The New Face Of Customer Service

Christopher Koch

You’ve heard of Siri. You’ve probably even heard of Alexa.

Now meet Amelia. “She” is an avatar dressed in a business suit, a virtual customer service representative powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

Amelia, which was developed by managed IT services firm IPSoft, can analyze and learn from vast amounts of data and make independent decisions without programmers getting involved – also known as machine learning. Amelia communicates with customers through chat, but is more highly evolved than most chatbots. For example, she analyzes customers’ writing by using sentiment analysis to gauge their emotions, her smile turning to an expression of empathy when the conversation turns negative. She also parses questions to probe more deeply into customers’ issues. If she can’t understand what customers are saying in one of 20 languages she speaks or senses that they are getting angry, she hands the call off to a human.

In a pilot test at a business that receives 65,000 customer inquiries a month, Amelia was able to handle 64% of requests successfully. And her impact on overall productivity was astounding: call times went from 18.2 minutes to 4.5 minutes, according to an article by Tech Insider. When you consider that automated transactions cost 25 cents compared to $6-$20 for live agent interactions, the savings are significant.

Bots take the drudgework

The implications for the 10 million people who work in call centers around the world are clear: rote, repetitive interactions with customers are going to chatbots like Amelia. But that may not a bad thing over the long run.

Working in a call center is tough. Wages are low, and turnover is as high as 45% per year. One of the reasons so many employees leave is because they become burned out doing rote, repetitive work. With bots doing the drudgework, humans could focus on higher-level tasks, making them happier and less likely to leave.

Meanwhile, customers are becoming more comfortable communicating with businesses electronically. According to a survey by IT services company Dimension Data, Internet and chat are Generation Y’s first choices for interacting with businesses – tying with social media and surging past phone calls, which finished last. The survey also predicted digital communications will overtake voice calls in the next two years; they account for 35% of interactions with customer service today.

Will humans be replaced entirely?

It’s likely that Amelia and her colleagues will become more competitive with humans over time as AI enters the mainstream and more businesses enter the AI race. In fact, chatbots are now embedded in Facebook’s Messenger app, for example.

Does this mean that humans will be pushed out of customer service entirely? It’s possible one day, but it’s unlikely to happen in the near term. Experts surveyed by Oxford University predict a 50/50 chance that AI will achieve human-like intelligence by 2040 to 2050.

Today, the Amelias of the world lack the ability to think outside the database. They are only as smart as their algorithms and existing data sets make them. They can’t use imagination and creativity to come up with new solutions to problems, and they can’t summon the kind of warmth and empathy that the best customer service agents offer.

Rather than look at AI simply as a way to replace employees, businesses should take a more holistic approach and focus on ways that AI and humans can complement one another to improve speed, which is customers’ number one priority, according to a survey by software company Parature. By automating processes and making better use of employees in customer service, businesses can move a step closer to responding in the moment of their customers’ choosing – the true definition of a Live Business.

Learn more about digital transformation for the retail or consumer products industries.

About Christopher Koch

Christopher Koch is the Editorial Director of the SAP Center for Business Insight. He is an experienced publishing professional, researcher, editor, and writer in business, technology, and B2B marketing.