AI: A Help and a Hindrance to Customer Service

Brain for Help and Hindrance AI Piece

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is, I think, the 2017 equivalent of Y2K – everybody is talking about it and most of it is hype and inaccurate!  Without a doubt AI is here to stay and, in many instances, it will be a force for good, often performing dull and repetitive tasks faster and more accurately than any human equivalent.

According to PWC:

AI startups have raised more than US$2 billion in venture capital funding this year. This is clearly seen as one of the more promising technologies, with a bright future.

I know that much of what is written about AI capability is super enthusiastic while simultaneously being somewhat bleak in relation to the employment prospects for employees.  AI is apparently going to make huge swaths of the population redundant over the next two decades.

I completely understand that in some tasks AI is far superior to your average employee and this can lead to considerable economic and risk reduction benefits, particularly in areas of back office processing, analytics and repetitive administration.  But when AI is deployed in areas that directly interact with the customer I have a slightly more cautious approach.

I rarely, if ever, see articles questioning whether the customer is as enthusiastic as the large corporations who are falling over themselves to deploy the cost-saving AI. It is almost as if the authors of these articles have forgotten that there is a customer in the equation and that now, more than ever, customers have greater freedom of choice and it is easier than ever to switch suppliers.

I read one article recently extolling the virtues and advantages of having investment advice relayed to me by a robot. Given the choice, I don’t want to get advice from a robot and I do not know many people who do. If the said robot is simply telling me my options I guess I could put up with it, but I would rather speak with a human and if it really irritated me, yes it might trigger me to switch.  The idea that I would prefer dealing with the robot is, I suspect, the marketing spin of the firm selling the AI in question!

That said, deploy AI for your corporate cost-cutting and efficiency benefits and not for genuine customer benefit. Perhaps customers won’t enjoy the robot experience and might choose to quietly migrate to the suppliers that have not replaced humans in critical areas of the customer experience. Let’s face it, I get IVR (interactive Voice Response) is a useful mechanism for improving call handling but my tolerance for poorly deployed IVR is limited.

Where am I going with this?  My point is two-fold; firstly, AI absolutely must improve the customer experience or reduce the price point to such an extent that people simply accept that the service will be ‘poor,’ and that you get what you pay for–Ryanair springs to mind! If the economic benefits of introducing AI into the customer experience are wholly one-sided and to the detriment of the customer experience then buyer (AI buyer that is) beware.

Secondly, no matter what your views about the acceptability, or otherwise, of AI in the customer journey, employees, that is us humans, are going to be around for quite some time yet. So perhaps more firms need to be looking at using AI like Clever Nelly to help improve the performance and productivity of their human employees and close the gap between AI and human efficiency?

If more firms could be more certain that their employees could ‘get it right’ more than they do, perhaps they would be less keen to find robot replacements.

Lastly, I researched the likelihood of any employee getting it right even close to 100% of the time, and the results were pretty startling, given that the average starting level of employee competence and knowledge without Nelly is a derisory 52%.

Employees are definitely part of the future solution because right now too many customers will demand it, thus, embracing AI to help employees improve sounds like a clever and fair idea.

By Adrian Harvey