The emergence and subsequent evolution of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) have led many to believe that AI is now poised to penetrate and transform the way we conduct our day-to-day lives. Many are of the opinion that the day is not far when AI-driven automation will displace a variety of jobs in entirety, including human-oriented roles such as customer service. Such thoughts and beliefs have sparked a debate on whether the jobs of call center agents and live chat agents are at a threat.
Now, there’s no denying that AI will play a defining role in shaping the future of various contact center services such as inbound call center support, email support and live chat customer service. However, the prospect of AI fully replacing human customer service agents seems to be a far-fetched one. Especially considering the fact that AI itself is an evolving technology. And it has a long way to go before it reaches the stage where it sophisticates itself to the extent that it matches or surpasses the natural intelligence of humans.
So, will AI disrupt the call center industry? The answer is ‘YES’ as a digital transformation of the industry is inevitable. Will the technology completely replace call center agents in the days to come? The answer is ‘NO’ as corroborated by the following reasons:
Contact Center AI accuracy still has a long way to go
In content of Contact Center industry, AI come in the form of programmed automation in live chat automated responses, programmed email responses or IVR systems that are intended to reduce manual intervention, expedite the response time and improve the accuracy of the responses. However, contrary to the augmented perception of the experience artificial intelligence was supposed to bring in, in most instances, customers are increasingly left frustrated and disappointed with robotic, mindless chat bot responses that do nothing to resolve the issue. Customers constantly find themselves struggling to extricate themselves from the endless loop of automated responses to talk to a real human!
The matter of fact is that AI systems don’t yet have the potential to deliver impeccable precision as was assumed. For now, their level of accuracy depends on the expertise of their implementer. The much hyped and talked about Call Center AI in its current state is in-fact just a system that relies on keyword detection to retrieve information from the database and creating an exhaustive and fully comprehensive database that ensures good customer experience requires a great deal of effort, time and resources which most organizations can not afford to invest in. As a result, answers provided by chat-bots are not always accurate and customers have to try different keywords to arrive at the desired answer.
This practice of utilizing keyword detection to solve customer queries is itself not foolproof. Human imagination has no limit. Thus, it’s near impossible to create an exhaustive list that accommodates every possible word or phrase that the human mind can fathom when searching for information on a particular topic. Consequently, you can never guarantee that your AI system is robust enough to decode every customer query to the T, or that it will always be able to provide the right answer that is relevant to what a customer is looking for.
Provided you have well-trained and efficient call center agents at your disposal, your odds of getting it right the first time is higher with call center agents and live chat agents as opposed to an AI program that simulates human interactions based on pre-determined user phrases and expressions.
Complex queries demand human intervention and assistance your customers truly need
When it comes to answering basic inquiries responding to simple questions that are predictable and repetitive, AI-enabled systems may be able serve purpose well if done right. However, when it comes to handling higher level complex issues, AI leaves a lot to be desired. With the advancement of technology, the complexity of the customer queries is also increasing. Sophisticated technology requires sophisticated answers, judgment, decision making and tactical handling that only humans are capable of and hence customer service agents have to step into the picture to ensure that all queries are dealt with efficiently for utmost satisfaction to the end users. For example, live call center agents will have to engage themselves when a customer contacts an inbound call center and demands to speak to a supervisor to discuss a late fee waiver as a goodwill gesture.
As much as businesses would like all support to be run by automated systems or self help tools, at present there is no way to resolve the whole length and breadth of complex issues faced by your customers without human customer support agents.
Artificial Empathy (AE) is still a distant reality
Interestingly, even if such self-service offerings and AI are efficient enough to handle routine queries, most customers still prefer communicating with live customer service agents vis-a-vis conversing with machines. And it’s got to do with the fact that automated responses and self-service interactions lack the “human touch” and the natural flow of a human-to-human conversation. That’s because, despite all its underlying sophistication and learning, AI as a technology is still not developed enough to detect and respond to human emotions accurately.
Machines cannot feel. They are not capable of gauging the mood of a customer or comprehending complex human expressions such as pun and sarcasm like human customer service agents can. They can’t judge if they should empathize with a customer who is having a bad day or if they should employ tact or humor to diffuse a tense situation. They may be cognitively smart but they are far from being emotionally intelligent. Given such shortcomings on their emotional front, it’s not surprising that conversations with automated systems often sound scripted and even awkward at times. One can hardly argue that human-to-machine interactions don’t come across half as warm, natural or personal as human-to-human conversations held by customer support agents. In fact, the former can be quite frustrating if the responses contradict a customer’s needs or are not suited to the situation at hand.
When providing service to end users, one must bear in mind that not every customer will voice their dissatisfaction in as many words. It is up to the call center representative on the other end of the line, whether human or robot, to recognize the subtle cues that could indicate a likely churn. With AI, we are not quite there yet where we can expect machines to understand a customer’s emotional state and act accordingly to appease him or her. Eventually, it comes down to the inbound call center team and live chat agents to salvage the situation and retain the customer with an empathic approach and tailored solutions.
AI solutions are expensive to fully implement
If you are the owner of a start-up or small business and thinking of automating your chat support, make sure you do your homework first and determine if it is worth investing thousands of dollars in expensive AI solutions as returns can be little or nil. Lots of small businesses fall for the low cost chat bots without considering the cost of valuable resources required to develop a worthwhile database for it to perform well as elaborated above. Unless you have a considerable call/ticket volumes…in hundreds or thousands per month, it makes no sense to spare that amount of money and manpower to implement and AI solution unless you reach that scale.
Before taking the plunge and integrating AI into contact center services, it will be wise of businesses to also take into consideration the demographics and willingness of their target audience to adopt automated live chat customer service or other AI based customer support systems. Independent studies reveal that demographic variables such as age, gender, geographic location etc. have a role to play in influencing one’s choice and usage of specific communication channels. According to a finding, customers, aged 35 and below, are more willing to embrace new-age contact solutions like live chat customer service as opposed to their older counterparts (aged over 35) who are more likely to opt for human interactions when seeking assistance. And then there are those who, regardless of their age, simply feel more comfortable talking to someone who is flesh and blood and not some form of programmed automation.
You may be better off engaging live chat agents and call center agents to impart the desired level of service without incurring the massive expenses that are typically associated with AI implementation.
As evident from the above, the use of AI in the context of the call center industry will be that of an enabler and not one that acts as a substitute for human representatives. Hence, the fear of AI replacing humans in contact centers is unfounded. Till such time the end user is not a robot, AI will have to go hand in hand with human involvement for positive customer experiences.
In the coming days, AI will get smarter for sure as machine learning continues to evolve and refine itself. As the technology gets mainstreamed and blended with the human touch, the call center industry will also get to benefit as it can be utilized to perform mundane call center tasks allowing the call center agents to focus on customer issues that require human intervention and judgment. The idea is to strike a balance between a hands-on and hands-off approach so that contact centers can deliver what they set out to do, i.e. focus on offering exemplary services that create customer delight.
If you don’t have the bandwidth or resources to run an in-house call center, outsourcing can be a cost effective and efficient alternative. If you intend to outsource chat support or inbound call center support, consider choosing an experienced service provider that assures you of friendly, professional and personalized services. Such bespoke services can go a long way in driving conversion rates and ensuring superior customer experiences – outcomes that technology cannot achieve on its own. When you decide to outsource inbound call center support or live chat support, look for a service provider that has the capability to offer multilingual live chat and multilingual call center solutions. This will hold you in good stead when your business grows and the need to provide 24/7 chat support in multiple languages becomes inevitable.