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How to get employees on board the AI & bots train

Posted July 16, 2019
human employee sitting between bots

Bots have an image problem.

According to some analysts and news reports, bots are poised to take millions of jobs from humans and render entire workforces across industries obsolete. Naturally, this leaves many employees apprehensive about welcoming these emerging technologies into their workplaces.

In the customer experience industry specifically, these perceptions don’t accurately reflect the current role of bots or their relationship with human agents. While it’s true many brands benefit from using conversational bots to talk to their customers, and machine learning to route calls more intelligently, the numerous and varied applications of artificial intelligence (AI) shouldn’t be viewed as threats in contact centers.

Take robotic process automation (RPA) as an example, a market that’s expected to be valued at $2.9 billion by the year 2021 compared with $250 million in 2016. With RPA, companies can streamline their workflows and sort data more effectively, thus allowing employees to redirect the focus of their roles to more complex tasks that require a human touch.

That said, contact centers have experienced rapid change in recent years, and there is more on the horizon. This doesn’t mean, however, that agents should start to fear bots and AI. In fact, bots can increase their job satisfaction by reducing workloads and complementing their skills to improve performance. However, it is critical that leaders explain to employees how bots and AI will fit into the company’s overall strategy to ensure and support a smooth transition.

Prep your workers

Companies must take intelligent automation’s negative reputation in the workplace seriously as it can have far-reaching effects. Employees who feel threatened by what Deloitte calls a “no-collar workforce” likely won’t be as engaged in their work or as devoted to your organization.

Educating customer service agents about the value of bots and how they stand to help them is a method of early intervention that can have a big impact on how your team members feel about their presence in the workplace.

The first step, therefore, is to convey that humans and machines have very different skills. While bots may excel in areas like speed, stamina and pattern recognition, humans are more adept at solving complex problems and critical thinking. Humans also have unmatched empathy and emotional intelligence that no bot has been capable of replicating.

In other words, comparing humans and machines is like comparing apples to oranges; while some of their capabilities overlap, each brings unique attributes and abilities to the table. And, in an industry like customer service, where authenticity and the human touch are indispensable, there’s no reason to believe an increased bot presence will lead to job losses for agents.

Re-skill your teams

While it’s very unlikely that bots will replace humans entirely, they do require that employees adapt.

Last year, McKinsey and Company reported that 375 million workers (about 14% of the global workforce) “may need to switch occupational categories as digitization, automation and advances in artificial intelligence disrupt the world of work.” What’s more, 66% of global companies named “addressing potential skills gaps related to automation/digitization” as a current top 10 priority.

In the customer service industry, re-skilling and up-skilling your workforce involves assessing existing roles and adjusting them for the presence of conversational bots, along with adding new soft skills like patience and attentiveness to build stronger human connections. Problem-solving skills and the ability to innovate also factor into delivering a consistently positive customer experience, so consider offering ongoing training to help foster an agile culture where thinking outside the box is encouraged.

Tech fluency is also important. Deloitte recommends that employees familiarize themselves with AI technology in order to adapt more easily. “Workers with an in-depth understanding of automation and the specific technologies enabling it can better view tech-driven transformation in strategic context and may adjust more readily to redesigned jobs and augmented processes.” The better your team understands AI technology, the more flexible it will be when roles evolve.

Leverage human knowledge to improve bot effectiveness

Unlike humans, bots don’t run themselves — so even as conversational bots become omnipresent in the contact center and at various points throughout the customer journey, they can’t operate without human oversight.

All of the aforementioned skills that humans can develop, from critical thinking to problem-solving, can and should be applied to AI-powered solutions and tools. For example, agents can assess the language bots use to communicate with customers to verify that the tone aligns with the company’s brand image, improving bot communication and creating a more effortless customer experience.

Overall, when it comes to bots and AI in the workplace, the main message leaders should convey to employees is that next-gen technologies will enable them to “work smarter, not harder.” Once in this mindset, employees will be more willing to get on board with changes they’re seeing around them because they’ll associate bots with benefits.

There may be hope for AI’s image after all!

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