The march of the robots. Will AI really replace HI?

16th Mar, 2017
Read time: 2 minutes

If you believed all the hype about robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI), you’d expect that everybody will be out of a job within ten years. We’ll all be served by robots and living on a government funded “social wage”.

Contact centres of course will be a thing of the past. If there’s a problem, my iPhone’s “Siri” will sort it out with Amazon’s “Alexa” while I’m out on the course with “Tiger” my robotic golfing partner.

Within contact centres, chat-bots are an obvious example of low hanging robotic fruit. They have plenty of advantages over their human web-chat cousins. They're lower cost, work 24x7 and rarely take a break.

So, if chat-bots are a great idea, how will they replace contact centre agents? What kind of tasks will they handle? Can you leave them unattended to interact with your customers?

Yes, chat-bots will replace some of the things that contact centre agents do today. But, good design and automation have already killed many of the mundane tasks that are ideal for AI. Robots will take this a step further, but they’re not about to make the entire contact centre redundant.

Our experience shows that automation leaves contact centre agents to deal with more complicated issues. AI is not good at dealing with complaints, sarcasm or emotions. It lacks human empathy and the emotional skills required to deal with complex issues like complaints.

Even a simple statement such as “fantastic service” can have the opposite meaning, depending upon how it’s said. Robots find this hard to understand.

You wouldn’t allow an inexperienced agent on the phone without training and supervision. The same is true for robots, but even more so. Because of this, most AI applications have some kind of “Human in the loop” to supervise and check the quality of the robot’s work.

Examples of where AI can enhance contact centre applications

We believe that AI robots will augment, rather than replace manpower. We’re looking at how we can embed AI into existing contact centre applications (see diagram). In many instances, the use of robotic AI won’t be obvious to the outside world. But AI will help deliver a more efficient and effective customer service.

How AI can enhance contact centre applications

AI is not just about replacing what already exists. AI will make the whole customer experience more interactive. There will be a stepped change in interaction in the same way as Web 2.0 turned static web pages into interactive social media.

Designers will think out of the box about the future customer experience. Customer engagement might begin with robots, but “Human Interaction” (HI) will be on hand, at the right point. The handover between AI & HI will be seamless. Today’s stepped jump between browsing and opening a chat window, or picking up the phone will disappear.

So many people think of bots as a like for like replacement for agents. But the reality is that the whole user experience will change. The boundaries between AI and Agent will blur. Think of it as Human Interaction surrounded by artificial intelligence. More "AHII" than "AI".

As an example, let’s take an insurance quote. Rather than filling in a form, the user can enter into an interactive session with a robot. The interaction could be by text or voice. It can pass seamlessly to a human agent under certain conditions, such as unusual risk criteria or a high value transaction.

As with any change, there will be an evolution. Robots will take over where tasks are predictable and repetitive. Robots will augment, rather than replace manpower. Both front and back office tasks will employ AI. The role of contact centre agents will change. The value and complexity of their interactions will increase. There's good news for agents. Their jobs will be more interesting and they'll have AI Robots to assist them.

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