Why developing technologies such as AI and chatbots are not replacing people with robots, but enabling organisations to evolve, grow and make the most of the unique qualities that humans possess.
“Are machines after your job?”, “Robots could replace 250,000 UK public sector workers”: just a quick internet search of the terms AI and chatbots and these shock headlines come up. The reality is probably not quite so alarming.
This simplification seems to turn the idea of AI into a science fiction horror story. What AI is actually enabling companies to do is much less about replacing people with technology and much more about helping make sense of the huge amount of data that is being created from all sorts of internet-of-things devices. For example, machine learning and big data help organisations to move from a world of business intelligence (reporting on past aggregates) to a world of predictive analytics (reporting on predicted insights).
Chatbots are mini computer programs that use AI to manage conversations with people across social media and websites. There are many areas where AI and chatbots can do the work of human agents, not with the idea of replacing them, but to free them up to deal with the more complex issues. For example, customers with minor queries on websites are often redirected to FAQ pages, where they have to hope that their answer comes up. Or they are directed to a “contact us” page where they may have to email a query and then wait for a response to come back. The human agent at the other end may be diverted from dealing with larger issues to deal with the many minor queries that come in, or may leave the minor issues for later in order to deal with the big problems, thus leaving the customer dissatisfied.
Chatbots have the ability to troubleshoot small-scale problems and answer queries, freeing up both the time of the customer and the human tasked with dealing with them. This evolution of technology leaves the human free to deal with issues and problems that humans are highly skilled at, the issues and problems that take empathy, understanding and human interaction.
AI and chatbots can be useful technologies to enable an organisation to become more agile and this technology is behind many of the communication apps that we use in business and personal life today. The correct combination and application of these technologies to the area of customer service, in conjunction with experienced employees and team leaders, can drive a significant improvement in customer responsiveness and CSAT or net promoter score within a company.
Below, we have outlined four key technologies that, when used together, can greatly improve the customer service experience.
Messaging and chat apps have overtaken social media apps in terms of sheer volume and usage, and have become the predominant form of communication for many people. This is the future of one-to-one communication and customer service departments need to embrace this new channel. There are many different apps that support messaging, and consumers often have two or more apps that they regularly use to communicate. Many people will already use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype (standard and business) and integrated chat solutions such as Yammer to communicate with friends, family and colleagues. The key for CS departments is to be able to support all of the main messaging and chat apps.
Artificial Intelligence has been around a long time, but the technology has matured in recent years. The processing power of everyday computers and smartphones, and the ability to transfer and process large volumes of data, means that AI is no longer the stuff of science fiction ̶ think Siri, Alexa and Cortana. The next phase is applying this to everyday problems to make life easier and provide a better user experience. Natural Language Processing has evolved to the point where it has very high accuracy and personal digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa are becoming more popular as conversational messaging becomes more prevalent at home, in the office or on the go.
Collaboration tools such as Slack and Teams are emerging as key aids in driving employee productivity and are based on messaging and chat as a format. We are also seeing chatbots become part of the conversation in these tools as they help with scheduling appointments or booking rooms and other mundane tasks. Such collaboration tools are taking over from email within the workplace as they avoid the ever-frustrating spam email that clutters inboxes today and are changing the nature of office work and how we communicate with our colleagues and customers.
- Machine learning
Machine learning and big data often go hand in hand as we move from a world of business intelligence (reporting on past aggregates) to a world of predictive analytics (reporting on predicted insights). This is only possible through the application of machine-learning algorithms to the vast amount of data that is generated all around us every day. Machine learning is not an activity in itself, but it will become a property of all applications that need to adapt in an agile, digitally transformed world. The most important part of machine learning is that it creates a feedback loop – it can take the input from trusted agents and employees and “learn” from that to automate new tasks or requests, thus ensuring the organisation is always moving forward.
This use of technology to ease or aid the work of the human, or to enable the human worker to focus on other areas of the business, is not new. We have been moving in this direction since the Industrial Revolution, when machines were first introduced. We would not consider returning to a world of horse and cart when we have trains, lorries, cars and planes. Neither would we consider returning to a world of filing clerks and huge paper storage facilities now that computer databases and archiving have been developed.
The rise of AI and chatbots does not mean that we are being overrun by machines. Carefully considered and constructed technologies are about improving human experience, not replacing it.