20 Percent of Inbound Customer Service Contact Will Come From Machines by 2026

By 2026, 20 percent of inbound customer service contacts will come from machine customers, defined as non-human economic actors that obtain goods or services in exchange for payment, according to Gartner. The research firm further notes that in customer service and support, machine customers will resemble virtual assistants or smart devices that perform customer service activities, such as reporting issues or gathering product information, on behalf of their human customers.

"Machine customers will reset customer expectations about what constitutes a low-effort experience, creating a greater competitive gap," said Uma Challa, senior director analyst in the Gartner Customer Service & Support practice. "Organizations that embrace them will be able to differentiate their value and close the gap by meeting this new standard for effortless service."

By 2024, Gartner anticipates 100 million requests for customer service will be raised by smart products.

Initially, machine customers will be best served by company chatbots due to their ability to serve these requests at scale, Gartner says, noting that smart organizations will start to invest in conversational AI platforms to enable bot-to-bot communication.

"Organizations without a machine customer strategy in place won't have a good way of distinguishing between human and machine customers," Challa added. "They may see their non-chatbot channel performance get worse without understanding why."

Customer service reps are already responding on their own, increasingly automating portions of their job to make their work easier, but they're not always using company-provided tools to do so, according to the research firm, which anticipates 30 percent of reps will do so by 2026.

Some of these self-automation tools include quick auto-response technology in emails to customers or unauthorized third-party call recorders to transcribe customer calls.

"While self-automation has been happening for a while in the software space, this trend will become more present internally in customer service because reps now have improved access to automation tools," said Emily Potosky, director of research in the Gartner Customer Service & Support practice. "Emerging resources such as AI models (e.g., Github Co-pilot, OpenAI's ChatGPT and Codex) will continue to make coding more accessible to reps, regardless of their skill level."

With this in mind, Gartner expects a greater variety of products centered around employee automation, specifically low- or no-code solutions targeted at reps to help them self-automate. Vendors that offer collaboration platforms might also increase investment in coding features to allow groups of reps to work together to self-automate.

"Customer service and support organizations that not only allow but authorize self-automation will become more competitive than those that don't, as reps will notice and correct inefficiencies that leaders are unaware of," Potosky said. "These organizations may also become more attractive employers, because potential job candidates are likely to appreciate the organization's flexibility and openness to innovation."

To prepare for this, Gartner urges customer service and support leaders to do the following:

  • Create a framework for due diligence to review and approve self-automation opportunities;
  • Invest in a scalable chatbot platform to make it easier for machine customers to interact with enterprise bots;
  • Harness employees' willingness to augment their own work processes, enabling them to create more engaging and effective ways of working; and
  • Measure channel performance of bot-to-bot and non-chatbot channels to understand the impact machine customers have on overall channel portfolio.