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Would you prefer human or AI customer service?

19th April 2017


Artificial intelligence or a human; which would you prefer to answer the phone when you call a company and need help? The answer is far from clear because a human may be friendly and real, but may not have all the answers. The AI system might feel artificial, but is likely to have the answer to every possible customer query. So is the best solution a blend of the two?

First, let’s consider where an AI system could help to improve the customer experience. If you can capture details of every single customer query that comes into your contact centre, on every channel, with the solution to the problem, then that intelligence is far more powerful than any frequently asked question list.

Just imagine if every single customer interaction is tracked, so that the more customers interact with your team, the smarter the AI system becomes. Eventually there will be a body of knowledge so vast that almost every possible question will have an answer based on knowledge of previous customer enquiries.

This is exactly what the app-based financial services company Atom Bank has been doing for months in the UK. They believe that the AI system knows the answer to almost every customer question now, although they are still using human advisors. Building that body of knowledge gives them the opportunity of automating some of the service interactions in future.

Sometimes though, human interaction is what we really want. If you are calling a customer service number, then you usually need help with a specific problem. It’s okay to email or tweet a question, but when you call the agent, they help to resolve it immediately while you are actually having a conversation.

In my view, this is still the weakest point in the AI systems I have seen – natural interaction with the customer. After all, how useful is your Apple Siri function? You can ask an iPhone to tell you where the nearest pharmacy is located, but try asking a more complex question and the technology struggles to keep up.

This research in Computer Weekly suggests that contact centres are dramatically changing because companies are using bots and deploying AI in a bid to use data in new ways.  However, until voice interactions with computers improve dramatically, so very natural queries and understood correctly, I think the ideal blend is still an AI system that supports human agents. Capturing every customer interaction and creating a continuously learning system can provide agents with a very powerful tool – it can prompt and guideadvisors and it keeps learning with every new interaction.

Google Home and Amazon Echo are starting to normalise how we use our voice to control computers, but until questions can be asked entirely naturally, I think there is still a strong need for humans to be supported by AI, not replaced.

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.

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Helen Murray
Article by: Helen Murray

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