Today, many companies worldwide are doubling down 1 on their reskilling and upskilling efforts, and equipping employees with the crucial skills that they need to thrive in the world of work today.
Here, we review the key skills that customer service agents need to hone, in today’s ever-evolving landscape of work.
How Technologies are Changing the Game, when it Comes to Essential Customer Service Skills
As businesses adopt AI across their organizations, the skill set of the human workforce will also need to evolve 2 alongside it, as their focus and scope of work will shift.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 3, as adoption of technology increases, 50% of all employees will require reskilling by 2025. Among the top skills of 2025 include critical thinking and analysis, complex problem-solving, as well as creativity, originality and initiative. Several skills related to self-management are also emerging, such as resilience, active learning, flexibility, and stress tolerance. Moreover, a study 4 from Korn Ferry found that, by 2030, there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people (which is roughly equivalent to the population of Germany)!
During discussions that took place at the Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, various experts agreed: 5 hospitality, management and creativity constitute three advanced abilities that cannot be substituted by AI. While rapidly advancing AI technologies will eventually replace these abilities at rudimentary levels, it will become essential to develop and refine more sophisticated abilities in these areas so that AI cannot replace them. In the hospitality industry, for instance, AI can take over standardized services such as information services, booking and concierge-services. Yet, for this reason, human workers in hospitality will need to acquire more advanced skills that AI can’t replicate.
So, it is time for customer service agents to focus on building out skill sets that AI cannot, and should not, perform. With this in mind, what are some essential customer service skills that cannot be replicated by AI?
How can you seamlessly integrate AI into your workforce, to give your customer service agents superpowers, allowing their skills related to resilience, creativity, and problem-solving to flourish? Explore our ROI calculator to discover how much increase in tickets your team can handle with your current headcount by adding Netomi’s AI to your support team!
Essential customer service skills unique to humans
Setting an overall customer support strategy, such as identifying KPIs to monitor, mapping the customer journey by identifying all key touchpoints, and investing in a robust customer service toolkit are all tasks that humans can do. While AIs can be trained to execute various tasks and knowledge work, such as sending a prompt to a customer that it is time to install the latest software update on their laptop or immediately resolving a query like order status, humans can excel at looking at the big picture, problem solving, and using data to make informed decisions.
While AI has helped with 6 composing songs and mimicking the styles of great painters, for now, it stays relegated to the role of assistant and master orchestrator. While it can observe and learn from 7 data to gain creative skills in areas such as drawing, musical composition, and writing, it will not be able to truly replicate a human’s ability to inspire, create, and invent. There are times when customer service agents will need to flex their creative skills, such as sending a well-written holiday card to long-term customers.
As humans, we are all unique and bring to the table our own strengths and keen observations. We can actively listen intently to, and build rapport with customers. Sometimes a human touch is essential, such as when dealing with an exhausted and angry customer who is frantically trying to cancel an airline ticket, and in such situations, conversing with a machine will not suffice. For instance, a customer may be struggling to file a tax return for her elderly mother. Having a parent with dementia, the customer agent assisting with the claim may be more apt to understand her situation, and the two can connect on a deeper level. This level of empathy is nearly impossible for an AI to replicate (read more about synthetic empathy 8, and how it often slows down the completion of a task).
When designing dialogue for chatbots, we can show empathy by showing that a user’s situation is understood (i.e. ‘I’m sorry that you’re having trouble streaming the game. Let’s look into this!), however, there should never be an attempt at displaying empathy beyond that.
An AI-powered chatbot can easily respond to repeatable queries, yet human agents can excel in analysis, prioritization, and troubleshooting, in taking a degree of ownership over the issue at hand. In fact, 29% of customers believe 9 that the ability to handle requests without the need for transfers or escalations is one of the most important skills for a representative. Perhaps a customer service agent may be handed a unique query, one in which there is no standard resolution procedure 10. In such situations, a little ingenuity and innovation might be required. Can the root cause behind a customer’s issue be identified? Does the agent foresee any related issues?
For instance, a customer may inquire whether a certain brand of swimwear is made from all-natural fibers, information that they are unable to find on the website. Rather than responding with the standard answer of ‘no’, upon further conversation the agent may discover that the customer has a skin allergy to spandex, a common swimwear fabric, and suggest an alternate product that solely makes organic, hypoallergenic swimwear.
As pointed out in a World Economic Forum article 5, AI is set to supplant workers in tasks such as financial management, materials management, human resource management and project management, which will steer people towards more advanced management tasks that cannot be replaced by AI, including:
- Growth management – referring to the ability of managers and leaders to support members of their workforce in developing their skills and growing professionally (related to coaching). An example of this may include training sessions for customer service agents to hone their tech skills and teach them about a company’s new software.
- Mind management – referring to the ability to support members of an organization in distress when they suffer from issues arising from interpersonal relationships or other problems. For example, agents who actively listen to and support a colleague who dealt with a difficult situation.
- Collective intelligence management – referring to the ability of leaders to manage employees by encouraging them to share their knowledge and expertise in a collaborative setting, and facilitating the emergence of new ideas that arise from such an activity. An example of this would be a manager holding a group brainstorming activity for agents to come up with new ideas for boosting customer loyalty.
AI and the changing nature of customer service work, with humans at the center
Customer service is at a critical point. For decades, the job remained relatively unchanged. However, with new tools like email, agent desk platforms and, now AI, the job looks completely different than it did not too long ago. AI has the potential to make the job more fulfilling, as it will require higher-level thinking and training.
As Tyrone Smith, from a Harvard Business Review article 11 explains, “With the increasing support of technology and digital transformation, today’s most engaged employees are also constantly acquiring new skills and crossing previously well-defined lines to boost productivity and work quality….expanding beyond narrow job titles will be a critical aspect of the digital workplace as it’s streamlined by automated technology.” That is, conventional job titles will evolve to fit with the new business landscape of today, the title of “customer service agent” may morph into “Practical Director of the Customer Experience,” for instance.
While AI and other technologies will transform how we work, humans will remain firmly at the center of nearly every occupation. In order to expand beyond the narrow job titles of the past, it is up to leaders to encourage and invest in technologies that complement the work of employees, automate mundane tasks so the human workforce can leverage the skills that are uniquely human: creativity, complex problem solving, strategizing and empathy. Leaders need to implement more robust training to help the members of their workforce thrive and adapt to change.
With AI taking care of the mundane tasks, agents can concentrate on boosting their essential customer service skills in critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and resilience, and transcend those traditional job titles.