Artificial intelligence (AI) is deemed by many as the next big thing in customer support. The concept of intelligent data or pattern-driven automation is exciting and we are seeing organizations welcome it with open arms. In fact, a recent study by Oracle titled, “Can Virtual Experiences Replace Reality?” found that nearly 80 percent of business leaders plan to or have already implemented AI into their customer support solution by 2020.
However, this is not to say that we as consumers are ready to say goodbye to human customer service agents altogether. According to the 2016 Executive Report on Customer Experience from Call Center IQ, roughly nine in 10 consumers say live agent telephony is still their preferred communication channel.
So, what exactly does this mean for call centers?
To set the record straight, AI in call centers is not a replacement play. Combined with machine learning, AI assists contact centers in finding the most efficient path for answering questions, estimating wait times, or moving to an alternate channel for resolution. Organizations need to find the balance between AI and human agents, understanding the roles for both and how everything works together within the customer support equation.
Chatbots and AI effectively change the way agents multi-task and resolve problems, providing them with the tools and information needed to better serve their customers. With bots, customers receive top-notch service that is real-time, always-on, personalized and consistent. Ideal uses for bots include answering high-level, frequently asked questions from a knowledge-base or reporting common trends on issues to an agent.
A second and often overlooked element of the customer service equation is building a multimodal omnichannel platform that can provide AI and bots with the ecosystem needed to be successful. Solving problems via chat without the multimodality of sending photos and videos – no matter how intelligent the AI is – would be suboptimal in comparison. Even with AI making voice prompts more intelligent, the real-time experience is nowhere as close to the efficiency of problem-solving with photos, videos, screenshots, and more, as if the agent was face-to-face with the customer.
Finally, maintaining the human element is critical to ensure that the customer walks away with a positive experience that will ultimately drive customer retention and brand loyalty. A report by Zendesk found that customer service was the number one factor impacting company trust. And, unlike their robotic counterparts, humans can practice empathy, common sense and caution. By coupling human instinct with insights generated from AI, human agents can provide better customer service that is smarter, more effective and capable of growing customer trust.
When executed correctly, what does using AI and bots in customer support look like?
Imagine you’re visiting a website, spend a few seconds looking at a product, and then have a question that will determine the fate of your purchase.
Traditionally, customers would be faced with various issues that make for an unpleasant experience, including long wait times, issue reoccurrence or lack of agent expertise. Legacy IT systems often take more time to gather information, which frustrates customers, and essentially only get visibility to part of the problem via the customer’s viewpoint.
With AI, when logged in to your user account on the website, it can seamlessly tackle requests without having to ask for information like your name or purchase history because it’s all already included from when you signed up. For first time visitors, chatbots can source this information by asking a few simple questions and then share it with human agents, thus freeing up time for agents to focus on issues that require more attention.
AI and bots are successfully transforming the customer support industry as we know it, but it cannot be done alone. By finding the right balance between AI and human agents, businesses can help make sure that every customer interaction is a positive one.
This article originally appeared in Customer Think.