Customer Service Rep Growth Predictions – How Will AI Affect Job Numbers?

Customer Service Jobs

The impact AI will have on the human workforce is at odds with the panic-stricken headlines we read. The rise of AI will enhance employee value, not diminish it. In customer service, the effect on the human agent’s role will be significant. 

Over the next 10 years, it’s anticipated that there will be a 2% decrease in customer service representative jobs in the United States. This is where the headlines tend to focus and frighten readers, but there is much more to the story. Where do those people go? 

We investigated and found a surprising wrinkle that may change the way AI is viewed. Over this same timeframe, there will be a 7% increase in management roles, according to data from the Department of Labor1. Yes, it seems many entry-level, low paying jobs will be replaced by higher-level, higher paying positions. 

AI taking jobs? Why the current storyline is misinformed 

Some are panicking that AI will take away millions of jobs – from accounting to manufacturing – but this does not paint the full picture. From our 6th-grade science class, we learned about The Conservation of Mass and Energy. The law states: matter is neither created nor destroyed. Though the law doesn’t touch on the conservation of jobs, the theory holds its ground. For example, while many brick-and-mortar retail jobs have disappeared over the past few years, the decline has been offset by job creation from e-retailers like Amazon, who hire thousands in delivery management and warehouse positions. 

In reality, AI will help humans work faster and smarter. Doing things like pulling and analyzing data in real-time to help people make quicker decisions. (This is being done from medical diagnosis to helping accountants file tax returns swiftly and with more accuracy).  

In addition to augmenting human work, AI will also create new opportunities for the human workforce.  During a panel at the recent Mobile World Congress, Google’s Behshad Behzadi likened this to the flight attendant. Before commercial airlines and flying was prevalent, he argued, we never would have imagined the job of a flight attendant. Like the popularization of the commercial jet, AI will inspire many unforeseen job creation opportunities. 

PwC predicts that AI will create over 7.2 million jobs in the U.K. alone over the next two decades. And according to McKinsey, about 77% of companies “expect no net change in the size of their workforces in either Europe or the United States as a result of adopting automation and AI technologies. Indeed, more than 17% expect their workforces on both sides of the Atlantic to grow.”

The AI impact on customer service

It’s clear that AI will have an impact on many of today’s jobs, but why is the role of the customer service representative changing so drastically? It’s because customer care is one of the first areas where AI adoption among businesses has already started. Here are a few key reasons why AI adoption in customer service make sense: 

  • Customer service is a real business issue that needs to be resolved: Customers expect quicker and more convenient support on an increasing number of channels, 24/7. In the last year, 78% of U.S. consumers have stopped doing business with at least 1 company or scrapped a planned purchase based on poor customer service. 
  • AI in customer service is scalable, at near-zero marginal cost: It’s cost-prohibitive for companies of all sizes to hire a human-only team to scale the support that customers expect around the clock as volume increases. Whereas, an AI Agent can respond to an indefinite number of customers simultaneously.
  • Customer service training data is plentiful: An abundance of data from past customer service emails, chat and phone logs can be used to bootstrap AI training. Moreover, new data – in the form of “tickets” –  is continuously generated, enabling an AI to continuously improve and learn. 
  • AI can accurately perform tasks: McKinsey reports that 29% of customer service agent duties have the potential to automate customer service with technology.

All of these ingredients come together to create an ideal recipe for a successful implementation of AI. The impact on the human workforce, though, will be felt by employees. But not the way you’d imagine. 

Why AI can turn customer service from short-term jobs into long-term careers

Agents get burned out, which leads to customer service having one of the highest turnover rates of any profession. Agent attrition rates have been on the rise since 2013, reaching 30% in 20172

Agents are paid minimum wage (or not much higher), work long hours and have a lot of repeatability in their day (we find that, on average, over 50% of tickets span the same 5-7 issues). More than ever before, agents are under pressure to resolve issues quickly. To do so, they must navigate through complex business systems. Considering agents often feel undervalued, isolated and easily replaceable, it’s not surprising that agent turnover is so high. 

Bringing AI into the workforce can reduce agent attrition by removing mundane tasks from their responsibility. They focus on solving high-level, complex problems and it’s reported that they find more satisfaction in their work. AI Agents become their wingman –  available to help an agent work smarter and faster, by doing tasks like recommending actions or gathering information from CRM and other systems to help them make a decision. This will help a company respond better to these higher-level issues – maintaining customer happiness while also protecting the brand’s reputation.  

Beyond augmenting the tasks that agents perform in the short-term, AI will propel the agent role from an entry-level position into a higher-level management position. 

AI in the customer service workforce brings a new generation of managers 

As mentioned above, employment of customer service representatives is projected to shrink 2% from 2018 to 2028 as a bi-product of AI-adoption. This decrease in customer service roles is well below the average occupation, which sits at a ~5% growth3.  

Customer Service Jobs

During this same 10-year period, customer service representative positions will be replaced by higher-paying management positions; moving the median wage needle from $33,750 to $104,2404 . So what will the future agent role entail?

Customer Service Jobs

The human workers within the customer service department will be training AI agents and monitoring AI performance. AI platforms are becoming more advanced with self-service training capabilities, that require no coding skills. Customer service employees will be tasked with ensuring an AI is classifying a customer’s intent correctly, training new queries and developing user journeys, and helping an AI better understand the sentiment and context of a situation.

AI is changing the workforce. And the future looks bright for human workers. 

The nuances of how we speak about the impact AI will have on the human workforce are incredibly important. We need to be discussing AI as a domineering influence that will help employees better perform their jobs in the short-term, and significantly impact the higher-level jobs and compensation. 

References 

  1. Department of Labor: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/home.htm
  2. Contact Babel: http://www.contactbabel.com/pdfs/july16/US-CC-DMG-2017.pdf 
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/customer-service-representatives.htm#tab-6 
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/customer-service-representatives.htm#tab-6

Dylan Max

Head of Growth Marketing

Dylan is an expert at analyzing data, studying trends, and executing creative marketing strategies. His insights on people and technology interactions have been featured in publications like Beyond AI, Towards Data Science, CMSWire, and Forbes.

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