How is Agent Assist Different From…

CRM, Contact Center Software, Workforce Optimization, Conversational AI and RPA.
The race to assist agents is on.

What Sets Agent Assist Apart?

We already know that software for contact center agents is not a new thing. For example, companies already use software for contact centers, workforce management, speech analytics, knowledge management and customer relationship management. So, many contact center leaders are confused with the role of agent assist.
What does agent assist replace, and what does it complement? Furthermore, how does agent assistance compare to other new technologies and contact center trends, such as contact center AI and robotic process automation? This section answers those questions.
real time conversational ai

The Role of Agent Assist in the Modern Contact Center

Learn how agent assist, a specialized set of technologies, complements your existing contact center tech stack to assist your agents in real-time.

The Growing Need for Agent Assistance Today

The modern contact center is no longer just about solving customer service issues. The pandemic has highlighted the rising importance of the contact center, as a center of profit, as well as a center of customer insight. Contact center leaders recognize the difference their best agents can make not only to the bottom line of their operation, but also to the overall growth of the business. In a recent report on the ROI of CX Transformation, Forrester revealed that customers are 10 times more likely to recommend when employees answer all customer questions, and 2.4 times more likely to stay when companies solve customer problems more quickly.
Successful contact centers are driven by knowledgeable agents who can quickly and effectively resolve issues. Staffing the contact center with representatives who can answer any question and address complex problems is essential for creating a great customer experience.
By and large, companies recognize this fact, spending an enormous amount of time and energy hiring, training, onboarding, and retaining qualified agents who can consistently meet customer needs. Recent shifts in the contact center and the work-from-home normal have made the job of a contact center agent and that of the contact center manager far more challenging.

Current Solutions for Assisting Agents Are Limited

Agent Assist Customer Interactions
The current approach of training, coaching, and enabling agents is heavily focused on helping agents before and after live customer interactions, leaving agents in a void during customer interactions. Many contact center leaders recognize the importance of enabling and empowering their remote contact center workforce. According to Call Centre Helper’s 2020 Fall Survey, contact center managers have been very busy rolling out initiatives to create multi-skilled agents, enable knowledge champions, and organize agent buddies. Other notable programs include e-learning and a complete revamp of knowledge bases to feature more dynamic content that would hopefully deliver actionable assistance to agents during customer interactions.

4 Types of Complexities Agents Struggle With

Read Gartner's analysis of contact center interactions and the types of resolutions that require more advanced agent assistance solutions.
However, despite best intentions and widespread use of workforce optimization and knowledge management tools, agents are more stressed than ever to handle complex requests from customers. According to Calabrio, 60% of contact center agents stated they needed access to more helpful tools to successfully handle complex customer interactions, and 20% said they needed more in-depth training. Demand for this level of support is largely driven by the complexity of customer requests: 56% reported that dealing with these types of issues was the most difficult part of their job. As such, agent stress levels continue to be relatively high across the industry, increasing the risk of burnout and turnover. A 2020 McKinsey & Company report revealed that average contact center turnover rates could reach as high as 60%.
Contact center leaders are beginning to recognize that there is a limit to the results they can expect from pumping more effort into the same tools and programs they have relied on for all these years. The modern contact center is drowning in complexity and needs a better approach.

Agents Today Need Real-Time Agent Assist Tools

Traditional workforce engagement solutions still greatly emphasize workforce management, performance management, quality management and workforce optimization. Agent assistance and task management is clearly defined as one of the six critical workforce engagement management capabilities by Gartner. The leading providers of workforce engagement management score poorly in this particular domain of agent assistance, because WEM solutions were never designed to assist agents in real-time during customer interactions. The need for real-time assistance has grown as a function of the growing complexity in the contact center. Fortunately, advances in conversational AI and automation have made dynamic agent assist tools a modern reality for the millions of stressed agents and for the contact center leaders looking to unburden them.
Technologies that help drive engagement through interaction assistance (such as next best action, unified desktop, and process guidance and automation) have become an essential dimension of workforce engagement management beyond traditional agent management functions.
For agents to succeed under current conditions, contact centers need to shift their agent assistance strategies so they help staff during live interactions rather than rely on follow-up reviews after a call has ended. Even e-learning, micro-courses, preemptive training, and knowledge sharing will not offer the same instructive value and customer experience benefits as real-time assistance.
3 Steps for Dynamic Agent Assistance
  • Assist: Guide agents on next best actions and deliver a consistent customer experience regardless of interaction complexity
  • Understand: Understand what customers really need, not just what they say
  • Automate: Rapidly integrate your disparate tech stack, and automate mundane tasks for your agents
  • Role of Agent Assist in Your Contact Center

