The question of whether customer service chatbots will decrease the need for contact-center agents is definitely a hot-button issue, as it touches on conflicting priorities that need to be balanced. On one hand, chatbots can automate low-skill functions and reduce labor requirements, which is the largest cost factor in running a contact center. But this should also free up contact-center agents to focus on more high-touch forms of customer service, where personalization makes all the difference.
Currently, customer service chatbots have limited capabilities, but their usage is growing, as contact centers face pressure to reduce costs and provide 24/7 service. In theory, as this trend continues, there will be less need for live agents. But we have a long way to go before contact-center agents can be replaced outright.
Realistically, most customers prefer dealing with live agents, so contact centers need to make judicious use of their resources. This is where artificial intelligence and intelligent call-routing capabilities come into play. Over time, customer service chatbots will learn how each customer prefers self-service options. They will also learn the ideal time to move a session to a live agent -- not just any contact-center agent, but the right agent for the particular situation.
Forward-thinking contact centers recognize the need for both live agents and chatbots, and don't view customer service chatbots strictly as a cost reduction move. While today's digital natives have a growing preference for self-service, customers in general will still demand the live agent experience for certain needs.
To balance these needs and generational differences, contact centers must view chatbots as complementing live agents, rather than replacing them. The desired result is to deliver the best of both worlds -- high touch and high tech -- which aligns well with today's customer expectations.
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