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When it Comes to AI in Customer Service, Humans Still Reign Supreme

By Colin Shaw, CEO of Beyond Philosophy

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making headlines as the hottest technology on the market for businesses. Many organizations are seeking ways to incorporate it into their operations. However, one area that shouldn’t go full-throttle with AI is customer service. Why? People like to interact with other people, so businesses need to create a blended model of AI and the human element.

We used to have a milkman in England who delivered milk to our doorstep every day. Once a week, he would call on us for his payment, and Lorraine, my wife, would engage in conversation with him, laughing and getting to know one another. Every so often I suggested we should buy milk from the shop since the prices were much lower. Lorraine would have none of it. She liked the milkman and loved the personal service he provided. Therefore, we continued our subscription with the delivery service and were loyal to the dairy. Moreover, we didn’t want to cost the milkman his job.

Eventually our milkman left, and a new milkman took over his route. But our experience proved to be very different. This milkman implemented a new, more efficient process for delivering milk. Unlike his predecessor, he didn’t come around to talk and joke with Lorraine, so a personal relationship was not developed and we did not feel the same loyalty. Eventually, since there was no longer a human touch, we canceled the service and went to the shop like everyone else.

People value human interactions and this is the danger of AI. Chances are you don’t have a milkman, but maybe you like your FedEx driver or your favorite checkout person at the supermarket. You enjoy your interactions with these people, and it is a pleasant part of your experience with the brand. AI cannot duplicate those human connections.

Rob Siefker, Senior Director of Zappos Customer Loyalty Team, agrees that AI cannot produce genuine personal relationships like humans can.

“There’s no way to replicate the warmth and authenticity that a live customer service representative can offer. Not to mention that no two calls are the same, so there is a lot of gray area that AI systems simply can’t navigate,” he said in an article recently published on Forbes.com.

AI doesn’t replace a human; it replaces a process. Specifically, AI works best with things you can codify, like repetitive tasks, systems or calculations. It makes automatic procedures effortless, which is beneficial for everyone involved. But AI does not have the data about emotions to detect how the customer feels during the interaction. For now, most of our data is limited to rational parts of an experience, and does not include the highly influential, but trickier-to-track irrational parts. Until we remedy this gap, AI will have limited understanding of how a customer feels.

That is why a calculated approach to deploying AI in customer service is needed. Implementing AI without keeping the importance of human relationships in mind raises the risk of losing connections with customers. What’s worse, poor AI deployment in customer service could be detrimental to customer retention. So instead of replacing customer service with a fully automated system, a better approach is to let AI do what it does best (like automating repetitive tasks) and let humans continue interacting with customers in an empathetic and effective way.

If businesses are clever with their AI implementation, they will save time on operational process and human customer service agents can put all their focus on building genuine relationships and trust with the customer. The implications of AI in business remain an exciting notion for many areas of operations. However, exclusive AI implementation is not realistic or smart when it comes to customer service. For this reason, we’ll see businesses take a careful approach to how they use AI moving forward as it becomes a more common practice in general.

To learn more about how to improve the customer experience for your business, visit Five9.

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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of six best-selling books and an engaging keynote speaker & also recognized as one of the original top 150 Business Influencers by LinkedIn. Beyond Philosophy provides consulting, specialized research & training from their headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

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