AI Can Help Boost Agents' Emotional Intelligence
To succeed as a customer support agent, a person needs a lot of things: a quick mind, a thick skin and the ability to improvise when necessary. People come in all temperaments, and customer support agents often encounter people when they’re not at their best: chances are good that something has broken, stopped working, gotten lost or didn’t meet expectations. Tempers often run high, and soothing irritated customers is one of the most critical skills a contact center agent can have. Ensuring agents get it right most of the time is the responsibility of call center management.
When hiring and training contact center agents, some managers are recognizing the value of what’s called “emotional intelligence.” This is defined as a person’s ability to understand their own emotions in relation to the emotions of another person, and to then adjust one’s behavior based on that information. (Understanding that telling an angry customer to “calm down” may only make the situation worse, for example. No one in the history of the world has ever calmed down when ordered to do so.)
In a recent article for Media Post, Laurie Petersen interviewed Josh Feast, CEO and co-founder of real-time emotional intelligence technology provider Cogito, and he noted that the only thing more valuable in a customer support agent than emotional intelligence is the ability to use it in the moment (rather than upon reflection afterwards, when it’s too late).
“Real-time emotional intelligence refers to the ability to do these things in the moment; for example, on a phone call between an agent and a customer,” said Feast.
While it would be nice to staff the contact center entirely with people with brilliant real-time emotional intelligence, it’s simply not possible. Emotional intelligence can be taught and learned, to a certain degree, but technology can also help. Specifically, according to Feast, artificial intelligence, or AI, that is rooted in behavioral science.
“For low-value, low-complexity service inquiries, AI can improve the accuracy of responses in self-service channels, detecting what your inquiry may pertain to in a website or app, and automatically presenting a resolution it deems most aligned to your inquiry,” he said. “For sophisticated inquiries — which make up about 75 percent of the total — AI augments call center agent skills to better interpret the customer’s needs and respond in a way that builds rapport, trust, and a deeper emotional connection.”
Humans may not be able to pick up on every customer cue each time. Contact center agents are expected to do many things at once: be polite and helpful to the customer, project confidence and issue the right responses, all while looking up solutions or answers on their desktops.
“AI helps agents become better attuned to customers’ perceptions on calls and helps better guide them to adjust their speaking style,” said Feast. “This ultimately ensures a better call for the customer and increased job satisfaction for the agent.”
Automated systems are unlikely to be able to handle very complex queries…at least, not anytime in the future. For this reason, it’s wise to blend AI with human judgement to make the perfect climate for emotional intelligence when handling customer interactions.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi