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AI has already affected the number of customer service and sales agents needed in a contact center. Yet it won’t replace the need for the human interaction they deliver.

AI will continue to have a profound role in boosting agent efficiency and improving overall CX. It was also a major topic at this year’s Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando, Fla., where Metrigy hosted a panel of experts titled, “Job Shifting: When and How is AI Eliminating & Adding CX Positions.” The panelists generally agreed that AI will help agents become more efficient and effective.

The panelists included Steve Brock, senior director of solutions marketing for Avaya; Vi Chau, head of product for Zoom phone and contact center; Josh Goldlust, vice president of product management, digital platform for Genesys; Rei Kasai, senior vice president and global head of product for Talkdesk; and Andrew Traba, vice president of product marketing for NICE.

Do contact centers need AI?

AI can help customer service reps become more efficient, which contact centers need, according to one audience member who said he’s not happy with the state of customer service. He also said that despite current investments in technology, customer service — particularly with cable and telecom providers — is still unacceptable. The audience responded in applause.

Recapping Enterprise Connect 2024

The panelists agreed that problems remain in customer service, and said AI could solve some of them. For example, organizations can use agent assist technologies to improve agent performance with real-time context to personalize interactions, next-best-action recommendations to move to resolution quickly, sales advice and offers to keep disgruntled customers from switching to a competitor. Bots, like chatbots, can also automate many interactions, resulting in quicker resolution for customers.

AI can automate entire interactions or assist and improve them. Either way, it affects service reps’ jobs — sometimes negatively and sometimes positively.

AI’s effect on contact center staffing

For several years, Metrigy’s clients have asked whether AI and automation in the contact center have caused layoffs. Metrigy’s research didn’t see any meaningful results until early 2024. The rapid adoption and significant effect of generative AI contributed to this shift toward layoffs for many companies.

When asked about AI’s effect on the contact center, 36.8% of companies said they reduced headcount through layoffs, according to Metrigy’s “AI for Business Success 2024-25” global study of 697 companies. In addition, 55.7% of companies said they reduced hiring new agents.

So, for some companies, AI replaces existing agents or reduces the number of new agents needed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. When executed properly, organizations would see reduced costs, improved customer satisfaction and potentially increased revenue from AI. Still, contact center leaders should note that vendors don’t like to emphasize that their products and services might result in layoffs, however desirable the business effect might be to select C-suite members.

Additionally, AI can create jobs. While adding new jobs equates to more spending, they are crucial to successful AI deployments. For example, Metrigy’s survey respondents said they are hiring data analysts, programmers, more security analysts, and more data scientists. Nearly 40% of companies are investing in more content managers to keep the knowledge base fresh, too, and many of these hires come from the contact center.

AI fills in the gaps

About as many companies that lay off staff also experience a shortage of agents. Reasons for this shortage include that the business is growing, it can’t find the right people or it can’t retain existing staff.

As organizations grow on steep trajectories, their new agent growth is flatter. What fills that gap? For 84.2% of companies, the answer is AI.

AI augments staffing in the contact center in the following ways:

  • Reduces the number of customer interactions that require live agent support with bots or self-service technologies.
  • Shortens call or interaction times with agent assist.
  • Reduces after-call work time with transcriptions.
  • Schedules and reschedules appointments through communications platform as a service and AI-powered bots.
  • Gives agents advice to meet sales quotas or service KPIs through next-best-action recommendations.

AI plays a significant role in staffing, but that role varies based on the organization’s situation. Some businesses experience a quick and significant effect, resulting in layoffs or fewer new hires. Others need to hire more agents and use AI to fill the gap between what they have and what they need. For most companies, AI is creating new jobs.

Robin Gareiss is CEO and principal analyst at Metrigy, which conducts research and advises enterprises and technology providers.

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