• October 4, 2017

Thanks to Hollywood there is an initial perception that AI spells doom for humankind.  Add to this a host of poorly researched news articles that claim machines will entirely replace humans in the workforce, and it’s no wonder that businesses are hesitant to invest in digital transformation. Industry analysts are always quick to make predictions and these then get hyped up for the sake of creating a headline. In fact there is probably more misinformation and fake news out there than anything else and it takes some discernment to cut through the hype and find out what the real truths are.

Customer service is one industry where AI has shown great promise, and because of this many claim that the future human workforce in customer service has few prospects. The reality is that while the experts may have their opinions, no one really knows for sure what the future impact of AI will be. As a case in point, here’s an example of how doom reports can be very wrong.

What the Customer Service industry can learn from Internet Travel

In the late 1990s when the Internet started becoming an established business tool, airlines created their own websites and opened up the option to customers to book directly online. Up until this stage bookings had only been possible through travel agencies that earned a commission for their services from the airline. This new technology was predicted to be the death of the travel agency as their primary revenue stream was taken away. In time, many agencies worldwide did close down, particularly those entrenched in the traditional way of doing things.

But it was not the death of the travel agent. Rather, those companies that recognized the opportunity in what technology had to offer adapted their operations and sought ways to add more value for customers. Travel agents became specialists, and they targeted certain destinations or certain types of niche clientele. Customers quickly realized it wasn’t that easy to find the best deals themselves online and were more than willing to pay a service fee to an agent to do the work for them. Today while online booking volumes have soared, agencies still exist and many are very profitable. By embracing technology, adapting their mode of operation and becoming more agile, they have been able to streamline their operations and offer more value to customers.

Customer service of the future will need a combined effort

The customer service industry can learn from this example. Instead of seeing AI technology as a threat, it may be just the opportunity needed to win over customers and gain market share.

  1. Technology benefits

What tasks in your organization could be handled more efficiently by machines? Think repetitive tasks, or mass volume tasks such as running analytics. What tasks do customer service agents find mundane? What tasks require more organizational support for agents? These are areas where technology could add value not only to your employees but also to your customers. Having a FAQ section answered by a chatbot offers customers a new channel of engagement. A bot can search the database more quickly than a human and it doesn’t mind boring repetitive tasks. Customers get better service and agents don’t get bogged down answering the same simple questions all day long.

  1. Opportunity and agility

Technology is in the hands of the customer and they are largely driving the changes that are happening. They are demanding easy access to information, 24/7; omni-channel communications so they can choose how they want to interact; and accurate solutions. If businesses can’t meet their customers where they are at, then customers won’t hesitate to take their business elsewhere.

  1. Keeping the basics strong

While your organization may head in a new direction in terms of embracing technology and digital transformation, there is no replacement for the basic tenets of good customer service. If you already have a customer centric approach to business, that should remain at the core of your business values. Technology simply offers additional tools to help you improve on your customer service offering.

  1. Service as a differentiator

While many organizations may still chase cost efficiencies, ultimately it’s service that is going to be the major differentiator within industries. Companies that connect with and engage effectively with customers are the ones that will see the most impacts on their business bottom line.

Ultimately it’s not about whether man or machine can do the job better, but rather it’s how both can be used more effectively for the benefit of the customer. Decision makers should primarily be concerned with how to achieve the right outcome so that the customer is left happy and value has been created. This will require creativity and innovation. Designers will need to listen carefully to what customers want, then integrate technology into the customer journey to create value. Because customers who are smart and connected are going to be even more demanding in the future, it’s going to require the combined power of human resources and technology to keep delivering on customer expectations.