AI: Not Quite The End For Contact Centres

This week I saw the question of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the customer experience (CX) come up a few times in news and articles I read. First I saw a colleague, Michael Costevec in China, writing on LinkedIn that AI and bots are not about to take over the contact centre, despite what many futurists are saying. Then I noticed this feature in Management Today making a similar claim – that we will want to continue interacting with humans no matter how powerful AI systems become.

One of the most important points that Michael’s LinkedIn column makes is that for AI to work really well, the voice interactions with the system need to be better than we are used to at present. It’s true that we are starting to get used to voice operations with Siri on the iPhone, and Google Home and Amazon Echo inside the home, but none of these voice-based systems are really at a natural speech level yet. The movie Star Trek 4 demonstrated how the people of the future will look back at our speech interactions with computers today.

With this difficulty in just allowing customers to speak to the system, the present use of AI seems much more likely to be as a support tool for agents. The agents remain the front end actually interacting with customers, but they have the advantage of being supported by an AI system that knows the answer to every single question every customer has every asked in the past. That’s quite a powerful support mechanism and is now feasible.

But natural language interaction with computers is already possible, it’s just very expensive. Look at how the IBM Watson computer could beat game show champions back in 2011. The Watson system has to understand a natural language question, categorise what the question means then scan it’s knowledge base to find a probable answer. That was 6 years ago. Now Watson is being used by cancer hospitals all over the world because it can keep track of every advance in cancer research anywhere in the world. Every new research paper adds knowledge and helps the system to augment skilled doctors. It’s not replacing doctors, it’s helping them stay on top of the research.

To my mind this demonstrates that even if we can create a system that has a fantastic speech interface, we will probably want to still interact with humans for many years to come. AI systems will prove to be remarkable support mechanisms for customer service teams. Almost no question will defeat a system that is constantly learning, but even when a computer understands what you are saying, it’s just not quite the same as interacting with a human.

What do you think about the development of bots and AI and their role in the customer experience? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

Photo by Pierre Metivier licensed under Creative Commons.


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