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This article was published on June 7, 2017

How AI is transforming customer service

How AI is transforming customer service Image by: Unsplash
Josiah Motley

There will always be a need for a real human’s presence in customer service, but with the rise of AI comes the glaring reality that many things can be accomplished through the implementation of an AI-powered customer service virtual assistant. As our technology and understanding of machine learning grows, so does the possibilities for services that could benefit from a knowledgeable chatbot. What does this mean for the consumer and how will this affect the job market in the years to come?

The consumer

How many times have you been placed on hold, on the phone or through a live chat option, when all you wanted to do was ask a simple question about your account? Now, how many times as that wait taken longer than the simple question you had? While chatbots may never be able to completely replace the human customer service agent, they most certainly are already helping answer simple questions and pointing users in the right direction when needed.

Credit: Unsplash

As virtual assistants become more knowledgeable and easier to implement, more businesses will begin to use them to assist with more advanced questions a customer or interested party may have, meaning (hopefully) quicker answers for the consumer. But just how much of customer service will be “taken over” by virtual assistants? According to one report from Gartner it is believed that by the year 2020, 85% of customer relationships will be through AI-powered services.

That’s a pretty staggering number, but I talked with Diego Ventura of NoHold, a company that provides virtual agents for enterprise level businesses, and he believes those numbers need to be looked at a bit closer.

The statement could end up being true but with two important proviso: For one, we most consider all aspects of AI, not just Virtual Assistants and two, we apply the statements to specific sectors and verticals.

AI is a vast field that includes multiple disciplines like Predictive Analytics, Suggestion engines, etc. In this sense you have to just think about companies like Amazon to see how most of customer interactions are already handled automatically though some form of AI. Having said this, there are certain sectors of the industry that will always require, at least for the foreseeable future, human intervention. Think of Medical for example, or any company that provides very high end B2B products or services.

Basically, what Diego is saying is that there are many aspects of customer service already being handled by AI that we don’t even realize, so when discussing that 85% mentioned above we can’t look at it as “85% of customer service jobs will be replaced by AI,” but, even if we’re not talking about 85% of the jobs involved in customer service, surely there will be some jobs that will be completely eliminated by the use of chatbots, so where does that leave us?

What about our jobs?

It’s unfair to look at virtual assistants as the enemy that is taking our precious jobs. Throughout history, technology has made certain jobs obsolete as smarter, more efficient methods are implemented . Look at our manufacturing sector and it will not take long to see that many of the jobs our grandparents and great grandparents had have been completely eliminated through advancements in machinery and other technologies, the rise in AI is simply another example of us growing as humans.

Credit: Unsplash

While it may take some jobs away, it also opens up the possibility for completely new jobs that have not existed prior. Chatbot technicians and specialists being but two examples. Couple that with the fact that many of these virtual assistants actual work with the customer services reps to make their jobs easier, and we start seeing that virtual assistant implementation is not as scary as it might seem. Ventura seems to agree,

I see Virtual Assistants, VAs,  for one as a way to primarily improve the customer experience and, two, augmenting the capabilities of existing employees – rather than simply taking their jobs. VAs help users find information more easily. Most of the VA users are people who were going to the Web to self-serve anyway, we are just making it easier for them to find what they are looking for and yes, prevent escalations to the call center.

VAs are also used at the call center to help agents be more successful in answering questions, therefore augmenting their capabilities. Having said all this, there are jobs that will be replaced by automation, but I think it is just part of progress and hopefully people will see it as an opportunity to find more rewarding opportunities.

I think back to my time at a startup that was located in an old Masonic Temple. We were on the 6th floor and every morning the lobby clerk, James, would put down the crumpled paper he was reading and hobble out from behind his small desk in the middle of the lobby and take us up to our floor on one of those old elevators that required someone to manually push and pull a lever to get their guests to a certain floor. James was a professional at it, he reminded me of an airplane pilot the way he twisted certain knobs and manipulated the lever to get us to our destination – only once missing our floor in the entire two years I was there.

While James might have been an expert at his craft, technology has all but eliminated that position. When was the last time you had someone manually cart you to a floor in a hotel? When was the last time you thought about it? Were you mad at technology for taking away someone’s job?

As humans, we advance, that’s what we do. And the rise of AI in the customer service field is just another step in our advancement and should be looked at as such. There might be some growing pains during the process, but we shouldn’t let that stop us from growing and extending our knowledge. When we look at the benefits these chatbots can provide to the consumer and the business, it becomes clear that we are moving in the right direction.