsourcing to AI, with website chatbots and automated returns becoming the norm – in fact, around 63% of retail businesses use AI for customer interactions. This can help shopper satisfaction, as they can find the answer to their problem in record time. But how is it impacting the customer service agents themselves?

In this guide, we explore the effect that AI is having on employee engagement in the customer service sector.

Positives

Speeding up routine tasks

Processing refunds, providing information to frequently asked questions and booking appointments are all regular tasks for a customer service agent. However, they’re not the most exciting and fulfilling jobs – they don’t provide the buzz of truly making someone’s day, and customers can get frustrated if simple requests take too long. 

AI can take these tasks off employee’s plates, freeing them up to handle tasks that need the sensitivity of human interaction. Not only is this better for the customer, it can increase job satisfaction, as the staff member feels that they’re making a real difference to someone’s day. Plus, the challenge of solving more complex problems can add an interesting variation to the role. 

Happier customers, happier team

There’s nothing worse than an unhappy customer – it’s frustrating for them, and often this annoyance gets passed on to the team member handling their issue. No one likes being shouted at, and whilst there’s no excuse for this behavior, it’s still common, with 89.7% of workers seeing an increase in hostility, according to research conducted last year. The same study showed that this had a negative effect on employee mental health, and can even lead to workers looking for another job.

 

If customers feel that they can easily get answers to simple questions via AI, they may be more patient and less irritable. In turn, this should reduce stress and negativity for customer service agents, improving their happiness levels and boosting their mental health.

Thoughts from an HR perspective

So far, we’ve discussed the impact of AI on employee engagement based on customer interactions – but what about from an internal perspective? 

AI tools can help HR professionals when it comes to better looking after their workforce, allowing them to spot burnout warning signs early, monitor sickness and holiday (with the aim of ensuring team members take breaks) and even provide a space for remote workers to raise concerns, without having to meet in person. Initial research suggests that AI can flag around 90% of potential burnout cases – an issue that is rife in the fast-paced environment that comes with being employed in customer service. If HR professionals can harness the power of these new technologies, the workforce may become all the better for it.

Concerns

Job security

As well as the positives that come with AI use, there are some areas of concern for customer service employees, which in turn can negatively impact their engagement. The main area is job security, as many workers are concerned that the rise in AI technology will result in them being replaced, especially if their role is primarily focused on solving relatively simple queries. For example, a receptionist may feel that AI tools that offer diary management and booking services could replace them, and bank workers may feel replaced by online banking apps.

However, there is still room for AI tools and customer service executives. Employees may have to pivot to working on phone lines and online messaging platforms in some cases, but AI can never truly replace the entire customer service workforce. Human input is needed for critical thinking, complex problem solving and emotional intelligence. 

Output pressure

Another worry for workers is that targets will increase, adding more pressure in the workplace. As customers get used to the quick response times that AI offers, they may become more frustrated with long waiting times that are sometimes inherently part of waiting to talk to a human, even if the end service is better. It’s natural for businesses to focus on key targets like reducing customer wait times and having fewer outstanding email tickets, but putting pressure on workers to cut corners in order to seem valuable when compared to AI is not the answer. 

Instead, businesses should focus on managing customer expectations, and building a reputation for excellent customer service. AI can help here by providing regular updates about the progress of each individual customer’s case, reducing frustration until the shopper is able to talk to an employee directly. Rather than just leaving the customer waiting, these personalized updates can make them feel valued and cared for.

Skillsets

Generally, the longer an employee has been in the role, the more experienced they are. They move up the hierarchy, commanding more responsibility and a higher rate of pay, as they provide more value to the company. However, AI is shattering some of those barriers, allowing new team members to solve complex problems at speed, and progress at a rate that would have been impossible otherwise. 

This can be a good thing for new employees – they’re able to hit the ground running and provide value from day one – but it can be disheartening and scary for older team members, who may feel that their hard-won skillsets are being replaced. This can cause morale to drop, and a sense of resentment to fester in teams. Managers should be on the lookout for this issue, and make sure that the experienced team members don’t go unnoticed and unrewarded.

A changing future

It’s clear that AI is having both a positive and negative impact on employee engagement in the customer service sector. To combat concerns, businesses should make sure to be transparent with their employees, and ensure they value a personalized, high-quality experience over simple metrics like tickets closed.

Author bio: Grace Spencer

A passionate believer in the power of customer service for brand engagement, Grace wants to promote a world where AI and humans work in harmony, rather than battling for work. She aims to raise awareness of the power of AI, but also flag concerns to ensure employee happiness.

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