Chatbots, Empathy, and the Need to Rethink Contact Centre KPIs

As we all slid into our comfiest trackies at the beginning of the pandemic, the novelty of working away from other people seemed like it might be a nice break from the usual hustle. While we were stuck at home, 52 percent of companies accelerated their artificial intelligence (AI) adoption plans to handle that changing paradigm, and chatbots were a big part of that.

But as the days turned into months, and our only interactions outside of work were with delivery drivers and quick chats with neighbours over the fence, many of us found ourselves feeling quite isolated. So while the pandemic certainly highlighted the massive benefits of AI, automation, and chatbots for customer service, it also showed us that there’s one thing they will never be able to replace: human connection and empathy.

This has caused many forward-thinking companies to reassess what role AI has in the customer experience (CX), and why it’s important to keep humans as the most integral part of the equation. It might just require a complete rethink of how we measure human contact centre agent performance.

Chatbots vs humans

There’s no doubt that chatbots have come a long way in recent years. They can now handle an impressive amount of customer queries without human intervention, and they’re only going to get better as time goes on. This is thanks to their ability to quickly scale support during times of high demand (like we’ve seen during the pandemic), as well as their ever-improving ability to understand human language.

But while they might be able to handle more and more customer interactions, they’ll never be able to replace humans when it comes to empathy and understanding. AI lacks what’s known as ‘theory of mind’ — the ability to understand that other people have their own thoughts, beliefs, and intentions that might be different from our own. It’s what allows us to see the world from someone else’s perspective and to understand how they might be feeling. And it’s something that chatbots, at least for now, cannot do.

This lack of empathy is why humans will always be critical for the customer experience. After all, customers don’t just want their problems to be solved — they want to feel heard, understood, and valued.

Bots and people hand in hand

So how can companies make sure that they’re striking the right balance between automation and the human touch?

One way to do this is by using a ‘hybrid’ approach, which combines the best of both humans and chatbots. This means training chatbots to handle simple tasks like FAQs and account updates, but making sure that more urgent or complex issues are always escalated to a human agent.

AI and chatbots remain scalable, resilient, and burn-out-proof, which means they can help human contact centre agents by removing many of the other mundane tasks like quality assurance (QA), and updating reports and customer data. This leaves the human agents to do what they do best — communicating with other humans that have very human problems.

It’s probably for this reason that most customers (58 percent) would rather pick up the phone and call customer service to resolve urgent issues, as opposed to using other channels. Again this comes down to the unspoken expectation that a fellow human will understand exactly how we’re feeling, what we need in any given context, and how best to help us.

Because of this preference, human connection is bound to create better customer experiences, which is relevant given 65% of respondents said they would become long-term customers of a brand if the company provided a positive experience. So it seems that when it comes to the customer experience, humans really are irreplaceable.

So how does this mixed approach look from a business perspective?

Rethinking contact centre KPIs

One reason chatbots can be fast is that they don’t need to process emotions. Human empathy is neither instant nor transactional, meaning it takes time. So if we agents are looking to develop emotive relationships with customers, that will also take time. And if that’s the case, the old metrics like average call handling time or time to resolution might not be the best KPI to measure anymore.

A meaningful human interaction might take longer, but if it results in a loyal customer, then surely that’s worth more to the business than a one-time transaction. And if AI is doing all the heavy lifting with the boring work, surely it’s worth asking if we could use that extra time to focus on creating loyalty and long-term customer relationships, rather than on the number of calls or chats we’re handling.

By measuring a new set of KPIs that focus on the value of long-term customer relationships, businesses can realign resources, and change processes and behaviour company-wide. Customer lifetime value is a metric that should be at the forefront of every customer experience-centric business because it prioritizes customers and gives brands the opportunity to change their operations for the better.

It seems then, that if we want to create the best customer experiences, we need to embrace the best of both worlds. AI can help us scale and operate CX quickly and efficiently, but only humans can provide the empathy and understanding that customers crave. So let’s not pit humans against bots — let’s use them hand in hand to create experiences that customers will love.

If you’d like to learn more about how AI, chatbots, and contact centre optimisation can help improve your CX execution, please contact us. We’d be more than happy to help you find out how your contact centre operations can be improved for creating long-term customer relationships that genuinely boost your bottom line.