Many of us are currently taking part in the world’s largest working from home experiment. Whilst the majority of big technology firms such as Atlassian, Facebook and Twitter champion remote work as the new norm, many businesses, particularly those in retail and with a high proportion of factory workers, have faced challenges planning where teams will operate from, in both the short and long term, and how.

However, from predicting the spread of COVID-19 to remote learning platforms utilised by schools and universities across the globe, artificial intelligence (AI) has, almost overnight, become the silent achiever of the pandemic.

Where once, a customer service role meant being shackled to a landline telephone in a bricks and mortar office, now, with the help of AI, agents can operate from almost anywhere in the world, all while completing vital tasks most effectively.

Here’s three ways that AI is helping to facilitate remote customer service teams, and helping to increase efficiencies with it.

Streamlining workflows

Before resolving a customer issue, agents need to delve into a set of mandatory questions. For example, a customer buys an item of clothing online but wants to return the product. In this instance, it’s vital to understand why they’d like to return the product before taking action. Naturally, each product must follow a different protocol for the return request.

Traditionally, agents would need to scour through a manual to ensure they were following the correct protocol but by setting up a chatbot, which provides contextual assistance, teammates are able to carry out their workflow effortlessly, and much more efficiently. The bot helps the agent troubleshoot the customer’s issue, gain a clearer understanding of the problem and perform the next best step in record time.

One of our key customers, Booktopia, the Australian online bookseller, has continued to succeed thanks to a dedicated focus on customer needs. The business utilises our Freshworks’ bots to ensure agents are able to work in the most efficient way possible: saving time, effort and energy for team members and customers alike.

Freeing up time to deal with pressing issues

Recent research from Tethr explored the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on customer service departments through a study of one million customer-service calls across more than 20 companies. The results were startling. In just two weeks, the average company saw the percentage of calls scored as “difficult” more than double from a typical level of 10 per cent to more than 20 per cent. Issues related to the pandemic dramatically increased the level of customer emotion and anxiety in service calls, making a job that is hard for agents on a normal day far more challenging.

Amid a global crisis, artificial intelligence, and specifically chatbots, can be used to reduce the number of priority enquiries and repetitive tasks throughout their day by suggesting relevant solution articles and canned responses to customers.

This gives agents the opportunity to focus efforts on the priority issues such as their workload amid a landscape of ever increasing enquiries. Not only does such technology enable agents to best deal with the influx of enquiries, it also frees up their time to work on the tasks they most enjoy, creating a more productive and engaged workforce.

As an example, Australian-owned business process outsourcing service provider, Probe Group, uses our Freshworks Answer bot, an intelligent chatbot, which pre-learns helpdesk emails, FAQs and chat conversations to suggest questions that need new or better answers. The tool enables teams to train the bot, giving the business control over the answers the bot suggests to make it an extension of the organisation. Probe Group also utilises our Freshworks Custom bot, which enables the organisation to build customisable chatbots without writing any code, democratising not only access to, but also who can use this technology.

Training and onboarding, simplified

Amid a global pandemic, training and onboarding a new member of the team can feel incredibly daunting as it has traditionally been an opportunity to physically connect and run-through demonstrations in person. On top of this, customer support strategies are likely to have been flipped on their head during this period.

However, through the use of technology, the training and onboarding process can be simplified. Using an agent-facing chatbot allows new teammates to quickly find solutions if they are stuck or confused, all without switching between tools. This helps employees get up to speed quickly and more efficiently, playing a key role in the onboarding process.

The increasingly important role of AI in our lives has never been clearer. From life-saving health technology right through to retail chatbots supporting customers with the purchase of face masks, while it’s clear the pandemic has transformed the way we live and operate, it’s also brought to the fore just how impactful the use of such technologies can be. While we continue to navigate these uncharted grounds, I hope that businesses continue to look for ways to not only survive, but adapt, evolve and ultimately, thrive.

Sreelesh Pillai is general manager at Freshworks Australia