Will AI Replace Humans in Customer Service?

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Given the recent hype around ChatGPT, the way people think about AI is rapidly changing. Yet, despite exciting breakthroughs in the capabilities of automation, there's one question lingering on everyone's minds.

Any evolution in technology means a change in customers’ mindsets, and people are more open to automation than ever before

In fact, our 2023 trends survey found that 92% of respondents say their trust in AI has increased over the past 12 months. And since Open AI released ChatGPT, there has been a major acceleration in the adoption of generative AI — including in the customer service industry.

This is good news for businesses, as automation is an excellent avenue for scaling your support without increasing costs. Generative AI is not too shabby when it comes to creating a quality CX, either, as automation can help people resolve queries faster while also delivering a more natural conversational experience. 

Level up your customer support this year. Download the 2024 Customer Service Trends Guide. 

Even though this all might sound great for a company’s bottom line, much of the discourse around this new tech has revolved around one big elephant in the room: Will AI replace human agents? This post surveys the current state of the customer service industry with a focus on the human impacts of automation.

What does the customer service industry look like today?

It’s no secret that the global business ecosystem has been rocked by back-to-back pandemic and recession – events marked by widespread hiring freezes and layoffs. Resource-strapped companies across all sectors have been faced with tough choices about how to stay afloat, often opting to automate customer service in order to meet consumer demands. No doubt, this makes the emergence of generative AI all the more enticing, as it delivers an even higher quality CX than its predecessors. 

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Also contributing to the current state of customer service is that being a support agent is also one of the top 10 most stressful jobs in the world, with a 40% agent turnover per year. But what if AI could actually improve the agent experience rather than simply push them out of a job? 

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.

Yet, automation continues to be a major topic in customer service. With high-volume transactional requests on the rise and a need for fast service, companies have put automation platforms in place to work through large amounts of data quickly and efficiently. This isn’t just good for business outcomes, however. By automating the more repetitive and mundane queries like password changing or checking order status, customer service agents can actually concentrate on more complex queries.

But let’s face it: providing generic, simplistic answers – even to those more mundane requests – just won’t cut it in customer care. In order to make AI sought-after in customer service, our approach will need to get smarter and more sophisticated. The goal with CX automation, therefore, should never be deflection at all costs. In fact, getting the most out of this groundbreaking tech must involve a strategic approach that has humans and AI working in tandem. The following section offers a deeper dive into Ultimate’s recommended approach for automation.

The current AI goals

The fact of the matter is, AI can’t replace human interaction. Customers want someone they can relate to and who understands them. New automation technologies like generative AI work best when integrated within a team of human support agents to meet what we have identified as  the three pillars of customer service:

  • 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. This capability has been enhanced by generative AI that uses large language models (LLMs) to instantly start emulating things like brand tone of voice and much more. Through automation, a bot can identify how customers speak, enabling it to communicate at a more human level.
  • A platform that fits your process. With personalized solutions, conversations have many endpoints, and bots 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. Bots will assist agents by optimizing workloads, increasing customer satisfaction, and keeping clients coming back. When implemented correctly, automation can create happier customers, while leaving agents more fulfilled in their roles.

How will AI benefit customer support agents?

There’s no doubt that technology will be a big part of our future, but so are 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 through breakthroughs like generative AI, customer support agents are more fulfilled in their roles as customer satisfaction increases. Bots 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.

Discover how Storytel offers 24/7, automated support in 13+ languages

Rather than simply replacing all human agents with automation, AI can be a helping hand that offsets overwhelm during busy season, helps them hit the ground running when queries are escalated, and frees them up to focus on more creative and fulfilling tasks.  

The final say on AI vs. Humans

The customer service industry is rapidly developing to meet customers’ needs, and the employment of bots has become a must in many companies. This leaves agents in fear of losing their jobs and being replaced by machines – particularly as automation is getting more sophisticated thanks to technological advancements like generative AI. These fears need to be squashed and employees to be informed of the true role of AI when implemented effectively .

At Ultimate, we believe the ultimate customer experience is always achieved when human and bots 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.

Get started on your CS automation journey