Wait Times: How AI Helps Customer Service Teams Win the Waiting Game

Written by Amy Wallace  on   Jun 22, 2022

Customer service is notoriously a waiting game. This has been more rampant in recent years, with a stretched labor pool and staff shortages across numerous industries. Canada’s federal government has warned of long wait times for passports, due to the surge in the number of applications since COVID-19 border measures were relaxed (the number of Canadians applying for passports is 40 times higher than it was pre-pandemic). On a recent Monday morning, more than 100 people lined up at the passport office in downtown Montreal, some arriving as early as 11:00 p.m. the night before, some who also spent hours waiting on the phone beforehand. Service Canada, the government office that provides access to such services, hired 600 new employees to help sift through the influx of paperwork, and additional service counters have been added at more than 300 centers. The government said that it is receiving more than 200,000 calls per day for passport requests at Service Canada!

Lengthy customer wait times are attracting the attention of lawmakers. In a move to eliminate the “administrative labyrinths” faced by customers when they contact company call centers, a new customer service law in Spain limits the time that customers are put on hold to a maximum of three minutes. Companies that fall under the basic service sector, including those providing water, internet, transport and electricity, will need to guarantee 24-hour call center service, on all days of the week.

“Customer services far too often cause endless headaches for Spanish families, because far too many companies create bureaucratic labyrinths to stop you from exercising your right to service. These difficulties also represent an enormous waste of energy, time and money for the families, [with] many being resigned to giving up on their rights.”

– Alberto Garzón, Spain’s Consumer Affairs Minister

The logical solution would be to hire additional support staff to assist with customer queries in a timely and proactive fashion. Yet, with a little help from AI, wait times in customer service can be drastically reduced.

AI: Giving Time Back to Customers and Agents When it is Needed the Most

Enable businesses to scale, without the added headcount

AI-powered solutions afford teams the ability to quickly scale up and down without adding expensive, short-term hires, and to deal with expected and unexpected spikes in tickets, to be better prepared for busy times.

A seamless and streamlined escalation path to human agents

There are a number of ways that human and virtual agents can work in tandem, as the ultimate dynamic duo. At the center of a customer support bubble, the AI-powered virtual assistant works alongside human agents to offer support and escalate issues as needed, drastically reducing the need for additional labor, and streamlining the ticket triaging process. Here’s how this process works:

  • When a query is received, such as a request for passport renewal, the AI-powered virtual assistant swiftly categorizes and prioritizes these tickets. As this type of query is fairly basic and repeatable, the live chatbot is able to resolve the issue without human intervention. Or, it can route it to the right agent, as needed.
  • Alternatively, AI agents can also help agents with more complex tickets by doing basic ‘prep’ work, such as gathering order details from the customer, prior to involving an agent.
  • The human touch factor in customer service is essential (consider Spain’s proposed customer service law), which is why it is imperative to always offer an escalation path to human agents, based on topic, user sentiment, customer profile, or when a customer asks to converse with one. Additionally, some companies have business policies that mandate a human be involved in certain decisions (such as refunds and exchanges), in which case, the AI needs to escalate these queries to a human agent. Escalation may also be required when the customer has a premium membership and the SLAs require a live human agent for certain interactions. Similarly, if an issue is fairly complex or involves sensitive information, a human agent would need to take the lead.

In Service Canada’s passport situation, the sheer volume of similar support tickets received means that AI will have a wealth of historical data from which to learn, such as chat records and common questions posed by customers, which will result in its enhanced performance. This efficiency improves the experience of agents themselves, helping them feel more engaged and productive in their roles (because there are only so many repetitive passport applications a person can sanely handle). The process also frees up human agents to focus on resolving more complex issues that necessitate a human touch, such as assisting an elderly customer who is not at all tech-savvy.

A tremendous time-saver, AI-based ticket classification and the automatic routing of incoming customer contacts to the right agent can save agents up to 1.2 hours per day!

Limit wait times for customers

According to call-center analytics firm CallMiner, the average length of a service call rose by several minutes since the pandemic began. Dwindling patience is evident among customers, especially in the fast-paced and digital world of today. Research from Netomi discovered that 39% of people have less patience now than they did before the pandemic, with 43% reporting that long wait times are the most frustrating aspect of customer service. What’s more, issues are resolved in a single interaction just under 35% of the time, meaning that customers resort to reaching out to customer service teams for a second time, thus spawning a cycle that results in more wait times and a greater number of tickets.

Paving the way for customer self-service to occur, the AI can help customers resolve issues by themselves by surfacing the right content to common queries, at the right time (such as how-to articles and FAQs). This, in turn, will reduce wait times.

Customer Service Wait Times, Be Gone (Or At Least, Minimized)

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a revaluation of many aspects of life, from working and living situations, and perhaps most significantly, offered customers a good hard look at the concept of time and how it should best be spent. When it comes to customer service, customer standards have risen, and customer service support teams need to meet customer desires for quick service. By being at the frontline of customer support, AI-powered virtual assistants play a leading role in reducing customer service tickets, by immediately resolving queries, or funnelling tickets through the triaging process to ensure that each one gets into the right hands.