Artificial intelligence (AI) − the intelligence exhibited by machines to resemble rational agents that can perceive their surroundings and make decisions − is not an innovation. The idea of computers communicating like humans has inspired scientists since the 1960s when the first chatterbot programme, Eliza, was published by Alan Turing and Joseph Weizenbaum. Unfortunately, due to insufficient technological knowledge, these attempts have for long been rather unsuccessful. In the past decade, however, exponential growth in computer science and engineering research means that AI has finally reached a stage in which chatterbots can have increasingly engaging human conversations. Companies like Amazon, Google and Apple are already exploring this with Amazon Echo, Google Home products and Apple Siri.
How can artificial intelligence enhance customer service?
Customers today are becoming more and more demanding; they expect excellent quality responses in a click. The traditional situation in which they call to a support centre, and instead of receiving immediate help are first forced to interact with a robot that fails to understand their problem, and are hence directed to a wrong person, who then transfers them to someone else who can eventually help with the issue, is not what modern customers tolerate.
With recent developments in AI, however, we now have a potential solution for this inconvenience. As exemplified by the IBM Watson, we can now build a cognitive question answering computing system that has the ability to process language commands, respond with good information and present that information in human-like fashion. What makes Watson different is that machine learning responses are not simply outputted from a single database. but it is cognitive and can actually comprehend the sentiment and nuances of the request. Watson turns AI into IA − Intelligent Assistance, and opens up a new world of customer service possibilities.
With such technology, customers can directly interact with a machine/computer (?) that can answer their questions quickly and accurately, not repeating and reiterating standard information but asking questions to understand the problem and making suggestions as a human customer support agent might. Additionally, it can comprehend messages with misspellings and grammatical errors, as well as different languages and the customer’s tone of voice Furthermore, when customers call with a particular problem, AI systems can recommend solutions to related problems and allow for the resolution of multiple issues during one call without the need for the customer to call back later. Therefore, in addition to providing support to customers, it also supports the company; customer support traffic can be reduced by knowing what customers need before they submit support requests.
Artificial intelligence hence offers significant benefits to customer service companies by both lowering service costs and speeding up responses. This allows businesses to leverage the inexpensive and wide-reaching technology to engage with more consumers. Introducing chatterbots to customer management and sales positions could result in considerable savings of up to $23 billion annually in the US, according to McKinsey Estimates.
However, complete automation of customer service might not be feasible as it remains to be seen if consumers still prefer real human interaction to computers for complex service requests. There is nevertheless no doubt that AI programmes can deliver a better self-service solution than the traditional support centre customer service. Therefore, programmes like Watson are likely to be successful when used to assist a support centre representative, or support the customer directly with self-service solutions. This allows companies to maintain a human touch while providing quick and accurate support.
Although businesses are just beginning to exploit the potential of artificial intelligence customer service, interest has grown rapidly and there is growing awareness that AI can provide huge opportunities for companies in many different sectors. With lower customer service costs, shorter response times and better anticipation of future inquiries, these solutions will benefit both firms and their customers. Looking ahead to the future, the adoption of AI in customer service is likely, and forerunner companies will gain first-mover advantages.
Bayerque, N. (2016) “A Short History of Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence”, Venturebeat, August 15, 2016 4:10 PM, [online] Accessed 5th February 2017, http://venturebeat.com/2016/08/15/a-short-history-of-chatbots-and-artificial-intelligence/
Business Insider: “Business are starting to see the potential in artificial intelligence customer service” August 11, 2016, 6:40 PM [online] Accessed 7th February 2017, http://uk.businessinsider.com/business-are-starting-to-see-the-potential-in-artificial-intelligence-customer-service-2016-8?r=US&IR=T
Business Insider: “Chatbots increase recruitment opportunities”, July 13, 2016, 3:30 AM [online] Accessed 10th February 2017, http://uk.businessinsider.com/chatbots-increase-recruitment-opportunities-2016-7?r=US&IR=T
Chernofsky, J. (2017) “Is Artificial Intelligence the Future of Customer Service?” The Next Web [online] Accessed 8th February 2017, https://thenextweb.com/worldofbanking/2016/12/08/is-artificial-intelligence-the-future-of-customer-service/
Hyken, S. (2016) “How Artificial Intelligence Creates A Better Customer Service Experience”, Forbes, November 5, 2016 09:00 AM, [online] Accessed 7th February 2017, http://www.forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2016/11/05/how-ai-artificial-intelligence-creates-a-better-customer-service-experience/#2435ec3b7ef2
IBM, Watson [online] Accessed 8th February 2017, https://www.ibm.com/watson/