Will AI Take Over Customer Service

The future is now. Science fiction has become reality. Back in 1968, almost five decades ago, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick, introduced us to HAL 9000, a computer that communicated like a human … and against its crew. Other movies, such as Blade Runner, The Terminator, I, Robot and others have painted a scary picture of what happens when AI takes control.

While AI has been depicted as scary, and in some cases, evil, that’s the fiction part of science fiction. In real life, AI has been around longer than most people think, and for the most part, it’s been pretty good for us. It’s been built into many products and services we’ve been using for years, and you probably don’t know it.

In 1997, Microsoft Outlook used AI to help manage email. While still not perfect, it’s come a long way in recognizing spam messages as they enter your inbox and sending them to the junk mail folder. In 2000, Netflix created a system that has the ability to identify the type of movies and shows its subscribers enjoy and make appropriate recommendations. In 2001, Apple introduced Siri. Tesla introduced an autopilot feature in 2014, the same year the Amazon Echo was introduced.

And we can’t forget IBM’s Watson, its AI system that was introduced in 2010. It was just a year later when Watson competed on the TV gameshow Jeopardy and beat two previous champions, showcasing the AI system’s natural language processing capabilities.

Even with all that good and realizing that almost all the evil in science fiction movies really is fiction, people still fear AI. So, I’d like to address some of the fears that AI has created, and why they are not justified, especially in the world of customer service and CX.

Before we go further, consider what Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, had to say about AI. “Artificial intelligence technology will be the biggest technological shift in our lifetimes and might even turn out to be bigger than the internet itself.” That’s huge – and to emphasize just how huge, Pichai also said, “I’ve always thought of AI as the most profound technology humanity is working on – more profound than fire or electricity or anything that we’ve done in the past.”

Big and powerful doesn’t mean that we need to fear AI. So, let’s jump to the top five fears that seem to be most talked about. While there are others, these seem to find their way into headlines most often.

1. AI will take over the world

If you believe science fiction, then you don’t understand the meaning of the word fiction. The short answer to this fear is: No, AI will not take over the world, at least not as it is depicted in the movies. Technology can do a lot, and computers are more powerful than humans when solving complicated equations, but more powerful does not mean there’s the capability to show empathy, compassion and emotion when communicating with a customer. That may come in the future, but for now, AI is simply a tool that will support our customers and agents – and create a better customer (and employee) experience.

2. AI will invade our privacy

It doesn’t take AI to violate our privacy, however it could make it easier. The capability of collecting and analyzing large amounts of customer data must be properly managed. Smart companies realize this and work hard to not jeopardize the trust their customers place in them.

3. AI will be used for nefarious purposes

Let’s not stick our heads in the sand and pretend AI won’t be used for nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, as with almost anything, criminals will find ways to take advantage of whatever gives them an edge to get what they want. Furthermore, they will find ways to hack systems (they always do) to obtain sensitive information. But AI can also help fend off these cyber criminals. And new laws are being passed to protect the innocent and help thwart criminal behavior.

4. AI will make us stupid

I remember my father gave me a calculator for my birthday when I was a kid. The “experts” (whoever they were) said calculators would teach kids not to think. Kids wouldn’t learn basic math skills and would become reliant on a machine to do their work. Basic math skills are still taught in school today, but calculators are allowed as the problems get more difficult. Using a calculator won’t get you the right answer if you don’t know how to solve the problem to begin with. But they will make you more productive if you know how. It’s the same with AI and ChatGPT-type technologies. Like calculators, they will allow us to be more productive and effective when supporting customers – when used the right way.

5. AI will take away jobs

This may be the fear I read and hear about the most. Unfortunately, there will be a displacement of jobs. That has happened with many innovations. Stats and reports come out that talk about significant job loss. Last year, Goldman Sachs economists predicted that AI could impact 300 million full-time jobs. I believe it, but consider this. While 300 million lost jobs seem like a lot, that’s only 10% of the workforce. And while technologies and innovations can disrupt the job market, they also create new jobs. For example, frontline customer service reps may be retrained to monitor AI, ensure the quality of the experience, and be upskilled to handle the more complicated issues that AI can’t handle. In my customer service and CX keynote speeches, I often share the following when discussing AI taking away jobs. When Barclays Bank introduced the first ATM, many “experts” said it would eliminate bank teller jobs. While there was some reduction in staff, many banks, especially in the U.S., still have plenty of tellers working, even when there’s an ATM just outside the bank. AI and ChatGPT-type technologies will not eliminate the need for good customer service and support people.

Smart companies are working hard to use AI in a way that positively impacts customer service and CX. They are not looking to replace humans, but instead, using technology to augment human-to-human support. Easier support issues and questions can be answered by AI, but when customers need more, there is someone from the company to help. When a company does this well, it increases trust and strengthens the relationship customers have with them. AI plus human backup is a winning combination that more customers are getting used to.

Shep Hyken is a customer service and CX expert, award-winning keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling author.

© MMXXIV Shep Hyken – Used With Permission


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