Humans Must Have a Role in the New World of AI

With the daily emergence of new technologies that think they can replace the human spirit, I find fighting for humans over robots gets me riled up. I get on my soapbox, espousing the value of people vs. machines.

That being said, I have always been a lover of new gadgets. I was of the proud first owners of a desktop computer, cell phone, and laptop. I'm also a person who knows how to compromise. I try to be an independent thinker, open to new ideas and willing to listen when people tell me they offer technology solutions that actually enhance, instead of detract from, the customer experience.

I get angry when the motivation for artificial intelligence is solely for cost reduction. That is short-term thinking taking over for long-term relationships. AI can make the interaction with a customer more transactional than relationship-driven.

When I ask Alexa or Siri a question, I know from experience she will only get it right on the second or third try. Once in a while I reward her with a nice "thank you" when she gets it right. I also love (but really hate) when she asks me if she can help me with something else. It's another series of wasted back-and-forth responses; another frustrating moment in the New World of AI.

I am always in investigation mode. Whenever I publicly decry AI and pound my chest, I then learn something new about AI. Without disclosing specific vendors, there is one that leverages superfans to respond back 24/7 for pre-sale inquiries. Not only can superfans (students, stay-at-home parents and others with a passion for the brand) select answers from pre-approved responses, but the company's software connects them with AI to generate personalized messages, dramatically increasing conversions. Companies can quickly and affordably augment their customer support with engaged human agents who are paid on a per-ticket basis. It's a win-win for consumers, the company, and the superfans.

Another technology company couples AI with historical purchasing data and behaviors to respond to both emails and chat requests with almost 100 percent accuracy for post-sale questions such as where is my order, I need to cancel my order, or I need to return something that I don't want. It made sense to me, especially regarding email channels. So many companies can't keep up with their email requests, and, by the time they have their teams review the email and send the response, the customer is totally frustrated by the turnaround time. Many times the customer uses another channel to voice a complaint, make a request, or pose a question. This results in lost loyalty, revenue, and profits.

About a year ago, a voice recognition supplier sold me on its solution to handle client reservation calls. It claimed the software was refined, handled in part by humans, and that within the confined client environment, such as the hospitality or retail space, consumers' questions could be answered both speedily and accurately. The voices used were friendly and upbeat. While the customer knew it was a machine and not a live person, it was as close to what a real conversation would be. The claims were accurate, and I was impressed.

I still feel my mission is to tout the value of human-to-human relationships. I'm willing to be open-minded to technology that facilitates these relationships. However, technology should always be used to enhance the customer experience, not detract from it. I am definitely not a believer in such ideas as cashier-less stores, where there is no human interaction, or contact centers where consumers must navigate mazes of frustrating menu options and outdated technology, leaving them angry. Most businesses understand that the cost to acquire a new customer are even more today than in the past. We have more choices and less patience for companies that don't appreciate and value our business. And just thanking customers for their loyalty won't cut it. If customers are forced to use antiquated technology and there aren't enough employees who know what they are doing, consumers will jump ship.

While my goal is to highlight the importance of infusing the human element in every aspect of a transaction, I don't stick my head in the sand. I understand the importance of AI and how it can be successful, how it can make it easier for consumers to self-serve, and how it can even put a smile on a customer's face. It's a new world. Some applications work well and make sense. Others don't. Remember, generally a methodical step-by-step approach works well. Test and retest. As we know, every customer is worth gold so don't squander the relationship.

Richard Shapiro is president of the Center for Client Retention.

Related Articles

Remote employees make up a significant chunk of Everlane's customer service team, yet the 67 workers in this group say the company doesn't value them or treat them fairly

Posted December 23, 2019