The hype surrounding Artificial Intelligence (AI) is coming to a point where action, not talk, is needed. Scaremongering stories that AI is a faceless mechanism to cut jobs to improve the bottom line have done little for its reputation. There are exaggerated fears on one hand, and inflated expectations of what AI can do on the other, but this is a far cry from what it can actually achieve today.
AI is a set of general purpose technologies, ranging from Natural Language Processing (NLP), to image recognition, to the application of machine learning to data and large quantities of unstructured data. Customer experience, along with automotive and health, are the vanguard of the application of AI.
The key reason for organisations to consider deploying AI is its inherent ability to transform the customer experience. That is the ultimate advantage and has given savvy, early adopters the competitive edge. Those organisations are creating happy, loyal and engaged customers, and as a result, are seeing higher profits.
The augmented intelligence of AI, coupled with real-life human intelligence, is the recipe for organisational success. This dual AI/human interface will deliver the competitive advantage to companies wanting to provide a frictionless customer journey. An omni-channel contact centre with AI working hand-in-hand with human agents is going to be vital for any organisation that doesn’t want to be in the bottom quartile for customer engagement customer satisfaction (CSAT). Companies in the top quartile actually experience 87 per cent less churn from their employees, and are 44 per cent more profitable.
According to Gartner, up to 80 per cent of customer service interaction is expected to be handled by AI by 2020. Indeed, at one in four customer interactions are already with a chatbot. With AI and NLP, we are constantly expanding the definitions of ‘chat’ and ‘chatbot’. So, it seems like the next six months will see the AI revolution coming into force, and will be critical to the success of any company wanting to survive in this competitive landscape.
One of the key drawbacks of AI deployment in the past was the limited computing resource available. Today, hyperscale cloud platforms with vast computing power have made scalability of AI solutions much easier. We have moved from scarcity caused by the high costs of processing to the abundance of processors at a much lower cost.
The combination of extra computing power and new AI driven processes have really come together in the last 18 months. This means that organisations can easily and cost-effectively draw on extra computing resources to scale their contact centre capacity accordingly.
Contrary to popular belief, AI will not cost businesses their human face. Organisations can still leverage automation while maintaining the human touch. Rather than replacing humans with automated systems, businesses should have augmented automation accompanied by human interaction.
By having customer data and information on the nature of the query readily available to them, human agents do not have to sift through pools of data to deliver a much faster and personalised experience to the customer. For example, NLP gives Machine Agents the ability to understand human communication and can easily take interpretations from the language based on the contents of a conversation.
Another example is when a customer reaches a human agent, NLP can listen in the background and can prompt the agent with automated information on screen so that the query can be resolved faster and more efficiently, at the same time as reducing an organisation’s larger training costs. NLP could also automatically provide a wrap summary of the conversation on completion of the call so the agent doesn’t have to spend time at the end of the interaction completing this task, reducing administrative burden.
Having AI and human intelligence working hand-in-hand opens up endless possibilities.
Undoubtedly, NLP will create the most impact on the role of the human. From experience, early adopters are organisations in the public sector. Due to a combination of overstretched budgets and the hefty workload of staff, public sector organisations are prepared to invest first.
Last year, one of our public-sector customers reported a 60 per cent churn in its contact centre headcount. Research shows that the number one source of agent dissatisfaction is workload. By turning to NLP, it has eliminated the drudgery for its human agents through intelligent automation, and has augmented its teams’ ability to seamlessly handle calls, decreasing the attrition rate.
This has also led to a reduction in training costs, because the roles that humans hold have evolved. Traditionally, data scientists - one of the most sought-after talents - would be needed to process, analyse and derive insights from customer data. AI-solutions are programmed to do that automatically, reducing organisations’ dependency on scarce and expensive skillsets.
We’re actually doing some exciting research with the UK Contact Centre Forum on the future of customer service at the moment. Early results show that the industry believes that more interactions will be handled online in the future, with many automated by chatbots and web self-service.
This does not mean that humans will be replaced. It means that the roles that employees hold can be augmented with further intelligence to help them work more efficiently and deliver better results. No new technology in human history has ever created long-term, mass unemployment. There will need to be a period of adjustment and a need for a different skillset. It will, however, mean a change in the types of people working in contact centres, opening up opportunities for establishing a career.
This new AI approach to the contact centre presents businesses with a scalable opportunity to future-proof their communications estate and keep up with consumer expectations to provide a flawless customer experience. Using new and clever tools to complement a company’s existing offering should become second nature to any forward-thinking business and can only ever supplement your human face. It should never replace. These are interesting times for AI. Over the next few months, we will move from reading about it to actually witnessing it in action.
Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO, Content Guru