AI is already delivering tangible benefits for organizations – but where is the technology headed next?
How is artificial intelligence (AI) impacting customer experience (CX) now, and where is it going in the future? What new benefits is it unlocking for organizations and what will it mean for the workforce of tomorrow? These are the questions we posed to five of the industry’s leading analysts during EmpowerCX Americas 2019, Sitel Group’s annual client event.
“Artificial intelligence is already helping contact centers improve two key metrics – reduce cost and improve customer satisfaction,” states Juan Gonzalez, Research Director for Frost & Sullivan in Latin America.
“It’s a significant impact, if you put AI and automation together,” agrees TJ Singh, VP Analyst, lead analyst customer management BPO research for Gartner “If you look at the process value chain and you take the bottom 30 percent – repetitive information-based services – that’s already being eroded away.”
AI is accelerating productivity gains
Firms that have been quick to adopt AI are already seeing a return on investment, particularly when the technology is focused on customer service. Therefore it’s little wonder that, according to Gonzalez, 20-25 percent of companies worldwide that Frost & Sullivan has surveyed are getting ready to implement AI-based solutions in the short-to-medium term.
“We’re seeing a lot of good activity within companies around the world, particularly in helping agents to be more productive by pulling information from several sources to provide the best answers to resolutions to the customers,” he explains. “But AI is also helping companies to reduce costs. It’s helping not only to decrease the number of interactions that would be directed to a contact center but through automation tools it’s helping companies to provide self-automation tools for customers so they can fix their own problems at their own pace.”
The first step of a long journey
Yet technically speaking, despite recent breakthroughs in machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) that are yielding convincing chatbots and powering smart voice assistants like Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant, we’re still at the start of the AI journey.
“What we’re seeing more of is the automation of simple tasks. And that is happening all around us,” says Jan Erik, Aase Director ISG. “What are not as readily available are cognitive AI, where the machine is actually learning and has the ability to do multiple tasks. Right now that’s not possible.”
Even so, such has been the financial investment and R&D in the technology up to now that “If we stopped right now it would take over a decade just to implement everything that is already on the market,” explains Aase.
Customer analytics for everyone
What’s more there’s consensus that cognitive, self-learning AI is where we’re headed.
“I believe that it will then take on an additional 30-40 percent of capacity [in contact centers] and that’s why we’ll probably see human-based voice services drop to about 45 percent,” says Singh. “But even though the number of human-to-human interactions are going to drop, agents are going to be managing more complex situations and complex issues for their clients.”
The growing maturity of AI will also make customer analytics accessible for more companies and that, according to Shirley Hung, Vice President, Business Process Services Everest Group is going to be a game changer.
“The ability to take data and then draw insight from it will really help companies to personalize the experience for the customer,” she says. “To be able to understand what customers want and then be able to tailor an offering means customers are not going to be bombarded with offers that are not relevant.”
“Through AI we believe that companies will be able to serve the right customer at the right moment and provide the right product,” adds Gonzalez.
Emphasizing the human element
But as well as making customers happy, organizations will see benefits that come from being able to streamline their marketing efforts and really target promotions for the best possible return on investment. Still, even with these technological leaps and bounds, the effectiveness of the technology will come down to how well people leverage it.
“That’s the reason why the human element is really critical in anything we talk about when we talk about AI or cognitive AI,” says Aase. “We still need that human element to resolve those issues that can’t be resolved because they’re too complex or because there hasn’t been enough learning or there is the need to make a decision that is out of the ordinary.”
Time to talk about ethics
Yet, one talking point that is not being addressed but could soon be overdue is AI ethics.
“These conversations are starting to emerge but they’re not necessarily things that are in the big picture or on the table when you’re talking about customer experience,” warns Melissa O’Brien, Vice President, Customer Engagement, Retail and Travel Strategies HfS Research. “There are very real implications of what this technology can do as it continues to evolve and get more sophisticated and how we need to be able to position and guide and train those intelligent technologies to do things that are for the good of the customer experience and the general good of the people.”