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The Agents-vs.-AI Debate Will Heat Up at Enterprise Connect

As we’ve worked to prepare for Enterprise Connect sessions, the question of how AI will impact the contact center agent population has become one of the more provocative issues we’ve encountered. Most people will hedge their answers by saying at least that AI won’t completely replace agents anytime soon. But this is a volatile area, and we’re seeing signs that the impact will not be small, and may not be distant.

To set the stage, it’s clear that contact centers are turning to AI to deal with the chronic agent shortage. In an Enterprise Connect/No Jitter webinar this week (sponsored by Cognigy), Robin Gareiss, CEO and principal analyst at Metrigy, offered up survey findings that demonstrate this movement is already under way. When Metrigy asked enterprises, “Is AI filling the gap between company growth and lack of agents to handle growth? 84.2% said Yes.

So what exactly is happening? Metrigy asked, “How does AI augment staffing in your contact center?” and got the following responses:

  • Reduces the number of customer interactions requiring live agent support: 51.4%
  • Shortens the time of calls/interactions: 50.5%
  • Reduces the time required for after-call work: 49.2%
  • Helps with scheduling/rescheduling appointments: 48.8%
  • Gives agents advice to meet sales quotas: 41.7%
  • Gives agents recommendations to meet service KPIs: 40.5%
  • None/it doesn't: 2.4%
  • Unsure: 2.8%

So around half of the respondents are using AI in most of the major ways there are to help alleviate agent shortages: Removing workload in the first place; enabling each agent to handle more calls; and helping the agents maintain the quality of their work in terms of sales and service.

Gareiss will be expanding on this information at Enterprise Connect 2024 at the end of the month. She’ll be presenting a session entitled, Job Shifting: Where and How AI is Eliminating and Adding CX Positions, and her session abstract has this noteworthy point: “For years, a key concern about AI is that it would take jobs from people. For the first time in our research, we have started to see measurable layoffs resulting from the use of AI in the contact center.” I’m looking forward to her discussion of these findings.

Given how new this research is, it’s too early to declare a trend, but AI is moving at such speed that enterprises can’t afford to discount the possibility that some of their peers may move quickly to re-think the mix of human and AI. Enterprises need to understand what’s really happening and how fast—and that’s what Enterprise Connect 2024 is all about, whether it’s AI for self-service, “co-pilots”/personal assistants, LLMs, or any of the other issues around AI that are impacting communications and CX.

If we must think in terms of absolutes, then sure, human agents aren’t “going away,” and maybe they never will. For now at least, it’s reasonable to think human agents will continue to be critical to many CX use cases, especially high-value scenarios. “Human in the loop” is the term of the moment, and it makes sense, given that a segment of the population will remain uncomfortable with AI interlocuters. But we’d do well to question our assumptions.

I’m expecting this to be a lively debate at Enterprise Connect 2024 the week of March 25 in Orlando. There’s still time to register and get in on these vital discussions and gain critical information and insights. I hope to see you there!