This article is part 2 of a 4 part article series, sponsored by Genesys.

A critical moment occurs when customers call your customer support center. In one scenario, they’re put on hold and asked to wait for the “first available agent.” Or, they provide their identity and reason for calling to an automated attendant, who then routes them to the “best available agent.”

The difference between “first” and “best” can result in the difference between a negative customer experience or a highly positive one. The “first” is characterized by lengthy wait times and laborious voicemail menus, ending with customers routed to an agent who isn’t equipped to deal with their issues. In the “best” experience, callers receive expedient, efficient, and helpful service from the agent who is ideally trained to deal with their specific concerns.

The moment when a customer contacts you is so critical because delivering a positive customer experience has never been more important. Or more difficult to achieve. One way companies are improving the customer experience is through chatbots. Workforce optimization is another lever organizations can pull to improve customer experience, which we’ll explore here.

Broadly speaking, workforce optimization is a strategy designed to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of employees. With workforce optimization, siloed technologies are integrated and processes are automated, helping your organization reduce operational costs and better manage employee performance, which in turn results in greater efficiencies and higher customer satisfaction.

So, how do you optimize your workforce, exactly? By investing in your employees. Giving them the tools they need to deliver their best work. And by blending human know-how with advanced technology.

Related Article: Why Chatbots Are Worth Talking About

Invest in Employees

In this extremely competitive labor market, more companies are investing in employees’ education and skills to increase their performance — as well as their engagement with their work, which in turn can help improve customer satisfaction. As J.W. Marriott once said, “Take care of associates and they’ll take care of your customers.” Marriott’s maxim is backed up by data: According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, teams that emphasize employee engagement deliver 20% more sales and 10% greater customer satisfaction.

Employee engagement can also help improve long-term retention. In fact, according to a recent study quoted in The Wall Street Journal, 80% of employees surveyed say that tuition assistance and training programs make them more likely to remain with their company, and 60% received a promotion within two years of graduation. It’s worth noting that training and tuition assistance can be particularly attractive to millennials, who comprise the largest portion (35%) of today’s workforce, says Pew Research Center.

Related Article: How to Start Using AI to Improve Customer Experience

Give Employees the Tools They Need

Workforce optimization is another reason why businesses are increasingly deploying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). These advanced technologies can take on mundane, repetitive tasks, freeing up employees to tackle more complex, challenging, and strategic work.

Workforce optimization isn’t just about making call center agents more efficient, however. The best workforce optimization platforms with AI and ML provide real-time data from customer interactions that help algorithms improve employee performance management and training. For example, performance management leverages real-time data to provide visibility into every employee interaction, with an eye toward reducing the time to resolution and improving collaboration. With real-time data, performance tools can also offer predictive routing, which automatically determines the best available contact center agent to handle a particular call. Automated targeted training leverages performance data to optimize customer support agents’ performance.

Blend Your Workforce With AI and ML

With ‘Blended AI,’ your organization can integrate the human element with advanced technologies such as bots, adaptive learning, and cognitive computing to derive the maximum benefits from both. The two collaborate seamlessly to achieve business objectives, such as delivering the best customer experience, which can give your company a major competitive differentiator.

In the critical call center moment mentioned earlier, an AI-enabled voicebot can verify customers’ identities, determine their needs, answer some of their questions, and handle predefined tasks. When callers have issues the voicebot can’t address, Blended AI automatically routes callers not to the “first available agent” but to the most appropriate, currently available human agent. The agent will already know who the caller is and why they’re calling, which saves everyone time and makes for a more satisfying customer experience.

Address Workforce Optimization Challenges

There can be roadblocks along the way to workforce optimization. Here are some common challenges your organization may face, along with ideas for how to overcome them through training and a workforce optimization solution.

Workers’ fear of job loss - Many workers, such as call center agents, worry that AI will take their jobs. The reality is that, while some low-skilled, repetitive task-focused jobs might be automated, many jobs will simply shift in focus.

Learning Opportunities

For example, phone-based communications will drop from 41% of all customer interactions in 2017 to 12% in 2022, according to Gartner, as a result of the growing use of multiple customer engagement channels (such as instant messaging and webchat). However, human agents will still be involved in 44% of all customer exchanges by 2022, Gartner predicts.

Solution - Educate your workforce about how AI can help them be more successful at work. It’s a first step toward allaying employee fears.

Legacy workflows - When you optimize your workforce, roles, responsibilities and processes are bound to shift. You may encounter resistance to change, especially from employees who have been in their jobs for years.

Solution - Identify bottlenecks in your workflows. Think differently about those processes. Provide training as needed to help employees shift their focus to fewer repetitive tasks and more complicated — and rewarding — work.

Legacy technologies - Traditional workforce optimization applications were built in the “voice-only era” and can’t meet the requirements of a modern multichannel customer service operation. Often, each channel is siloed from others. That makes it difficult to efficiently manage a multichannel workforce, which, in turn, prevents you from optimizing the customer experience.

Solution - It may be time to migrate to a cloud-based platform. With cloud software, you can access innovative new features and enhancements as they become available. There’s no software to download, update and maintain. Your data resides in the cloud, where it’s easy to securely access. You can reduce your total cost of ownership as well by eliminating expensive on-premise software, hardware and management of them.

Ideally, consider a multichannel workforce optimization solution. With customer experience delivered through a growing number of channels, gaining a deep understanding of the customer journey has become more complex. Doing so requires a well-integrated set of tools that provide the context and data human agents need to serve customers easily across all the company’s communication channels.

Look for a solution that provides an easy-to-use interface, too. The more people across the company who can use the tools easily for forecasting, automated schedule-based routing, and other functions, the more benefit your business will achieve.

Imagine the Possibilities

Imagine the possibilities when a human agent can instantly learn about a caller’s previous interactions with your company via social media, webchat, phone call, or another channel, all from an easy-to-use dashboard. Agents can resolve issues significantly faster. They feel better about the work they’re doing. And ultimately, they’re delivering a much more rewarding customer experience.

Workforce Engagement Must-Have Tools

Customer Journey versus Employee Journey