Revolutionizing Customer Support: The Benefits and Limitations of Artificial Intelligence
I’m sure you’ve heard about how AI or Artificial Intelligence has exploded early this year. This is largely due to the major developments in the use of Generative AI, as well as chatGPT.
But this is most likely not the first time that you have heard about, or even interacted with AI. In fact, Artificial Intelligence has been around for quite some time. The humanoid robot Sophia, who can hold remarkably coherent conversations from a mix of AI and scripting software, has been around since 2016. Some of you have also probably seen self-driving cars on the streets.
Some people may not be completely aware, but we have already been using AI in our everyday lives. You’ve probably experienced interacting with AI in the form of virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa. Or even when you are presented with curated content on your favorite online shopping websites. How about search engines? Ever used Grammarly, Jenni, or QuillBot? AI is also used for fraud detection systems in banking, to analyze medical data in healthcare, and even in smart home devices like your smart plugs and robot vacuums to automate tasks. And in some cases, it allows for opportunities that would normally not be available or very difficult for people who have been ailed with disabilities (check out Avatar Robot Cafe DAWN ver.β).
How about calling a customer support hotline and being greeted by a pre-recorded voice on the other end via the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system?
The Customer’s Point of View
Some people, like myself (especially when I’m a customer), may have reservations about having to go through automated and pre-recorded solutions over the phone, through chat, or even via emails. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the speed of just having to pick a number for the bot to take me straight to the next question. It saves me the time of having to actually explain what my concern is. However, at least with the majority of my experience, I reach out to support not for the simplest problems, but for cases that you can consider as rare that the bot would not even have the proper category or option for what I need. And simply because of this, that I prefer being able to talk to or converse with an actual human being. Never mind that I have to explain everything. I just want my issues resolved. Speed would be a bonus at this stage. At least for me.
However, others welcome the fact that some steps, if not all, can be automated which contributes to speeding up the support process, and in effect adds value to their experience as a customer. Those who find that their concerns can be addressed and resolved by all the options that the chat bot or automated system can offer, will not find the need for human support.
The Good, not the Bad: The Benefits of AI
Now, imagine yourself behind the screen, on the seat of a customer support agent.
The biggest benefit of AI is the speed, agility and how quickly it can help you understand and serve customers. Because there is a pre-defined set of options or responses programmed into the system based on the more common concerns of the user base, this makes the ‘know and understand the customer’s issue’ process a lot smoother and leaves minimal error for any misunderstandings between support and the customer, and the possible repeated description of the problem — which irritates customers a lot.
Integrating AI into your support system allows the automation of routine tasks, which can be beneficial since it frees up your human agents so that they can divert and focus on more complex cases, especially those that require out-of-the-box thinking. It also brings consistency in responses given to customers.
For businesses, especially smaller ones that do not have their human support agents on a 24/7 schedule, having AI can help bridge that gap and will at least let customers have some level of support in the absence of their human counterparts (e.g. weekends). In the event that the customer’s concern absolutely requires human intervention, the AI has at least acknowledged that first contact and most likely has also done the initial steps of gathering (more) information from the customer for the human agents to immediately work on when they start their shift.
The Current Limitations of AI in Support
With advantages, come disadvantages.
When customer concerns are more difficult, complex, or unique in nature, AI may not be as effective as we want it to be. At least not yet. Unexpected scenarios may occur, potentially leading to errors from automated decision-making.
I once had a very bad experience going through the customer support of the internet provider I had a service contract with. I always called them once a month for two reasons: (1) I kept getting charged extra for a Netflix subscription that I don’t have, and (2) there was a very weird issue with my internet connection (I won’t get into details about this) that they could not resolve. Especially for the second issue, if there really wasn’t anything that could be done, I would have probably just accepted it and maybe tried to find a way or a workaround, and would stay with them as a customer — because I didn’t get disconnection issues, and no slowdowns either, and any unplanned downtimes get automatically resolved in less than five minutes — only if they handled my concerns well. They did not. I kept getting the runaround and going in cycles on the most basic troubleshooting which didn’t resolve my issue in the first place, that made me wonder why they kept suggesting those to me. In the end, I decided to terminate my service contract with them mainly because of how poorly they handled my concerns, and I just got tired of it. Sometimes I wonder how I even lasted that long with the complaints. A customer’s experience with AI in support may end up in the same negative light and may cause them to take their business elsewhere.
Another example is having your support system dependent entirely on AI, and no human agents at all — none through phone, or chat, or even in emails (they keep redirecting you to their website’s FAQs page that doesn’t help you one bit). It can be very frustrating not being able to get the support you need because currently, AI is very limited in the options or solutions that it can provide.
Speaking of limitations, it is also very limited in its ability to understand and respond to a customer’s emotional needs. Like when a customer is very irate and wants to speak to a manager, — that kind of thing. Remember Data from Star Trek? Yeah.
Or sometimes, customers may just simply prefer talking to a human support agent. So while AI is here to stay, and many businesses have started or have already integrated AI in their support systems, it is important to be able to gauge the needs of their customer base and find the balance that works best for them.
The Future of AI in Customer Support
It’s no doubt that AI has been and will continue to affect our everyday lives. And it is not here to replace human agents in customer support. As with other areas of AI, it should be seen as a way to empower us to provide better support and services to our customers. If anything, it is exciting to see how advancements in AI in this particular field can further open up new options and possibilities for us to provide exceptional customer support.
Revolutionizing Customer Support: The Benefits and Limitations of Artificial Intelligence was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.