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Article 6 min read

How AI is boosting agent intelligence—and evolving the CX team

Agents and AI must work hand in hand to deliver the kinds of experiences that keep customers coming back.

By Cristina Fonseca, Head of AI at Zendesk

Last updated August 21, 2023

Despite the hype, AI isn’t here to replace your human agents. Quite the contrary, when human agents and AI join forces, they form a powerful CX team—one that builds on their strengths, while minimizing their weaknesses.

Your agents shouldn’t be bogged down by the busy work. With AI in their corner, they can instead focus on the tasks that make a difference. What results is a better experience for all involved.

For many support teams, AI is already handling the majority of customer requests for issues like password resets, refunds, or order tracking. For more complex questions, AI can route customers to the right place and ensure that agents have the information they need to provide quick and personalized assistance. This includes providing recommended responses or help center articles that can make service point and click.

When human agents and AI join forces, they form a powerful CX team.

We believe AI will guide each and every customer touchpoint in the next five years. This means that the role of agents—and the makeup of support teams—must further evolve. Instead of manning the front lines, agents will take a step back and up to provide a critical layer of supervisory oversight and tackle the complex queries that require human help. This will ensure that AI remains accurate and continues to improve.

For companies, rethinking and reshaping your support operation starts now. Though we’re in the early stages of AI development, these technologies are already having a major impact on day-to-day operations. Put simply, no agent should be handling password reset requests at the expense of solving larger, more complex issues. And looking ahead, their role will only become more important and strategic.

Here are some tips to get CX teams set up for AI now and in the future.

Leverage AI now for quick and immediate impact

AI may have come a long way from beating you in chess, but we’re only just beginning to unearth what’s possible. According to PwC’s Global Artificial Intelligence study, AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030—a massive sum but understandable when you think of the sheer number of industries that stand to benefit.

For CX, AI is already having immediate impact. According to our research, agents see AI as a tool that makes them more effective:

  • 63% agree that having access to AI would help them find information more quickly

  • 61% agree that it would help them communicate with customers more efficiently

  • 60% agree that it would help to reduce the amount of customer interactions they have

Indeed, AI can help human teams work at superhuman scale but only if it’s thoughtfully applied in the areas where automation can make a difference. Let AI tackle the easy questions, free up agent time to work on harder issues, and enable a higher level of personalized service for every customer engagement. One way to think of your AI capabilities is almost like a sort of “digital concierge.” With just a few questions, AI can triage customer queries, determine whether it can handle the request, and escalate to the right person if it needs to.

Say a customer receives an item that doesn’t fit exactly how they were expecting. AI quickly understands their issue and offers to process them a refund. Instead, they want to understand a bit more about sizing. AI can offer up a few articles that describe the general dimensions of clothes, but they want to talk to an agent who can help them pick a size that would flatter their body shape. At that point, AI could transfer the customer to a fit specialist with a summary of their order information, issue, and what they’re looking for. If they’re a long-time customer, AI can also provide their order history so that the agent can get a better sense of what they have liked in the past.

Though the customer ended up needing an agent in this example, AI took on the lion’s share of the initial work before transferring to a human with the information needed to provide an efficient and personalized solution. In most instances, an issue like this likely wouldn’t need a human at all—a huge win for companies looking to elevate their customer experience.

If you haven’t begun to implement AI into your CX operation, the time is now

Here’s where AI can provide immediate impact:

  • Taking the workload off agents by automating responses to common, repeatable customer issues, including order tracking, password resets, returns, etc.

  • Understanding customer sentiment and language to solve or escalate issues with minimal friction

  • Providing always-on customer service for the times when agents aren’t available and escalating tickets for when they return

  • Streamlining workflows by routing tickets to the right person every time

  • Ensuring that agents have information they need to get quickly up to speed and personalize their response to a customer issue

  • Helping companies to improve their products or services by identifying the most common types of issues or escalations

Start making plans for the road ahead

As we head down a path toward fully automating the majority of customer engagements, agents’ roles will inevitably shift. Now, this doesn’t mean that agent jobs will disappear. To be successful, AI will require supervision, fine-tuning, and careful monitoring.

Think of it this way—humans have always created tools to make their lives easier. Each time a new tool is created, human roles have shifted to more supervisory functions. In the case of the wheel, humans went from carrying cargo to overseeing carts that carried the cargo for them. With AI, a similar evolution will take place.

This change may already be happening for some. According to our research, 62 percent of agents say that their role has become more strategic in the last two years. In the years to come, we expect this trend to continue and accelerate.

Change is already underway—62% of agents say that their job has gotten more strategic in the last two years.

For those wondering what this might look like, AI requires continuous human oversight to ensure that it’s trained carefully, that issues of potential bias are spotted early, and that it continues to improve. Agents should be tasked with ensuring that your AI solution feels custom-built. This will include training it on the latest data, testing the accuracy of responses, and monitoring for issues. Even with an out-of-the-box solution like ours, there will be opportunities to fine-tune to your needs.

The benefits of generative AI for agents

Everyone is talking about the impact that generative AI will have on customers, but agents will also benefit. With generative AI, agents can use simple commands (for example, rephrase this, expand this response, change the tone of this reply, etc.) to improve their customer responses.

Similarly, generative AI can help to make workflows more dynamic and responsive to changes in customer needs. Say that AI detects and flags an increase in customer questions around a certain topic. The next steps could be generating new help center content, macros, or even chatbot flows to address these questions.

AI is revolutionizing customer service, but there will always be customer questions or engagements that require a human touch. And in many cases, you’ll want to offer more concierge service experiences for higher value clients. AI is powerful, but it can’t solve every problem. Perhaps one of the most important roles for agents going forward is helping AI to recognize and respect its own limits.

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