Will AI Replace Humans in Customer Service?

Robotic arms lifting human customer support agents off a production line.

In her talk, given to SAP employees, Sarah Al-Hussaini, COO and Co-Founder of Ultimate, shares how the customer service industry is getting smarter with a human-first approach to artificial intelligence.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought a major acceleration in the adoption of new technology — dramatically so in the customer service industry.

A substantial 40% of consumers today are Generation Z, and theyre redefining communication, making instant gratification the name of the game in the modern world. We all use messenger apps to communicate with friends and loved ones, and were now seeing a major increase in businesses doing the same to reach employees and customers.

The current generation expects immediate customer service and resolutions, but who can blame them? These days, we no longer need to leave the comfort of our homes to fulfill our wants and needs. Our groceries arrive within 10 minutes of ordering, and we have unlimited access to online streaming, leaving us with endless choices. Patience is now a thing of the past.

An evolution in technology means a change in customers mindsets, and people are no longer scared to drop companies that fall short of their high expectations. 47% of Gen Z will walk away from a company after only one bad support experience or review.

They have thus put the onus on businesses to shift their customer service in a new direction. The competition to keep customers happy no longer comes from the shop next door but a global, online presence. On-demand services such as Uber, Spotify, and Netflix are on the rise, and businesses will need to compete in the virtual world.

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What does the customer service industry look like today?

The technological shift is here, it has arrived whether we like it or not, and its come to an already resource-strapped industry. The combination of long-lasting Covid-19 effects and shifts in technology during a global recession put a lot of financial pressure on businesses, and many are struggling to stay afloat. With $900 billion already being spent on agent salaries per year and $1.6 trillion lost thanks to customers moving away from poor customer service, many companies cant afford to spend any more.

Unfortunately, increasing customer experience through traditional methods (people behind desks) no longer cuts it and agents are taking the hit. Customer service is one of the top 10 most stressful jobs in the world, with a 40% agent turnover per year. With businesses unable to spend more money during the pandemic, there have been more lay-offs and hiring freezes, while there are higher volumes of customers needing reassurance. This is where AI steps in.

Learn how Finnair navigated a 900% increase in inquiries due to Covid-19 using automation. 

Does AI really replace humans?

It’s a big worry for many in the customer service industry whether AI really will replace humans. The answer to that is no — at least not for now. Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) don’t replace human rapport or communicate on an emotional level, which are traits crucial to the customer service industry.

Automation is a major topic in customer service. With high-volume transactional requests on the rise and a need for fast service, they’ve put virtual agents (VAs) in place to work through large amounts of data quickly and efficiently. IVAs provide the opportunity to customer service agents to concentrate on more creative and fulfilling tasks.

This isn’t the first time these concepts have been implemented. Such past attempts, however, failed because they severely underestimated the complexity of customer service and the clients intelligence. Generic, simplistic answers just don’t cut it in customer care. In order to make AI sought-after in customer service, our approach will need to get smarter.

The current AI goals

The three pillars of customer satisfaction we have established at Ultimate are first and foremost aimed at personalization:

  • AI that understands your customers. Organizing large amounts of data including calls, emails, etc, in a way that makes sense. Through data collection, AI can figure out how customers will ask questions. They can teach VAs to identify how customers speak, enabling them to communicate at a human level.

  • A platform that fits your process. With personalized solutions, conversations have many endpoints, and VAs will need to be apt in all responses.

  • Support teams that design great experiences. Customer service conversations follow certain steps to reach a resolution. The agent must understand the information being relayed, check, verify and correct it, confirm the details with the customer, update the information, and confirm closure of the discussion via email.

AI shouldn’t be seen as a dirty word in the customer service industry.  IVAs will assist agents by optimizing workloads, increasing customer satisfaction, and keeping clients coming back.

The fact of the matter is, AI cant replace human interaction. Customers want someone they can relate to and who understands them. The intention of this new technology is for IVAs and customer service agents to combine efforts to meet the three pillars of customer service, which ultimately creates happier customers, while leaving agents more fulfilled in their roles.

How will AI benefit customer support agents?

Theres no doubt that technology will be a big part of our future, but so will customer support teams. When clients need creativity and empathy, AI falls short — and the talent of human agents is needed to maintain customer satisfaction.

In Europe 4% of the population work in the customer service industry and over 70% of those people are women. Advances in AI  can create opportunities for agents to upskill and take on new roles. There are openings for exciting positions for agents to step into, such as conversation designers and automation production owners.

The future of work is technology driven. With new and improved automation, customer support agents are more fulfilled in their roles as customer satisfaction increases. Virtual agents also provide a multilingual function, and customer service agents can effectively communicate with clients worldwide. When competing on a global scale, the ability to communicate in different languages is a must.

The final say

The customer service industry is rapidly developing to meet customers’ needs, and the employment of virtual agents has become a must in many companies. This leaves agents in fear of losing their jobs and being replaced by machines. These fears need to be squashed and employees to be informed of the true intentions of AI.

At Ultimate, we believe the ultimate customer experience is always achieved when human and virtual agents work together to complement one another. This new technology is there to assist customer support teams, lighten their workload, and create new opportunities where there were none before. 

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