Artificial intelligence has existed in some form for more than 20 years. But only recently has it taken on a more futuristic form, similar to what we tend to picture based on what we see in movies. As machines and robots become more intelligent, people are beginning to wonder if AI will take over certain jobs.
There has also been a lot of discussion around AI and its ability to impact the future of customer service. Take interactive voice response, for example. Some have predicted that IVR solutions that are backed with artificial intelligence can better lead to results-driven customer service. And from concepts like IVR to online chat to customer service automation apps, many claim these types of AI technologies could eventually eliminate the customer service agent – the actual human you communicate with when reaching out to a company – altogether.
Although there has been a greater push toward customer service automation, there has also been the simultaneous realization as to how much individual customer service representatives truly represent a brand and provide the personal engagement that cannot be replicated by a computer. The contact center industry in particular has witnessed attempts to adopt artificial intelligence, but not many have taken off successfully. As companies have tried to integrate things like IVR and avatar chat robots, few have gone completely down the AI path because of the risks that are associated with it. For example, a computer glitch can easily misread or misinterpret a customer’s request or tone, which often causes frustration and time lost. For example, how many times have you begged for a live agent to avoid speaking with a computerized voice? A pileup of these negative experiences simply increases the risk of that customer getting fed up with the company completely.
Although many argue that replacing live agents will greatly reduce personnel and operational costs, the point should be raised that maintaining AI software – like natural language speech applications on IVRs – can be incredibly cost prohibitive because the technology requires frequent reconfiguration to keep up as technology evolves. Replacing live agents with a specialized role, like a data scientist who is required to conduct these updates, ends up being more expensive in the long run.
However, today companies are evolving their view on the importance of customer service. As the chief technology officer and chief marketing officer within an organization are finally communicating, companies are shifting more evenly toward the marketing side of the business, which encompasses customer service and experience. There are a few reasons for this shift, including:
• Brand Loyalty: We’re learning quickly that customers will not maintain brand loyalty unless they are being provided with a good experience. With companies like Nordstrom that pledge 24/7 customer service, free shipping, and no limit on its return policy, customers are far more likely to keep coming back. And we can all agree that no one appreciates being treated poorly while spending money.
• Social Media: Since social media channels move at an incredibly fast pace, brands are no longer able to control the conversation. Customers can tweet nasty reviews at the drop of a hat, which requires a robust social media team to keep those comments under control. Brands are finding it more valuable to get ahead of these issues by treating their customers fairly in the first place, reducing their need to do social media damage control.
• Cost: As marketing departments evolve and find more efficient ways to meet their customers’ needs, it ultimately reduces customer turnover costs. The ability to maintain customer relationships means less time and money spent on acquiring new customers.
Although I think it is unlikely that AI will replace the live customer service agent, especially within the contact center, that’s not to say that it lacks value. There is certainly a role for customer service automation when it comes to the simple things, but the complex customer interactions should be left to the live agent who can read the situation and react accordingly. As previously stated, something like an IVR application is not always able to correctly interpret the context of all customer service situations.
Stakeholders in the CX industry will continue to debate whether or not AI has a place interacting with customers. But as brand loyalty and exceptional customer service become the main priorities for more organizations, companies simply cannot afford for a computer or IVR system to handle their customer service and risk creating a negative experience. With that said, the live customer service agent will always have a place with the overall customer experience.
Edited by Maurice Nagle