Don’t Diss the Tech: Best Uses of AI in Customer Service and How Attitudes Toward AI Have Changed

chatbot image AI Illustration 132610258 © Microvone

Don’t Diss the Tech: Best Uses of AI in Customer Service and How Attitudes Toward AI Have Changed

Updated 2021 (originally published Sept 2019) Machine learning based tech is becoming more sophisticated with virtual influencers, robot assistants, AI making appointments by phone. Talking AI in customer service, it’s not ironic to mention feelings, because it’s humans that this tech is meant to support. This updated Don’t Diss the Tech article includes how attitudes toward AI have evolved during COVID-19 along with the quotes from Shep Hykin and Jeremy Watkin about best uses of AI in customer service that still have value today.

Acceleration of AI adoption Post-COVID

With a worldwide pandemic forcing customers indoors and businesses online the need for technological solutions accelerated the creation and adoption of AI tools. Without these tools, struggling businesses would have been destroyed. Stressed customers would have been pushed to their limits. Access to healthcare, medications and food was impeded by the restrictions of the pandemic. 

Interactions LLC conducted customer surveys in 2020 that revealed general support for AI and robotics.  Comfort with these technologies improved in areas of retail, healthcare and deliveries. These areas created a bridge to reach necessities.

In customer service the awareness of social distancing has impacted customer choices. Surveys from September 2020  showed 61% of customers willing to self-service via remote assistance and 51% expressing an intention to handle issues on their own during the pandemic.

Best Uses of AI in Customer Service and CX

The best people to comment on how AI impacts CX and QA are those who work with those challenges regularly. I reached out to two pros: Shep Hyken, a widely respected customer service expert, writer and speaker; and Jeremy Watkin, Manager, Product Marketing at 8×8, Customer Think Advisor and Board Member of CX Accelerator.

I asked Shep Hyken, for an example of effective use of AI in the space. He answered:

“When it comes to customer service, AI is usually thought of as a self-service chatbot to help customers get answers to basic questions. However, I’m seeing smart companies use the chatbot to support the customer service rep (when interacting with a customer). The rep can type in the question – the right way – to get the best and most accurate answer for the customer. Furthermore, the “machine” can identify the customer, look at buying history and compare this customer to others who have the same questions and issues. This allows the AI to give even more insight to the support rep, often making suggestions on better ways to support the customer. And based on the customer’s history and similarity to other customers, the “machine” can often predict what the customer will need next.”

Where to Begin

There are many tools currently available both for customer facing and agent facing AI. It can be daunting to know where to begin. Early adopters have done some of the troubleshooting already, making it easier for companies that have not yet embraced AI. 

I asked Jeremy Watkin about his experience with attitudes toward AI in the sector, and a best use example. He answered: 

“There’s a ton of intrigue around AI among contact center and customer experience leaders. While there are certainly good use cases, success stories, and perhaps just a bit of hype around chatbots, I see the biggest impact occurring behind the scenes. The combination of natural language processing and machine learning can help contact center agents find answers to their questions quicker, reducing both the time to full proficiency of new agents and wait time for customers. These applications can also more easily spot trends in your customer experience and coaching opportunities for your agents. If you’re looking at AI for your customer experience, start with technology that will help your contact center agents deliver better customer service more efficiently and then work from there.”

Attitudes Toward AI Pre and Post-COVID-19

Though I love the genre, scifi is partly to blame for fear of AI domination and robots going rogue. Those fears are not the main barrier of adoption. Job loss, invasiveness, costs, difficulty of implementation and impersonal experience have fueled resistance.

Technology moves very quickly and knowledge eases fear. As more companies incorporate AI, and more customers are familiar with it, attitudes toward this technology have also evolved. 

Pega’s 2017 study revealed an equally divided public. It showed ⅓ being comfortable, ⅓ uncomfortable and ⅓ undecided on consumer facing AI. That study also revealed that though most consumers (84%) were already engaging with AI, only 34% knew it. 

A 2019 report by Genesys, shows improved sentiment: “…70% have an upbeat attitude toward new workplace technologies involving artificial intelligence (AI), such as chatbots, robots and augmented reality”. 

The MIT Technology Review Insights’ survey of 2020 revealed “customer service is the most active department for AI deployment today. By 2022, it will remain the leading area of AI use in companies (say 73% of respondents)”

In the customer service space AI tools offer speed, self-service options, better metrics, more data analyzed, reduction of repetitive tasks, reduced costs and freeing employees for nuanced tasks.

Deloitte’s 2019 Global Contact Center Survey backs that up, calling AI a ‘strategic priority’ and identifying 3 specifics: “1) customer engagement automation (i.e., self-service), 2) customer service representative assistance (i.e., next best action), and, 3) advanced operational and strategic analytics and insights.“

From Shep Hyken’s 2021 blog

“As sophisticated CRMs (Customer Relationship Management systems) and AI integrate, the data that is generated will help companies create a more personalized experience. Customers enjoy feeling connected—when companies know who they are—even if it’s at a digital level. And AI will fuel this trend.”

AI Fears vs. AI Benefits

AI and the Near Super Future

Many TED and events talks on AI exist. I found an interesting, future facing one by Jeremy Gutsche for Trend Hunter. He brings up the point that it is no longer sufficient to simply say AI. As with any evolving technology it has begun to reveal layers of usage and type. He mentions ANI: Narrow, AGI: General and ASI: Super.

Gustche is looking toward the near future of 7-15 years to a time of AGI. By general he means that “one system could actually do pretty much anything that a human  could.” With AI’s ability to learn at a faster speed than humans, it has the potential to exceed human intelligence sooner than we might think.  

I was blown away by the example that if every human on earth, all 7 billion plus, completed one calculation per second it would take humanity 305 days to do what IBM Summit can do in 1 second. Now, those are the kind of stats that make some shake their heads in disbelief and others reach for a sedative.

Work With AI

Like Shep has said about companies utilizing tech, “COVID-19 has pushed us into the future.” That future includes AI. Ignorance won’t make AI go away or slow it down. Knowledge is power, even for us slow moving humans. After all, it is human ingenuity that created AI. We work more effectively with it when informed about it. We individually choose what level of AI we allow into our lives. However, there are governments and businesses that will require us to use it to engage with them.

What level of AI you choose to adopt and where to first implement it is up to you. 

What is next for you?