The Co-worker of Tomorrow – Why Customer Service Agents need AI and why it needs them

A long time ago, in a Wall Street far, far away, the phone was the stockbroker’s lightsaber. Then along came commercialised Internet and the Backstreet Boys, and everything changed.

Online-only first brought about the rise of DIY trading – easier and cheaper ways of investment that reduced the need for human contact. All, though, was not lost, like stockbrokers, due to their long-standing profession, decided to take advantage of this great wave of change and expand their services to exploit the power of technology. In time, the stockbroker evolved into the financial advisor – rescuing start-up investment firms and amateur investors alike from potential doom, and as with all good fables, all lived happily ever after. The end.

As Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Unfortunately, the term ‘stockbroker’ and ‘customer agent’ do not rhyme; either verbally or occupationally, but the evolution of the latter definitely resonates with the formers.

The leading ‘culprit,’ in this case, is none other than automation. The classic case against automation is that it will replace our jobs, and this worry is no stranger to the realm of customer support. In a world where consumer expectation (especially amongst millennials) for quality customer service is rising at an exponential rate – businesses are striving to augment their customer experience through Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to Gartner, AI bots are expected to handle as much as 85% of all customer interactions by 2020.

Such a prediction appears to be incredibly out of favour with our agents and when one considers how much a business can save on support costs it actually seems inevitable. A report from Juniper Research stated that by 2022, automation will save businesses an estimated $8 billion dollars. To put this in perspective, this same figure stood at $20 million in 2017. This begs the question; how can agents compete?

Let us constantly keep in mind that AI is not the panacea that some tend to make it out to be. There will always be a situation where AI falters in the face of an unprecedented factor. In this case, AI will probably lack the necessary human creativity to unhinge the workings of some weird, complex problem.

We can be certain that people will always respond to people. We do not have the guarantee (yet?) that robots can act in the same manner as people. For the sake of not turning this into a discussion about consciousness – the general rule of thumb about AI can definitely be applied to customer support. An AI bot is not there to replace its human incumbent – but to become a new co-worker to the human agent. This relationship, if implemented well, can be highly symbiotic in nature – where the bot is used to automate the mundane and repetitive tasks of the agent, while the latter can better be focused on bigger tasks that require more intricate knowledge and complex human behaviour. For example, consider an airline booking service with a customer service channel that handles hundreds of queries every day. A high percentage of those queries would involve questions such as “I would like to cancel my flight?”, or “When can I expect my refund?”.

In general, these issues would only require a simple procedure to solve or answer and human effort can be saved via automation. One major advantage is that this allows an agent to have more time to handle higher-level tasks thus increasing efficiency in the pipeline and drastically improving customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores.

On the other hand, customers may be faced with AI bots that are unable to assist, mainly due to their inability to understand the question or problem. For example, a bot may find difficulty in answering “Why was my flight delayed?” as the reason may well be outside its functional reasoning (e.g. political or environmental).

While this may cause the customer to be dissatisfied with the service, safeguards can be applied that escalate the case to a human agent; fully capable of handling both the social and technical aspects of this scenario. One major platform and tech company that has been perfecting this auto/co-pilot strategy is DigitalGenius and the variety of industries that have reached out to their kind of service further emphasizes how crucial it is for any business to have an efficient customer support pipeline. Not only does this encourage the customer support agent to expand the necessary knowledge on how to handle the bigger technical problems, but it also calls for them to be prepared for an evolution of how they will interact with their customers. Like the stockbroker, the agent will evolve to take on greater responsibilities gained through growth and learning. This evolution will require not only a technical level of knowledge, but more importantly, a humanistic one.

Our partners at Salesforce reckon that AI for CRM could increase global business revenue by $1.1 trillion. The real taker from this though is that it’s also expected to create 800,000 new jobs in the respective sectors. If that is really the case, as long as we remain human-clever, we are hardly going to be replaced any time soon are we?

If you would like to learn more about Artificial Intelligence and how it can be integrated with your business to improve your customer service operations, create new efficiencies and generate value and cost savings, contact us.

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