If you believe today’s AI can fully replace your customer service team, that’s a sure sign you should invest in your team’s training, right now.
The global adoption of AI in business has increased 2.5x over the last five years. More specifically, customer service teams are among the top AI adopters, actively incorporating it in conversation handling, process automation, workforce management, and analytics.
Nearly 60% of customer service professionals agree that AI-driven technology helps them work faster, making AI implementation one of the major areas for investment for organizations all over the world.
But does it mean AI technology is sophisticated enough for you to fully rely on it in your customer service operations? Surely not.
See, great customer experience depends on the human factor — and it’s not going anywhere in the nearest future. With market competition growing non-stop, the human touch is what can help your business stand out and build long-term relationships with your customers.
Despite AI advancements, the technology still lacks features only human agents can offer. Although it does help to deliver faster customer service, it’s also a way to offer impersonalized, robotic communication experience. This is where the need for a balanced approach to AI integration comes in.
To create an excellent customer experience, you need to balance customer service skills with AI capabilities. You should use the technology to enhance your team’s effectiveness, not to replace the human element.
But to make it all work, you need to start by developing the key human-centric skills in your team. Here’s how you do it.
Understanding AI Limitations in Customer Support
You need to understand what exactly AI can’t do for you to figure out the skills you need to cultivate in your customer service agents.
Lack of emotional intelligence and empathy
Emotional intelligence and empathy enable customer service teams to connect with customers on a deeper level, understand their needs and feelings, and respond appropriately to their queries and concerns. AI-powered customer service tools aren’t able to capture and decipher emotions, thus failing to provide consciously empathic attention to your customers.
At the moment, only human agents can understand the emotional nuances of customer communication and show true empathy in their interactions with customers.
Difficulty in understanding and interpreting nuanced language or sarcasm
Another differentiator between AI and human intelligence is the ability to understand the subtle nuances and variations in meaning that can exist in human communication.
Oftentimes, a frustrated customer will use sarcasm or another unconventional turn of phrase that AI can’t pick up and provide a helpful response. This will only increase the irritation of the unsatisfied customer, resulting in a negative customer experience.
You can train your AI-powered bot to recognize nuanced language though, but you can hardly expect to cover every potential case.
Inability to solve complex issues
While AI is capable of providing guidance on the processes and workflows that you’ve documented, it’s not good at resolving complex issues that require analyzing the root cause, identifying the best solution, and most importantly, taking action.
Dependence on human intervention for decision-making
AI may be able to analyze vast amounts of data to make informed decisions, but it doesn’t help in ambiguous situations.
Imagine this — someone reaches out to your customer service team asking to extend their free trial. How does AI decide whether a reason is significant enough to approve the request? Only a human agent who understands all the potential benefits (or their absence) of extending a free trial for this particular person can make the right decision in this case.
All things considered, AI is a powerful tool to take the burden off your customer service team and let them focus on tasks that require human attention.
Core Customer Service Skills to Outshine AI
To remain irreplaceable, a customer service agent needs the following skills:
- Empathy to understand and share your customers’ feelings
- Emotional intelligence to recognize and respond to emotionally charged situations
- Critical thinking to analyze verbal and non-verbal cues to find the best answers to customers’ requests
- Decision-making to resolve issues in the most effective way and take responsibility for their decisions
- Creativity to come up with unconventional solutions to complex problems
- Conflict resolution to manage stressful situations and turn unsatisfied customers into happy ones
- Persuasion to encourage customers to take specific actions
- Long-term vision to consider the big picture when making decisions at any level
These customer service soft skills should help agents to provide a positive customer experience and make the best decisions from the business standpoint.
Advanced Communication Techniques to Enhance Human Interactions
Human agents can do things AI can’t grasp yet. They don’t always play by the book, and that’s their biggest advantage.
If you haven’t done so yet, introduce your customer service team to the following communication techniques to practice their customer support skills and build rapport with customers in a way AI can’t do.
1. Storytelling to build rapport and connect with customers
Storytelling isn’t solely a marketing technique. You can use it in your customer service interactions to illustrate complex concepts or ideas in a way that is easy for customers to understand and relate to.
For example, a customer service agent might share a story about a similar issue they or another customer had, and how they resolved that issue together.
Say a customer comes to you because someone has archived a file in their project management tool and they don’t know how to restore it. Here an agent may start a conversation with “Sorry to hear that! My son has deleted a folder from my account, but I got it restored fast. Here’s how…”
Such a simple storytelling method will add a human touch to the conversation and help the customer see the real people behind the brand, helping to establish a stronger connection.
2. Mirroring and matching to establish rapport and trust
Mirroring customers’ energy and tone can also create a sense of understanding and empathy, helping to diffuse tense situations and build trust. Of course, it doesn’t relate to cases when your customers are irritated or aggressive.
The technique is effective when you need to build rapport fast and convince customers to do something (e.g. upgrade to a more expensive plan). It may involve reflecting customers’ actions, repeating some of the words they use most often, or even mirroring their manner of speaking in a subtle way to show customers you’re on the same page.
3. Assertive communication to maintain control and set boundaries
There’s no question a customer service agent should be polite. But they should also be confident and assertive when necessary (don’t confuse with aggressive).
