Artificial intelligence and the human workforce – a match made in efficiency heaven?

Artificial Intelligence is rarely out of the news these days. If politicians aren’t talking about the potential threat it poses to the human workforce, then influential voices from within the technology industry are talking about taxation and pointing out the supposed dangers. However you look at it, one thing is for sure, AI is here and we need to have an honest conversation about it. 

A lot has been said about the negative connotations of artificial intelligence but the hard evidence continues to tell us something different. For starters, the National Association of Software and Services Companies has stated that robotic process automation (RPA) can already reduce operational costs by as much as 65% - with ROI within as little as half a year. With ever more sophisticated decisioning as part of this, AI is becoming an incredible asset to the human workforce and is increasingly becoming an inevitable addition to the business process. In the area of customer service, in particular, artificial intelligence is already proving its worth in ways that cannot be ignored or played down.    

As Forrester has long stated, the revenue impact of good customer experiences is no small consideration, and can be quantified via their "CX Index" methodology for gauging customer experience effectiveness. For the average big-box retailer included in their survey, a single point increase in CX Index score can yield an estimated $244 million in annual revenues. For traditional retail banks, this figure is around $124 million and wireless service providers may see figures as high as $278 million. 

Organisations today face the seemingly insurmountable challenge of competing on the basis of customer experience. On the one hand, the explosion of available information has conditioned consumers to expect instant gratification, consistency across a myriad of engagement channels, and an acute awareness of their personal preferences and history to ensure effortless interactions. At the same time, this creates a deluge of information that personnel and technology alike struggle to tame and utilise for meaningful and efficient customer interactions.   

The foundation of good customer service 

It’s possible to manage Big Data and implement standards that work across the board as things stand today, however the future of customer experience mastery demands AI. Organisations must view customer service as a continuous cycle that extends throughout the life of a customer's journey. Evidence also suggests that while business users see AI as yielding great value for many aspects of an organisation, customer experience and support may benefit above all.   

In many ways, the basics of customer service - the essential elements of what customers need and value, and their expectations based upon these fundamental needs – has always been and will always remain the same. Customers will still require organisations to be efficient, polite, know their name and take responsibility when things go wrong. These elements will continue to form the foundation of good customer service way into the future.   AI will help in three specific ways: by allowing large amounts of unstructured data to be taken into account when providing customer service, by unlocking the ability to make more sophisticated decisions automatically, and most importantly, by learning from the results of those decisions and improving the automated decision-making even further.  

Making a business decision to leverage improved insight into data, and better decision making is relatively straightforward but choosing where to start can often be anything but straightforward. From staying in touch with changing customer demands to making sure future investments work well with existing technology, businesses have their work cut out when deciding  how to invest in AI. However, every business has repetitive processes where automation can take care of most tasks.  This is a good starting point, as the residual tasks that currently benefit from human intervention, can be analysed through machine learning and become candidates for AI support in future versions of the automation.   

For large businesses that run attended desktop automation robots the technology enables their employees to make the most of their expertise and focus on the essence of their job. This leads to higher customer and employee satisfaction coupled with a greater operational efficiency – which leads to a better bottom line. For instance, one of the UK’s largest mobile network providers has automated 32 processes across a wide variety of process types, realising a saving of over 4 million seconds per month in automations alone. Using both attended and unattended automations, there is also the expectation of delivering about £1 million per year of additional benefits from these processes.  Imagine the incremental benefits of then being able to include more unstructured data in those automations, having better decision making and learning over time how to improve those decisions, so that customer needs can be addressed pro-actively and completely. 

By combining artificial intelligence and automation, organisations are able to meet their service-level agreements 100% of the time and create new standards. They’re also able to automate more processes and tackle more complex scenarios than ever before. Failing to automate means longer customer wait times for resolution, and compromised accuracy. In highly regulated industries, such as financial services or insurance, errors can sometimes lead to high costs and major damage to brand image. As process automation takes over the repetitive, routine manual work, human error is eliminated, and costly mistakes no longer happen. The engaged, knowledgeable customers of today expect nothing less from the services they receive, and only businesses that can provide and improve upon this level of service will survive in the long run. 

Despite the reports, artificial intelligence continues to prove itself as a huge asset to the human workforce, transforming the way we work and bringing significant benefits to businesses and employees. Particularly, it’s freeing employees from the burden of monotonous, repetitive tasks and letting them focus on performing the tasks they truly love. 

Looking at the hard facts, it’s difficult to make a case against automation and artificial intelligence. Not only does it enhance the human workforce, it also brings many financial dividends to organisations. On top of this, employees also get the pleasure of having a robot do all the mundane work they don’t particularly enjoy. Everybody wins!    

Gareth Hole, Automation Solution Specialist at NICE 

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