“Historically, resistance to technologies that threatened workers’ skills has been the rule rather than the exception,” writes Oxford Fellow Dr. Carl Benedikt Frey for MIT Sloan. Today it’s no different. In a recent Pew survey, 72 percent of American respondents expressed worry about a future in which robots can do many human jobs.
While bots provide many advantages—chatbots, for instance, are on track to save businesses $11.5 billion by 2023—it’s not surprising that customer support workers might have some misgivings. No one wants to feel as though their skills and abilities might soon be obsolete. But support agents should feel reassured by recent research that demonstrates their jobs aren’t going away anytime soon. And when it comes to adopting bots into their workflows, there are nothing but advantages. Here’s why.
Support agents need not be too concerned about automation. “Personal or direct-caring occupations seem quite durable,” says the Brookings Institution’s Mark Muro. Academic research backs him up: A University of Oxford study finds that careers, like customer support, which involve high “social perceptiveness” and “assisting and caring for others” are unlikely to be automated because they present such a significant engineering bottleneck. Not to mention that it’s what customers want—surveys show that customers still overwhelmingly prefer speaking to a human agent, especially when it comes to complex problems.
Bots are also ideal for handling simple-but-time-consuming queries within conversations. For example, need to capture the customer's name, email address, account number and address while you’re conversing with them? Have a bot do it for you instead. Agents can simply activate a bot to handle tasks within a conversation. This allows them to focus on other queries while the bot seamlessly gathers info and returns to the conversation once its task is complete.
Most people are drawn to customer support because they enjoy interacting with people and love the challenge of solving interesting problems—not because they want to answer the same simple question dozens of times a day. Bots are ideal for handling repetitive, high-volume queries such as "Where's my order?" or "What's my flight status?" This means human agents are free to handle more complex queries that require empathy and problem-solving.
Concerns about skilled workers being replaced by machines have been around for thousands of years. But by all indications, customer support agents’ abilities will be in demand for a long time. In spite of cultural anxieties, there’s no bot that can replace human social skills and emotional intelligence. In fact, bots provide a huge number of advantages to customer support agents. They allow humans to hand off repetitive tasks so they can get back to what they do best: Providing empathy and solving difficult problems. Support agents can rest assured—bots aren’t going to replace them, they’re going to make their jobs better.