Opposed to weakness and passiveness, an assertive communication style is a way of expressing oneself confidently and straightforwardly. Customer service agents should apply it when dealing with requests that can’t be resolved or in other cases when they need to be direct but empathic.
There are quite a few ways to practice assertive communication, and the most popular are:
- Applying the “broken record” method — calmly repeating your last statement as many times as needed for a person to realize you really mean what you’re saying
- Using “I” statements — starting sentences with “I” to show you take ownership of the situation
- Expressing empathy — acknowledging you understand your communicator’s point
4. Conflict resolution and de-escalation strategies
AI can’t handle angry customers. But your customer service agents can. With these de-escalation strategies, they can effectively resolve conflicts and turn negative customer experiences into positive ones.
- Active listening — a frustrated customer should be able to explain the problem without being interrupted
- Asking questions — this will not only help agents to identify the root of a problem but also show their involvement
- Acknowledging the problem — an agent should reassure a customer they’re fully understood
- Apologizing — no matter what happened, an agent should express they’re sorry to hear about the inconvenience
- Staying neutral — there’s no scenario where a customer service agent can lose their temper
Even if a customer request can’t be solved for some reason, the customer should close the conversation with a feeling the agent has done everything they could to help them.
Building a Training Program for Customer Service Agents
You can’t just find professionals with the necessary skillset and never spend a cent to develop their skills. Well, technically, you can — but you should be ready for incredibly high employee turnover, let alone poor customer experience.
To build a customer service team that no AI solution can replace, you need to regularly train your agents, focusing on human-centric skills in the first place. You can design and maintain a consistent customer service training program in five steps:
- Identify skill gaps. Begin by assessing your employees’ current skill sets. You can use questionnaires, one-on-one interviews, performance reviews, or everything at once.
- Choose training methods. You need to implement several training methods in your development program to make it engaging and fit the different learning styles of your employees. The most popular training methods for customer service teams are instructor-led training, role-playing, and team-building activities.
- Develop a separate training program for each skill. Each human-centric skill requires a dedicated training program so that learners can fully adopt it.
- Measure learners’ knowledge regularly. Run skill check-ins to set the direction for your next training initiative.
- Monitor the impact of employee training on customer experience. Measure customer satisfaction before running a training initiative and a few months after it’s complete — if the metrics don’t improve, consider adjusting your training methods.
How to Balance AI with Human Touch
It’s true that AI can’t replace human agents. But it’s also true that customer support teams need AI to stay productive and competitive. So it seems you only have one option — that is to find a way to balance human and AI-powered customer service.
Here are some ways to integrate AI into your customer service processes while maintaining the human touch.
Create an AI chatbot and let customers choose who they want to talk to
There’s no denying that AI-powered chatbots are revolutionizing the industry. They offer faster resolution time than human agents and are way less “robotic” than rule-based bots. So there’s no reason not to use one as an assistant for your customer service agents.
Design a chat flow where customers are able to choose between talking to a bot and a human agent (it’s also a great way to see whether your customers prefer human touch over fast resolution or vice versa). For instance, when a person needs help with setting up an account and doesn’t feel like searching for your knowledge base, they may be more than happy to interact with a bot. But when facing complex issues, they’ll rather speak to a human agent.
Use AI-powered data analytics to personalize customer interactions
You can surely entrust AI to dig into a wealth of customer data and identify patterns and trends in your customer behavior.
AI-powered data analytics will help you drive valuable customer insights through:
- Customer segmentation. You can use AI to create more targeted audience segments and save your team time for tasks that require more creativity — e.g. personalizing customer interactions for each segment.
- Predictive analytics. By analyzing historical data, AI algorithms can predict your customers’ future behavior, such as their likelihood to churn or get an upgrade. You can use these insights to proactively address customer issues and provide personalized offers.
- Sentiment analysis. AI-powered sentiment analysis involves digging into customer feedback to understand people’s emotions and opinions about the company and its products.
Using AI for customer service analytics will not only save you a lot of time but also help you personalize customer interactions and improve customer experience.
Professional customer service still outweighs AI
The human touch not only remains an inevitable part of great customer service but also gets even more imperative as AI gets hold of customer interactions in more and more organizations worldwide.
Customers want to feel heard, and AI doesn’t provide them with that feeling yet. AI customer service remains robotic, lacking the empathy customers are looking for when they turn to you for help.
By investing in the development of human-centric skills in your customer service team, you’ll gain a competitive advantage over companies that can’t see the significance of personalized customer interactions. You’ll also build strong customer relationships and improve the overall customer experience.
And what about AI? Use it to automate routine processes and free up your team’s time for more meaningful, creative tasks. Blend AI-powered insights with human experience in your customer service to get the best of both worlds using Helpwise.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
How to improve customer service skills?
You need to invest in training your customer support agents to improve their skills. Team-based learning is one of the best methods for soft skill training — consider incorporating it into your employee development program.
What are human-centric skills?
Human-centric skills, also known as soft skills, refer to human qualities and knowledge obtained through social experiences. These include empathy, creativity, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, etc. These are skills that AI doesn’t have.
How can AI improve customer service?
You can use AI to help your customer service agents handle routine tasks, not to replace them. The most common use cases of customer service AI are conversational chatbots and AI-powered data analytics.