Can Artificial Intelligence Replace Contact Center Agents?

This is a guest post by Donna Fluss, the president of DMG Consulting LLC.

Let’s be real. The title of this blog post is an important question that many executives are asking. Actually, they aren’t just asking, they are hoping that artificial intelligence (AI) will allow them to replace live agents, just as they have been since interactive voice response systems (IVRs) were first introduced into the market more than five decades ago.

But now the world is very different. In the past 50 years, the underlying technology powering voice self-service solutions has been transformed but, unfortunately, many of the uses of these solutions have not. DMG estimates that more than 80% of the IVR applications in the market today are more than 10 years out of date. This means that companies are disappointing millions of customers and losing out on the opportunity to automate an increasing percentage of the inquiries they receive.

The current generation of self-service solutions, intelligent virtual agents (IVAs), are smart, omni-channel systems that automate many types of inquiries. Using self-learning technology, which is also known as machine learning, these solutions are smart enough to identify what they don’t know so that new uses can be added to them, driving a continuous improvement process. As these solutions are omni-channel, an organization can build these applications once and then apply them in multiple channels. Companies can use the same underlying application to handle questions on their website, voice self-service applications and chat applications, for example. As a result, companies can accomplish something that was impossible as recently as three years ago: they can standardize the answers provided to customers throughout all of their self-service solutions.

Self-service has become the preferred method for service today for many consumers, so it is an ideal time for companies to enhance or replace their voice self-service solutions, which should have been updated years ago. With the right technology and use cases, companies will be able to fully automate the handling of a growing number of inquiries and transaction types. However, as good as these solutions are today, they cannot “think” and do not replace the cognitive capabilities of a live agents. Well-designed IVA applications are significantly better than the IVRs of the past, but are many years away from replacing live agents.

DMG recommends that companies give their customers what they want, which is well-designed and implemented IVA solutions that are able to handle an increasing number of inquiries that do not require cognition or decision-making. But these solutions should be supported by live agents who are available to step in when the IVA solution or customer reaches the limits of their ability to resolve an issue. To learn more about the viability of IVAs and limits of zero-footprint contact centers, please see DMG’s white paper, Will Robots Make Live Agents Obsolete?