With the introduction of AI-powered chat bots, businesses of all kinds can not only improve their customer experience but also cut costs. Source: Shutterstock

Is the future of customer service fully automated?

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)in customer service has long stopped being a science fiction fantasy. In fact, over 90 percent of world-leading brands like Alibaba and Uber already use some form of AI-powered solution to improve customer interactions.

And by 2020, experts believe more than 85 percent of all customer interactions the world over will be fully automated, a recent report on IBM’s blog says.

According to pioneering AI firm Zumata CEO Josh Ziegler, the power of artificial intelligence in customer service is mass personalization and contextual intelligence at scale.

A study by Kayako found that 73 percent of customer service professionals feel that managing time and workload is the greatest challenge. Typically, these professionals face a proliferation of queries to solve and heated customers to pacify.

But AI has the potential to solve this issue, perhaps even removing the need for a customer service officer altogether. Picking up your phone to call a customer service hotline has become something of a chore. Often it involves having to endure harrowing hold music and having to answer an array of automated questions before finally being put through to someone who may or may not provide a helpful answer.

With the introduction of AI-powered chatbots, businesses of all kinds can not only improve their customer experience but also cut costs within their support-providing departments.

Customer service professionals spend the majority of their time answering frequently asked questions. A separate report on IBM says businesses spend around US$1.3 trillion on 265 billion customer service calls each year.

Chatbots can help businesses save on customer service costs by answering up to 80 percent of routine questions, freeing up agents to focus on more pressing and perhaps complex issues instead.

Zumata is an example of a company leveraging the potential of AI in customer service, and was named one of the top 10 disruptive travel companies to watch in 2017.

The company partnered with NTUC Income to develop Singapore’s first unguided conversational travel insurance chatbot – under the alias “Jiffy Jane”. Functioning on Facebook Messenger, the “personal travel insurance concierge” provides 24/7 support to customers, offering advice regarding what insurance would best suit the customer given their situation, among other things.

In another example, Autodesk, a global leader in 3D computer-aided design, reportedly found that their customer service chatbot “AVA” led to:

  • A 99 percent improvement in response times, cutting resolution from 38 hours to just 5.4 minutes.
  • A drop in per-query cost from US$15 – US$200 of the costs of human agents to US$1 (virtual agents).
  • They found that their virtual agent was able to answer and resolve an average of 30,000 customer support queries per month.

It is not hard to see that the potential of chatbots in creating a seamless, personalized, intelligent and immediate customer journey is sure to benefit businesses across all industries.

“AI is changing the business landscape and demonstrating effectiveness even in industries like insurance that have been traditionally based on human interaction. The benefits of bots are impossible to ignore,” says Ziegler.

With many today communicating through digital mobile platforms such as Whatsapp and Facebook messenger, the shift in customer service advice from humans to chatbots only seems natural.

“With consumers being more ‘connected’ every day, companies need to include bots as part of their communications strategy,” he adds.

However, though chatbots are delivering a more personalized and immediate experience for consumers, the need for human qualities such as true empathy and experiential experience does not go unnoticed.

“Certainly humans and machines can co-exist, just as they have since the very first machine was created. Machines are used to augment and supplement our lives.”

“AI enables our workforce to do better through auto-piloting (handling high volume repetitive tasks so focus can be put onto more challenging ones) and co-piloting (recommending the best choices available to us),” says Ziegler.