Artificial intelligence (AI) is being increasingly integrated into our everyday lives and whether it scares or intrigues you, we can’t escape the fact that technology is now at a stage where the lines between what’s real and what’s artificial are blurring.

For example, at Google’s I/O conference last year, the company made a phone call to book a haircut. The call wasn’t made by a human, but by its Google Assistant that sounded so human, the person receiving the call didn’t seem to have any idea that they were talking to an AI.

One industry that is becoming increasingly synonymous with the use of AI technology is customer service, with brands across many industries, including eBay, Burberry, Whole Foods and Lidl having invested in chatbots to provide customer support.

As a result, consumers now come face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) with chatbots on a regular basis and in some ways, these implementations of the technology are working well. As a result, there is an ever-increasing concern that technology will eventually replace humans, both in the contact centre and in multiple other industries.

Of course, AI presents an abundance of opportunities for the customer service industry by opening doors to the likes of automation, real time voice translation, sentiment analysis and the collection of crucial insight to enhance customer relationships.

And its role in the industry will only become more prevalent in the future. The human touch though will always be a vital ingredient in customer loyalty – so it’s down to individuals and businesses to ensure they strike the right balance between machines and humans.

Tackling the changing nature of customer service

Good customer experience is vital in today’s market in order to maintain brand loyalty. So much so that, despite fears around AI, the evolution of personalised and programmatic communication in the online space has raised expectations across the board, meaning it is more important than ever to demonstrate that you know your customer, and tailor their experience accordingly.

As such, today there are a number of innovative use cases for AI, demonstrating how the way we communicate with brands has dramatically changed in recent years. For example, Hipmunk, a platform for finding travel deals, created ‘Hello chatbots’, which uses the location of the person they are speaking with to determine where they are travelling from and then send them travel deals from that location.

The native chatbot and tutoring bots that Duolingo built into its app match various personalities and learning styles to allow users to practise conversation at any time of the day, with any character they choose.

“More often than not, there is a piece (or multiple pieces) of technology that now sit between us and who are we talking to.”

This shift in how we interact with each other, brands, and businesses means that more often than not, there is a piece (or multiple pieces) of technology that now sit between us and who are we talking to.

It’s important to remember that technology has its limitations. We’ve all experienced the pain of trying to call our bank, GP, or utility provider, pressing an infinite number of keys only to get through to an automated voice that will make us wait on the line whilst letting us know that we’re number 20 in the queue. And now we are at the point where even the ‘person’ we are talking to is a digital platform with the advent of chatbots and virtual assistants.

Companies claim that this automation of communication with the customer is making their journey much more efficient and streamlined. But is that really the case, or are companies just putting up a barrier between them and their customers?

Although this increased separation from the customer has provided brands with huge challenges, it has simultaneously brought with it huge opportunities as well. And that opportunity isn’t necessarily replacing the human workforce with automated platforms or robots.

Striking the right balance

To capitalise on the phone conversations that companies and their customer service staff have with customers, brands will in fact need to turn toward AI and machine learning.

Unfortunately, where chatbots and voice assistants are being used by companies as a replacement rather than enhancement, the technology is beginning to get a bad name for itself. However, there are alternative ways to benefit from the technology and they aren’t the only way for companies to make use of AI.

AI is now being developed that can truly revolutionise customer service by allowing companies the opportunity to analyse phone calls and immediately pick up essential data from them. As such, the next big move for the telecoms industry when it comes to AI will be towards integrating the technology into telephony platforms in order to help companies figure out what the immediate benefits of the data they have access to is for everyone.

“Our future with machines is going to be one of partnership and enhancement, not sweeping replacement.”

For instance, AI can analyse phone calls to determine the tone of the call, i.e. whether it was a positive or negative interaction, and deliver this analysis to managers, allowing them to better train call agents and gather statistics on them, which will in turn improve and automate the process.

On top of this, using AI to analyse phone conversations will help companies improve their telephony offering, through the ability to offer a more personalised service and reduce waiting times. Imagine how much more enjoyable the phone experience could be if you called up your service provider and were automatically directed towards the agent best equipped to deal with your query.

These sorts of analytics capabilities could also mean that when a customer calls, the integrated AI technology will be able to tell the agent who the customer is, what they previously called about, the sentiment of those interactions, what products they have purchased, and so on.

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