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There has been a huge focus on how technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning will affect contact centres and the role of advisors. Unfortunately, much of the comment in the business pages is conjecture that is often not based in reality.
The Economist published an article last year, claiming that contact centres are finished under the headline “The end of the line”. The article suggested that AI will soon replace advisors leading to the end of contact centres requiring people. It went on to suggest that this is a disaster for many developing countries where contact centres provide employment.
The Daily Telegraph has also suggested that robots are replacing contact centre advisors too. Their headline actually said “Thank god for that” implying that the journalist is no fan of customer service anywhere.
It’s true that there are some amazing advances in AI. The famous IBM Watson Jeopardy experiment took place back in 2011 and the system has advanced since then. IBM proved that a computer could recognise natural human language, understand the context of a question, and provide a correct answer far better than any human. Now the Watson system is helping doctors to fight cancer because it can sift through everything humans know about cancer in a fraction of a second. Patients can be diagnosed and given a treatment plan, knowing that this doctor knows all there is to know and never gets tired or hungry.
But there are some limitations when applying AI to the customer service environment. If the customer is expecting a very personal service, such as when discussing financial transactions, then it is likely that they will almost always prefer to engage with a human advisor. The opposite might be true if the call is to get advice on a printer that is not working – in this case any help that works will be appropriate.
Another area where AI can be problematic is with voice recognition. As Watson has demonstrated, if you have the resource then it can work well, but most of us don’t have a very good experience with day-to-day systems like Siri or Alexa. They work most of the time, but also make some ridiculous errors and that would be difficult to accept when applied to the customer service environment.
There may come a future time when affordable AI systems are completely fluent in natural human speech and can access an enormous database of knowledge – including how to empathise with a customer – but this time is not yet upon us.
However, AI will transform the advisor role in a more positive way by supporting and guiding human team members. Imagine the contact centre in a bank with an AI system that automatically records every customer interaction and learns about every problem ever recorded and every solution. The system can listen to customers and be feeding relevant solutions to the advisor before they even need to search for an answer.
These are the kind of solutions where AI will be involved in transforming how contact centres operate and these technologies are with us today. AI and robots will transform the customer experience, but it will not mean the end of the contact centre – for now!
What do you think of the potential of bots and AI in customer service? Leave a comment below and let me know, or get in touch on LinkedIn.