Why AI Should Augment, And Not Replace, Staff


Adi Gaskell

May 4, 2016

Recently I wrote a counterpoint to the pervading sense of gloom surrounding discussions on artificial intelligence. Rather than coming to pinch our jobs, I suggested, many of the applications of AI will prove inherently useful and augment rather than replace our work.

A good example of this was a new startup, called Assist, which uses AI to help customer service personnel locate the right information to answer a query effectively and efficiently. The founders suggest that roughly 80% of our requests feature questions that have already been answered previously, so being able to locate those prior answers quickly can be a big help to support staff.

Robots Built To Save Your Life

“With the majority of requests made to customer service reps being repetitive, our solution help agents with all the repetitive, tedious and boring routine work, so that they can focus on doing what they are best at: solving new and more complicated problems and empathizing with the customer,” the founders say.

Why Good Customer Service Matters

This is crucial, because recent research published by Accenture reveals that poor customer service is costing businesses over $6.3 trillion around the world each year, and £221 billion in the U.K. alone.

The Global Consumer Pulse Research speaks to 24,000 consumers around the world to gauge their opinion of customer service. They found that in a world that is increasingly digital, customers are craving human interaction, with engagements without any human support actually turning people off a brand in a big way.

This was further reinforced by a recent study by a team from Boston University that found how people hated talking to a machine during customer service encounters, even if it’s a supposedly smart, Siri like interactive voice response systems (IVRs).

IVRs typically provide us with a range of automated menus and prompts and are so often used to triage and filter customer service requests, so the first thing we hear when we phone up is an automated assistant.

The study found that over half of respondents most recent customer service “experience” was with such a system, and unsurprisingly, they are also the most hated of all automated features.

Of course, none of this is new, as a famous study showed our hate for these systems some 20 years ago, with the biggest problem posed by these systems is that they often make it painfully slow to get any kind of answer to our problems. It’s a conclusion that the Accenture research very much agreed with.

“Customers are increasingly craving the right answer to their problem in as quick a time as possible. It doesn’t matter what channel that is delivered via, just so long as the service is top notch, so companies need to ensure that their back-office systems are aligned to provide this,” Rachel Barton, Managing Director at Accenture Customer Strategy said to me recently.

Finding Ways To Help Staff

The Boston researchers found that roughly 90% of customers want to speak to a real, live person, with that typically the end result regardless of how the customer begins their journey.

What’s more, when participants were probed as to how they felt after beginning a customer service journey via an IVR, around 90% were dissatisfied, with this finding common across ages an genders.

These studies suggest that companies shouldn’t be looking to automate the customer service process, but rather to use technology to make it more efficient and effective. This can be via greater use of AI, but also more rudimentary technologies such as customer relationship management tools and a greater blurring of any boundaries between online and offline customer service.

Not Getting The Memo

Alas, it seems that not all companies are getting the message. It’s increasingly common for social networks, for instance, to offer customer service “bots” to companies, with services such as Telegram and Kik offering shops where companies can buy automated accounts, either for marketing or customer service purposes.

With the Microsoft Twitter bot making headlines recently for its racist outbursts, the risks to such a strategy are significant. Indeed, even if such bots avoid controversy, they are still likely to be programmed in a limited way and therefore capable of providing limited responses.

These studies suggest that this is a major error, as getting the customer service process right first time can prove a major cost-saver for companies. It also allows them to better understand their customers, and therefore to further hone their services to better meet their requirements.

It’s a balancing act that will be crucial for companies to master. Julien Hervouët, CEO of iAdvize, suggests that whilst it’s tempting to use the kind of chatbots being rolled out on Facebook for all customer engagements, the key will be in using them to free up staff for higher value work.

“Given that businesses now face a huge challenge in handling large volumes of customer conversations, bots allow companies to automate a certain amount of low value tasks, accelerating their customer care services significantly. In using these robots in this way, firms will instead be able to focus on customers interactions and conversations which have a high value and actually affect their bottom lines,” he says.

That’s a good use of technology, and hopefully more companies will be inclined to take this approach as opposed to using the latest tech to provide sub-standard customer service.

This article was written by Adi Gaskell from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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