Customer service on steroids – or just augmented with latest technology?

Tags: Customer Service, AI

Customer service on steroids – or just augmented with latest technology?

During recent weeks, I have had the pleasure of hearing numerous visionary thinkers talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it's going to do change the lives of customer service agents and us as their clients. The viewpoints are especially timely now, during the International Customer Service Week, and for us at Efecte as we have recently entered into collaboration with an exciting startup called ultimate.ai. Ultimate.ai has developed “steroids” for customer service, in other words brilliant supporting technology based on AI, which will give the agents superpowers.

Instead of Artificial Intelligence, many thought leaders nowadays talk about Augmented Intelligence - intelligence that does not replace humans but supports them in tasks that require analyzing massive amounts of data. The shortcomings of stand-alone AI were pointed out by e.g. Antti Merilehto, asking his audience who would think they can distinguish a dog from a cupcake. On first thought, you’d assume that that is a no-brainer. However, if you google "chihuahua and blueberry muffin", you'll notice that it is not that easy at all. Taking a closer look, you can make the difference, but a machine probably would not. That means that we are still far away from the standing where AI can, without errors, make the situational choices that even a three-year old would not have difficulties getting right.

Another clear shortcoming of machines replacing people in customer service operations stems from algorithms’ lack of common sense and empathy. An example of this was presented by Andrew McAfee in Nordic Business Forum event in Helsinki. McAfee talked about what happened at Uber when terrorists attacked in Australia in 2014. Uber’s whole business model is deeply rooted in machine learning algorithms and deploying data to optimize e.g. pricing of rides. As machines were making the decisions and when demand for rides out of downtown Sydney sky-rocketed, the logical conclusion for the algorithm was to raise prices. Four-fold, to be exact. In the aftermath, this of course caused Uber a tremendous amount of bad-will. We humans typically don't appreciate companies trying to earn extra profits from human suffering and anguish. Had people been making decisions, they might have made the common-sense conclusion that optimizing short-term profits will hurt the company in longer term. (Uber learned the lesson from this one, indeed, and offered free rides out of Paris when terrorists attacked there a few years later.) None of us would probably want our company’s customer service to be regarded as unfair, let alone cruel. Therefore, blind trust on Artificial Intelligence might prove to be hazardous.

Despite the shortcomings of AI in some circumstances, technology is taking giant leaps. Even though AI will not replace humans in many skills, it is reaching parity in others. In March 2018, for example, Microsoft announced that AI had matched human performance in translating news from Chinese to English. Such capability to contextually understand languages will be of tremendous help when designing the customer service experiences of the future.

Efecte hosted its biggest annual customer event in Helsinki late September. We were delighted to have ultimate.ai there, presenting their chat automation engine for augmented customer service. Ultimate.ai's solution enables any service desk to pimp up their customer experience by offering the – still very human –service agent with an array of possible resolutions to the customers' question. In their ideology, technology will not replace the human from the interface, but offers her a much better chance of hitting it right on the first time when responding to customers’ questions. Ultimate.ai visions that SuperAgents are the future of customers service and Efecte is proud to be on that mission with them.

We at Efecte participate in celebrating the International Customer Service Week by recognizing our own customer service professionals, our customers and the great collaboration we get to experience with them. Next time you encounter truly excellent customer service over chat and feel almost as if the person at the other end is reading your mind and has all the answers ready, take the time to thank the agent for his or her valuable work. If the service is exceptional, it just might be that you are served by an experienced and customer-minded, but very much human agent, who is supplemented with the latest technology. If you want to know how such great experiences can be realized in your own customer service, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Henriikka Åkerman

Written by Henriikka Åkerman

Leading Efecte's international marketing and communications, aiming at satisfied customers, happy employees and revenue growth. We work to simplify the complex world of IT.