    With Agent Assist, contact center leaders can take an agile approach toward boosting agent performance. Once you have the apparatus to assist agents in real-time during challenging customer interactions, it is much easier to identify opportunities for additional improvement, and to execute on those opportunities as well. There should not be a need for disjointed interaction analytics systems and process improvement programs which take months to yield results. In many cases, the effort required to implement changes is so high that many process improvement programs are dead on arrival. No wonder, contact center leaders repeatedly say that they do not have enough budget to run their dream contact center. The solution lies in taking a different approach — an assistance-first approach toward running the modern contact center.
    agent assist real time
    What if you could hypothesize ways to make every agent in your contact center perform like your best agent, build the necessary real-time assistance solutions, test them in a live environment and validate your hypothesis and move on to the next one?
    Using a no-code designer and a low-code integration center, you can integrate with your existing systems, and automate tasks, processes, and conversations. Deliver much needed guidance to your agents on handling next best actions and managing complex conversations in a dynamic manner. The right real-time assistance solution should help you get started in days, launch in weeks, test, and iterate relentlessly until you make every agent your best agent.

    How Agent Assist Compares to Other Solutions

    Hopefully, it is clear by now that contact center leaders can transform their operations by taking an assistance-first approach to battling complexity in the modern contact center. However, with several agent assist-type tools currently in the market, there may be some confusion over the capabilities—and limitations—of each. In this section, we intend to provide some perspective on the relative strengths and weaknesses of different types of solutions that make up the current contact center tech stack.
    Want to know what makes Agent Assist different from CRM, workforce optimization and other agent assistance tools? We explain these capabilities and a framework for selecting the right Agent Assist solution in subsequent sections of this definitive guide.
    Contact Center Platform
    Workforce Optimization
    Knowledge Management
    Contact Center AI
    Robotic Process Automation
    Agent Assist
    Real-time Conversational AI
    Robotic Desktop Automation
    Scripting & Process Guidance
    Workflow Automation
    Knowledge Integration
    Digital Customer Engagement
    Intelligent Virtual Agent
    Flexible & Modular UX
    Context Store
    Usage Reporting & Analytics
    Meets Requirements
    Capability Exists, But Does Not Meet Requirements
    Relevant Capability Not Available

    Agent Assist and Contact Center Software

    Contact center systems deliver the required infrastructure to get customers connected with agents on any given channel and serve as the system of engagement. Many contact center systems already have a module for workforce management and performance optimization, which is why contact center leaders wonder whether they really need a specialized Agent Assist to run their modern contact centers.
    If you dig into the design and capabilities, you’ll find that while contact center systems provide indispensable value to any contact center, the reality is that they fall short in assisting agents do their jobs well. Contact center systems are designed and optimized for a very different purpose, which is what creates the whitespace for specialized agent assist solutions.

    How is Agent Assist Different From Contact Center Software?

    Contact center software specializes in helping customers connect with contact center agents. It is not designed to assist agents in real-time — during challenging customer interactions.

    Agent Assist and Contact Center Software
    Agent Assist is a real-time system of action that makes every agent your best agent, by guiding agents on next best actions and automating tasks based on real-time recognition of customer needs.
    From a functional perspective, contact center systems as well as digital engagement providers typically do not provide robust functionality for things like scripting and process guidance, robotic process automation, actionable integration with knowledge management, and flexible user experience for contact center agents. And it’s true that many contact center systems can be customized to deliver real-time assistance that spans disparate tools and processes. But it’s very hard.
    Separating your agent assist from the contact center or digital engagement platform offers several benefits. For one, you have less vendor lock-in and are more easily able to change channel providers without disrupting the agent experience, but more importantly, you can employ an effective agent assistant that guides your agents and automates tasks for them using a more comprehensive toolkit that is not myopically reliant on interaction analytics.
    This section would not be complete if we overlook Workforce Management (WFM) or Workforce Engagement Management (WEM), often considered a module of major contact center systems. As with all domains, Workforce Engagement Management has evolved over the years. Earlier incarnations were termed Workforce Management and Workforce Optimization — two terms with a connotation of “managing” your agents instead of engaging them. That said, assisting agents is still considered aspirational when viewed from a traditional workforce engagement standpoint. Sadly, your agents can wait no longer. They are drowning in complexity and leaving in droves.

