Please select (a) or (b): Would you rather (a) wait on hold for a customer support representative so you can update your account information or (b) talk to a robot and update it in seconds? Now, replace "customer support representative" with "therapist" and "update your account information" with "fix your marriage." Does that change your selection?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help humans in myriad ways, but it can’t replace marriage counselors. That same logic applies to customer support. Still, marrying human ingenuity with AI adaptability is the formula you and your competitors might be missing.
How AI — and Humans — Are Misunderstood
A 2017 HubSpot survey found that 63 percent of people don’t realize they’re already interacting with AI technologies. This mostly applies to customer support interactions. But those same respondents are very open to using AI-enabled bots for customer service — "for straightforward requests and questions,” that is.
For those companies using AI to address basic customer inquiries — to change an address or check a balance, for example — AI is an asset to human customer support teams. It’s nowhere close to replacing people for handling complex, nuanced, or nested questions.
In fact, Harvard Business Review found in a global, cross-vertical study that “these fears may be overblown” as companies most often use AI to perform computer-to-computer activities, not imitate human ones. This is a great example of how AI liberates professionals from repetitive tasks, making them more valuable to their employers, not less.
That’s Great for IT, But What About Customer Support?
If you read headlines, you know the business world is obsessed with what AI can do better than humans. Let’s change the conversation—what can AI and humans do better together?
"Smart technologies" have helped humans throughout history, even if critics didn’t get it right at the time. In the 1889 issue of Nature, the author bemoans the telephone as "a perpetual menace to life and property.” In the 15th century, critics feared the printing press would put the scribe monks out of work. It didn't; those innovators simply published more books.
Today, companies using AI are shifting employees from responding to rudimentary customer inquiries towards helping customers in need of real care and innovation. Now, these agents are always on the front line providing critical support, which gives them real opportunities to shine.
With AI, humans have more time to do what they do best — be human. That means solving nuanced customer problems, coming up with new ideas, and then passing those insights down to their AI counterparts. Humans will have more opportunities to grow and to distinguish themselves in their careers as they pass down the repetitive aspects of customer support work.
So, Why the Catchy Title for This Post?
Five years ago, an Oxford University study predicted 47 percent of jobs could potentially be automated by 2033. In 2016, OECD said only 9 percent of jobs across 21 countries could be automated at all. In 2017, McKinsey predicted AI-driven job losses would be 5 percent. Why the declining numbers?
As we discover AI’s capabilities, we adapt — we find new ways to work alongside the technology. Already in customer support, AI is driving self-assist solutions for customer inquiries, leveraging content generated by past solutions in ways only a thinking computer can do. As AI resolves those straightforward problems, your support team handles the more nuanced questions with the care, empathy, and support that only humans can provide.
What about managing all of those tickets, you ask? Not the best application of your reps’ time and resources. AI solutions can perform triage so that tickets are sent to the best-suited reps for the job, every time. It’s the type of analysis and pairing that takes reps hours and a computer only seconds. Meanwhile, your reps get to innovate and then develop new content that your team and AI can use later.
Your customers are already very open to working with AI — they want a solution more than a conversation. Automated ticket response enables AI to solve routine customer problems without human involvement. An AI solution can respond to customer requests for refunds, password resets, package tracking, and other common questions that take up valuable human time.
One thing humans and AI have in common is their adaptability. We’ve shared responsibilities and grown alongside our human counterparts for generations — now we can do the same with intelligent machines. Embrace it — you, your team, and your customers only stand to benefit.