Harnessing the Synergy of Humans and AI for Better Customer Service

Customer service is one of the most important departments of any business. Many businesses see this department as a cost center. The truth is, this aspect of any business directly affects customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, retention, recurring sales, and organic referral for more new customers and sales. This department is one of the most challenging and demanding, requiring the emotional strength and intelligence to handle diverse, complex, and emotional customers and sometimes unrealistic expectations.

Artificial intelligence can potentially help humans in the customer service department, and a human/machine collaboration can improve customer experience when contacting the service department. AI can automate simple tasks, such as answering FAQs and routing tickets, because it is exceptional at doing repetitive tasks. When we let AI do mundane, simple, and repetitive tasks, we increase the value of service humans provide for our businesses. AI is a technology that is supposed to be able to understand things that normally require human intelligence, like recognizing pictures, videos, language, and sound. When allowed, AI can make decisions and act on them. What sets AI apart from humans is the speed at which it finds and accesses data. It can digest a huge amount of information in a very short period of time.

AI can personalize customer experiences, and this can be performed swiftly. For example, AI can be used to recommend products or services that are likely to be of interest to a particular customer or to provide proactive support based on a particular customer's needs.

AI can focus on providing real-time insights into customer behavior, information that is useful for improving customer service interactions, identifying potential problems, and preventing churn.

AI can build relationships with customers through customized and engaging interactions. For instance, it can create chatbots that can respond to customer inquiries promptly or generate content that matches customers' preferences.

Meanwhile, humans are capable of managing complex situations where emotions and problems are intertwined with our intuition and creativity. Customer service agents are trained to first be empathetic to defuse anger before trying to solve a potentially small problem presented.

Humans might even suggest an out-of-the-box solution in the context of the customer's unique problem. Humans can use their ability to judge the situation and make decisions, considering other factors, like customer importance, opportunity cost to the company, and other factors that AI is not capable of considering.

AI, like humans, is not without its flaws. To date, AI still suffers from what we call hallucinations, and AI engineers have yet to figure out how to stop this from happening. To make things worse, it's very convincing when presenting facts that might have been completely fabricated.

Another issue is the data quality the AI is presented. This isn't so much an issue of AI but what we feed it to teach it. The data might be outdated, incomplete, inaccurate, and just irrelevant to the task at hand. Garbage in, garbage out. It's unreasonable to think that a system fed with garbage can somehow produce good outcomes.

Reimagining business processes is key. Allocate tasks to humans and AI at various stages of the customer journey. This requires a proactive approach from businesses as it is an ongoing process that demands continuous adaptation, including regular reassessments.

Experiment bravely and judge carefully. Businesses need to test, retest, iterate, and reiterate their human-AI collaborative systems before deploying them at scale. Establish a pilot project with smallgroups of employees while collecting data on performance metrics. User and employee feedback can present learning opportunities to determine the best way forward. This experimentation process will also warm employees to the idea of AI helping them do their jobs better instead of replacing them.

A collaboration between human agents and AI allows for better customer service when the best of both is leveraged to serve the customer. Objectively, AI and human strengths are complementary. We used to use humans to do it all because we lacked other options that now exist.

This delicate balance, however, is easier said than done. It requires careful planning, design, implementation, evaluation, and constant re-evaluation of the business processes and systems that are conducive to that collaboration.

Eugene Gan, founder of Sage42 focuses on developing optimization solutions for enterprises. He is also the founder of Ventana.my, an enterprise digital communications platform. He can be reached at eugene@sage42.net.