AI Is Transformative, But Be Careful of Its Disadvantages, Smart Customer Service Keynoter Warns

WASHINGTON--Artificial intelligence is "the future of customer service," allowing customers to reach companies 24/7 with an avatar, but there are also disadvantages that need to be addressed, Jarno Duursma, speaker, trendwatcher, and author at Studio Overmorgen, said during his opening keynote at the CRM Evolution and Smart Customer Service conferences on Monday.

Artificial intelligence, specifically in voice interfaces, is changing language, vision, facial , and emotion recognition, allowing companies to identify the age, gender, ethnicity, emotional state, and other factors related to customers as they interact with them, according to Duursma.

He identified four categories of AI: business AI, humanizing AI, assistant AI, and autonomous AI.

Travel booking site is an example of business AI, according to Duursma, who noted that the company can predict that people who book a room in Dubai also go to Bogota and Milan using "a combination of statistics, machine learning, neural nets, A/B testing, etc."

Humanizing AI, he said, is "where human capabilities are being taken over or matched by those of artificial intelligence systems, so the line between human skills and those of AI is becoming thinner.

"You now have systems that can listen, talk, produce speech, read, see, etc.," Duursma said.

Customer service automation platform provider DigitalGenius is an example of humanizing AI, Duursma said. "They started as a recommendation engine. Customer employees were chatting with customers, and the system made recommendations for the right answer. It is now automated, so the system makes a suggestion, the employee picks the right answer, and the machine learns, and now some of the chats are automated by algorithmic machines," he elaborated.

Digital butlers are the classic example of assistant AI, which Duursma also said is an umbrella term for smart devices. "They know who you are, what you're doing, and why you're doing it. They understand us before we understand ourselves; they will give us answers to questions we never knew we had; they will help us before we knew we needed help. They are increasingly making decisions about us, for us, and on our behalf," he explained.

He went on to assert that this category will expand greatly over the next few years.

As for autonomous AI, Duursma said that within the nbext seven years AI will be able to take on increasingly more complex tasks. "You will have an app that will answer emails on your behalf, that will change your calendar based on a recently received voicemail, renew or stop your phone subscription based on data and price, autonomously help you with certain tasks [for example] you'll be able to ask your digital assistant to make a grocery list based on a recipe," he said.

But, Duursma warned, AI has several disadvantages that companies must be willing to address. "The first disadvantage of artificially intelligent systems is that we cannot distinguish anymore—through voice cloning technology, face swapping technology, generative adversarial networks that are creating text—what is fake and what is real," he said.

"The second disadvantage is algorithmic decision making: the fact that algorithms are increasingly making decisions for us, about us, and on our behalf."

Another disadvantage is that the consumer can lose track of his product consumption because AI technology orders and renews products automatically when they run low, Duursma said.

And, finally, consumers can become intolerant of inconveniences and boredom and mistakenly assume that the whole world revolves around them, according to Duursma.

To address these disadvantages, he asserted that enriching human qualities is essential. "We have to expand and strengthen our human capabilities—things like the use of fantasy, creativity, thinking outside the box; the things we do better than AI systems, especially focusing on things like empathy, affection, and warmth. These are the emotions we are going to need to maintain the human touch in the decision-making processes of the future," he stated.

Other speakers at Smart Customer Service also emphasized the human component. For Derrick Ricca, senior sales manager at Greenleaf Hospitality, this means putting the customer first, which ultimately will "make it easier for your customers to buy from you," he said.

With this in mind, Ricca suggested that employees "use their passion for what they want to change to make it better for their consumers."

Susan Gorveatte, president, trainer, quality auditor, and quality management consultant at Gorveatte Consulting,. also emphasized the importance of employees. "Our people are our ambassadors. We're only as good as our front-line people. You may have a great company, but if you can't embrace and help and train and encourage and support your staff then you have an ineffective customer service program," she said.

Customer service, she said, means "providing superior aid to any person who requires information or assistance in a friendly, courteous, and helpful manner."

Gorveatte urged companies to emphasize qualities like sensitivity, sincerity, and positive attitude for their employees.