    How is Agent Assist Different From Workforce Engagement?

    Workforce engagement tools help contact center managers hire, onboard, train, measure and coach agents. They are not designed to assist agents in real-time — during customer interactions.
    Workforce Engagement
    Agent Assist is a real-time system of action that makes every agent your best agent, by guiding agents on next best actions and automating tasks based on real-time recognition of customer needs.
    assist employees

    Agent Assist and Customer Relationship Management

    These CRM systems are important. They drive value. But not necessarily for your agent.
    In many customer service contact centers, agents are required to use the CRM or case management system, while servicing a customer on phone, chat or email channels. They use CRM to look up customer information, understand customer interaction history, create and follow up on cases or tickets, and in some cases even use knowledge bases that are integrated into the same CRM systems. More advanced CRM systems may even offer workflows that agents can follow processes and complete their tasks. It all seems pretty effortless, correct? Well, if CRM systems were so good at simplifying the contact center agent’s workstreams, you probably wouldn’t be reading this today.
    Agent Assist and CRM
    Their implementations were approached from a database-centric point of view. As a result, much like with a knowledge base, the information may be available for the agent, but very little of it is actionable or timely.
    Even worse, when a CRM application simply surfaces data without any reference or reverence to the processes and tasks an agent is required to manage, CRM, in essence, is just another database on the desktop, creating the worst kitchen sink that affects not only the productivity of the contact center, but also the quality of your customer experience.
    At the end of the day, CRM becomes just another application on the desktop that the agent has to contend with. These systems did well to integrate your CRM and your case management into a consolidated platform, but they severely neglected the agent and customer experience.

    How is Agent Assist Different From Customer Relationship Management?

    Customer Relationship Management is very insightful in making next best action recommendations, but it is hardly effective in helping contact center agents act on such recommendations.
    Agent Assist is a real-time system of action that makes every agent your best agent, by guiding agents on next best actions and automating tasks based on real-time recognition of customer needs.
    Real-time Assistance
    Though many contact centers rely quite heavily on their CRM system as the primary servicing application, many contact center leaders are beginning to question what proactive steps they should take to truly empower the customer service workforce with tools that are purpose built to harmonize silos and elevate the game. Enter Intelligent Agent Assistants.
    If your CRM system is doing what it’s supposed to and if your agents are still on a swivel chair across applications on the desktop, it may be time you look into an agent assistant that integrates with all your desktop applications and automates manual tasks so that your agents no longer have to play the role of human middleware. This should help your agents focus on the customer instead.
    With a task-oriented agent assist, you can supplement the richness of your CRM based agent desktop with the immersive assistance your agents need to get the job done. This way, you can cut down on training and ramp-up times, and help your agents execute on those next best actions from your CRM system, no matter the curveballs, tangents or other distractions that may come up during live customer interactions.

    Agent Assist and Knowledge Management

    We remember the days when Knowledge Bases were touted as the answer to quick problem resolution for agents. Knowledge bases delivered in complex technical domains that didn’t require live, real-time results. However, in the context of a contact center and a live interaction with a customer on the phone, knowledge bases often had the reverse effect of increasing handle time. The big culprit is that the knowledge is not actionable. Moreover, this is a classic case of where too much information is a bad thing. Surfacing 10-20 articles simply based on keyword targeting did little to help the interaction.

    How is Agent Assist Different From Knowledge Management?

    Knowledge Management is resourceful for sure, but it is not designed to assist contact center agents handle complex customer requests in real-time.
    Agent Assist is a real-time system of action that makes every agent your best agent, by guiding agents on next best actions and automating tasks based on real-time recognition of customer needs.
    These days, knowledge bases can have tremendous impact as part of your broader agent assistance initiatives, and indeed, are often a critical part of these rollouts. Layering an agent assistant on top of your knowledge base is the key to unlocking its full value. By understanding the customer’s intent and the agent’s actions, knowledge surfaced can be relevant, timely and actionable…the trifecta for knowledge in the contact center world!
    Any evaluation of a knowledge base should take a critical look at how information will be surfaced to an agent in real-time, and how to make that information actionable. Without that, it likely will not provide the expected value as part of your agent assistance strategy.
    Beyond presenting knowledge articles in a timely and actionable manner, agent assistants take information from a knowledge base and provide step-by-step guidance for an agent who needs to follow through on a process. Rather than passively sharing this information during training programs and in a searchable archive, agent assistants can convert knowledge into action in the form of automated workflows. That is a surefire way to get the most bang for buck for every dollar of investment that has gone into your knowledge management system. Sadly, many agent assistant solutions are suggesting that presenting the top 5 knowledge articles might be sufficient to “assist” the agent. Contact center leaders know better that their agents need more assistance than an automated knowledge search.
    With a task-oriented agent assist, you can automate knowledge consumption, also known as learning, even as you automate related tasks and processes. Additionally, include a virtual agent along with agent assist to answer frequently asked questions so that agents don’t need to put the customer on hold and consult with subject matter experts when tricky questions come up. Offering that first line of support in an automated manner is more critical now than ever in a work-from-home setup.

