We’re living in a time of huge digital disruption. As we get to grips with one new form of technology, another rears its head to upend everything we know. In order to keep ahead of the competition, businesses are implementing new tools to radically change how they deliver a better customer experience.
One of those tools is artificial intelligence (AI). It’s been around since the 1950s, but it’s only in the last few years that AI has come in to its own, since the power and lowering costs of cloud computing made it widely commercially viable. Now, it’s being deployed in a range of functions and industries.
When it comes to customer service, the potential benefits are immense – from reducing the amount of times customers need to call in with an enhanced, intuitive self-service channel, to being able to monitor emotion in phone calls and alert agents and line managers of potential upcoming conflicts and suggested courses of action.
Yet as with any technology, there are concerns that the introduction of AI into customer service, and particularly call centres, may mean the end of human agents and a completely robotic workforce.
Augment, not replace
MIT recently coined the term ‘machine behaviour’ to cover the collection of worries that AI can inspire – everything from loss of jobs to the rise of Terminator-style robots.
We are starting to see more organisations deploying AI, particularly in the form of chatbots. It’s clear why – with customers often preferring self-service options, chatbots provide a happy medium between allowing the customer a personalised level of service, without involving a human agent. The customer feels like they’ve had a query resolved quickly, without unnecessary intervention, while the business has been able to focus its more valuable resource (i.e. its human workforce) on other more valued human needing tasks.
Yet does this mean we’ll see 100% chatbot service teams, with no agents involved? It’s unlikely. According to one study, 79% of consumers said interacting with a humaninstead of a chatbot or digital self-service channel is an important aspect of receiving good customer service from a business.
It seems that if the challenge is complex, we want to speak to someone, not a machine. Another study found that, when looking into a complicated purchase, 39% of people speak with an expert advisor, compared to 25% who search online.
So where does that leave AI in the service experience? Augmenting and enhancing, rather than replacing, human agents.
It might be analysing the tone customers have answered initial security questions, early interactions with the agent or the route to calling they’ve taken to provide the agent with real-time guidelines on how a call needs to be handled. It could be automatically providing the agent with the customer’s account details once they have been identified. It might even be automatically populating customer records with conversation details and outcomes, leaving the agent to get on to the next call and not coming off the phone to update CRM systems.
Whichever way it’s deployed, in these scenarios AI is being used to help agents work more effectively, removing time-consuming administrative tasks and arming them with the intelligence to offer an empathetic, informed and effective level of service. It’s not replacing them at all.
To do all that, however, it’s vital that organisations have the data and the systems in place to allow AI to function effectively.
In that way, AI is very much like a human agent – if the data held in the CRM is incorrect, then the information the agent or AI can derive from it is going to be misaligned with the customer profile. That’s why using tools which fully integrate and automate as much as possible is critical to ensuring data is captured and stored accurately.
A blended workforce for a digital future
By deploying a blend of AI and human resources correctly, companies can deliver the high level of service customers are expecting in the digital era across their client base, not only to the few select premier customers. It’s AI as augmentation, not replacement, and with consumers still wanting to speak to people when their query is complex or requires the human touch and emotion, it’s important that businesses ensure they have that mix, and not focus on AI at the expense of their employees.