AI meets CX: The ultimate test of…human patience?

Published on the 03/05/2018 | Written by Jonathan Cotton

The robot hordes are coming to manage the customer experience. Welcome to hell…

According to the forecasts, the robots are coming and they’re going to revolutionise the way business thinks about the customer experience (CX). Forget that call centre in India – other plans are being made. Shiny, robotic, cost-effective plans.

And it all makes a great deal of sense. If a human being can provide great customer service over phone, chat window or email, just think how much better it can be done by a robot.

“In an increasingly automated world, the human touch is more important than ever.”

Wait, what?

“In the early years of AI, customer experience [will be] the primary source of derived business value, as organisations see value in using AI techniques to improve every customer interaction, with the goal of increasing customer growth and retention,” says John-David Lovelock, research vice president at Gartner of the company’s latest AI forecasts.

“CX [will be] followed closely by cost reduction, as organisations look for ways to use AI to increase process efficiency to improve decision making and automate more tasks,” he says.

“Customer experience is a necessary precondition for widespread adoption of AI technology to both unlock its full potential and enable value.”

Could the unstoppable rise of the machines rest on AI’s ability to manage the customer experience?

Looks like it. Customer service is where the most immediate cost savings are likely to be made (frustrated customers be damned) says Gartner’s “Forecast: The Business Value of Artificial Intelligence, Worldwide, 2017-2025”, as global business value derived from AI swells from US$1.2 trillion this year to US$3.9 trillion by 2022.

Time for some real talk though. The sales process, marketing and the hyper personalisation of general communications as AI-managed processes? Absolutely. Shift the busy work to the machines and let staff get on with more pressing business priorities.

But who in their right minds would prefer to deal with a machine on the other end of the line when they’re looking for guidance to a problem, a refund or a place to vent?

No one, that’s who. Welcome to the fury-filled end-consumer’s worst nightmare: The virtual agent. Sure, customer service is expensive, and yes, as chatbots and AI-enabled communications in general are becoming par for the course. But AI tech managing that most sensitive part of the company’s anatomy – the CX?

We say proceed with caution.

Futurists and forward-looking research organisations like Gartner are, generally speaking, unshakably optimistic about just how the robot revolution will play out in general: AI will “create more jobs than it destroys,” enthuses Gartner, urging CIOs to “lead in telling this story and making it a reality”.

Sounds good, but let’s keep our heads here. AI is exciting new tech, but the kinks very much still need to be ironed out.

Such ironing will take place later this year when the Australasian Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence hits Wellington this December, just one of the many AI get-togethers occurring with increasing frequency on both sides of the Tasman with robotic agents one of the key areas to be explored.

Let’s hope that as the new era of AI-managed customer experience is a little more nuanced than our first frustrating steps into chatbot customer service – they generally make claims to being ‘AI-enabled’ and they also generally kinda suck (“I don’t understand the question”).

In an increasingly automated world, the human touch is more important than ever. And in 2018 that touch is still something likely outside of the grasp of the machines.


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