    Agent Assist and Conversation Intelligence

    The holy grail of contact center excellence is often described with reference to a magical capability that could guide the contact center agent in real-time based on insights gleaned from the live conversation between the customer and the agent. Though imagined many years ago, this capability is more real now than ever, thanks to advances in computing power, conversational AI and the availability of technologies such as robotic process automation that can make the real-time insights truly actionable for the customer and the agent.

    How is Agent Assist Different From Conversational Intelligence?

    Conversational Intelligence is insightful and available in real-time, but it is not necessarily actionable for contact center agents handling complex customer requests.
    agent assist - knowledge integration
    Agent Assist is a real-time system of action that harnesses conversation intelligence to understand customer needs, automates tasks and guides agents on next best actions using a simple and instructive user experience.
    Real-time Assistance
    Real-time conversation intelligence is a broad space typically referring to the use of speech analytics, speech-to-text transcription, speech-to-intent analytics, sentiment analytics, emotion detection, topic classification, conversation summary, and real-time response recommendations to analyze a conversation in real-time and provide recommendations to boost outcomes.
    While this is certainly an exciting time to run a contact center, leaders should look for Agent Assist solutions that automate tasks and guide agents on next best actions as opposed to those that can only serve as a recommendation service. In other words, look for a real-time player-coach, not just a real-time coach for your agents. They need help getting things done.
    The best agent assist solutions synthesize real-time interaction analytics, customer analytics as well as desktop and process analytics to make the most actionable recommendations that improve business outcomes.
    For example, an agent might receive a next best offer recommendation from the CRM system at the beginning of a live interaction. When the agent presents the offer to the customer, they might raise follow-up questions. The customer is likely to sign up for the new service if the agent is able to address the questions to their satisfaction. It is not sufficient if the conversation intelligence is capable of identifying the topics being discussed. It is crucial that the agent is guided to the right answers in a timely manner. This is where Agent Assist steps in with guided workflows and timely automation solutions.
    Quite often, tech enthusiasts are guilty of presuming that all knowledge is already available in an actionable format in a knowledge base. So, it is only logical that many Agent Assist solutions are designed to surface the right knowledge articles and even surface the right excerpts with growing precision. There are numerous scenarios in which actionable knowledge is as simple, and some times as cumbersome, as retrieving contextual information from one or more systems of record. Perhaps, the customer has detailed questions about the terms of a price plan or the specifications of a back-ordered item. This is also where Agent Assist steps in with robotic desktop automation and other task automation techniques to present just the right and actionable insight to the agent. That’s what it feels like to work with a player-coach.

    Agent Assist and Robotic Process Automation

    According to Forrester, 8 out of 10 tasks performed manually in the contact center can be automated using robotic process automation. At first glance, that sounds like that there is a lot of potential for applying RPA in the contact center. Don’t get us wrong. We are fans of RPA. Let’s dig a little deeper with the anatomy of a typical contact center interaction.
    Agent Assist and Robotic Process Automation
    The shared steps highlighted in this visual depict relatively simple tasks that can be automated using robotic process automation. Great Agent Assist solutions automate such simple tasks and streamline the complex and varied tasks shown here as well. Agents are stressed about handling such complex tasks and are screaming for assistance. Contact center leaders should explore the effectiveness of an Agent Assist solution based on it’s ability to handle both simple and complex tasks as it is not viable to let agents handle the hard stuff by themselves.

    How is Agent Assist Different From Robotic Process Automation?

    Robotic Process Automation is a great tool to help automate simple tasks, but it is not an effective agent assistant by itself, especially as the modern contact center drowns in complexity.
    assist employees
    Agent Assist is a real-time system of action that harnesses robotic process automation to automate simple tasks, leverages conversation intelligence to understand customer needs and guides agents on next best actions using a simple and instructive user experience.
    Real-time Assistance
    agent assist - hot on market

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    How Agent Assist Works?