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21 Mar 2017

Artificial Intelligence

As consumers, we are never really satisfied with customer service. In fact, business reviews today are showing that this is one of the few areas of differentiation between competitors. Alister Maple-Brown looks at the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in improving customer service and whether it means the end of the ‘human touch’.

There’s just something about picking up a phone to talk to a customer service rep that’s agitating. But why?   Once you’ve searched the company website to find the right number, you inevitably speak to someone who completely fails to understand what you’re saying. You answer questions asked by a real human only to find out you’re not speaking to the right person or are transferred to someone else. When you’re finally transferred to the right person, you’re so frustrated with the entire process you’re close to losing it, demand to speak to a supervisor or threaten to switch to a new provider. Sound familiar?  Enter:   Artificial Intelligence.

WHAT IS AI? - Thanks to Hollywood, when many of us think about AI we envisage robots taking over the world. And, because it’s largely misunderstood, many fear even considering adopting the technology. But ignoring is not going to make it go away.  Put simply, AI is a branch of computer science focusing on developing applications and technology to perform like human beings, based on information gathered from behaviour patterns, speech recognition, online activity, knowledge databases and so on.  So how can it help when it comes to customer service? Properly synthesised into the customer service process, AI has the potential to produce amazing results by feeding it with past customer service logs, behaviour patterns, soft skills and more.

AN END TO THE HUMAN TOUCH?  Far from it. Developers of AI customer service technology say that its purpose is not to replace humans, but rather to make it easier for them to serve customers.

Many customer service glitches occur because information isn’t easily accessible by customer service reps.  So if AI can help reps more quickly search for information and prompt responses based on customer requests, it can certainly go a long way to improving the overall experience.

There are already AI solutions that use information from historical customer service chats and data, or from frequently asked questions to populate knowledge bases. These can easily be accessed by customer service reps to find the right solutions quickly.  The idea is that AI can research the knowledge base faster and provide prompts to reps to help them resolve queries more efficiently.

Other solutions are focused on the human elements of AI, for example the ability to read the emotions of the customer, whether angry or frustrated, with the objective of being able to show empathy.  And then there are applications aimed at responding to customer complaints on social media. These use AI to seek out customers on social media platforms who appear to be having difficulty with their enquiries or help requests. Finding these customers and responding to their queries can be a major boost to customer service.

There will always be the need for a human touch, and AI isn’t ready to solve complex issues on its own; not just yet anyway. Nevertheless, adding an element of AI to your customer service plans can make a lot of sense and contribute to a more seamless approach to customer service.  And with any luck, those frustrating and multiple phone calls will be a thing of the past. 

 

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