Will artificial intelligence ever take over human conversations?

- March 22, 2019 4 MIN READ

As chatbot technology grows in adoption, so does the fear that it will ultimately replace human workers. Artificial Intelligence is already playing an important role when it comes to customer service by enabling chatbots to be the first point of contact with customers and provide basic service or information.

However, human conversation is still the preferable way for customers to interact with a business, which suggests that the technology still has a long way to go before it could provide similar levels of understanding and service as a human.

During Google’s I/O conference in 2018, the company made a phone call to book a hair appointment via their new Google Duplex Assistant which sounded so human, the person taking the booking didn’t realise they were talking to artificial intelligence (AI), and not a person. With AI technology rapidly advancing, it is now at the stage where the lines between what is real and what is artificial are starting to blur.

This is particularly true of the way in which customers and brands interact. Popular companies like eBay and Jetstar have invested in chatbots to provide customer support and to interact with their customers. However, the hype surrounding these and the increasing presence of AI in our everyday lives has led to many believing that these technologies will take over and replace human workforces – particularly call centres that have traditionally been the first line of contact for customers.

Regardless of whether it’s automatic, a real-time voice translation, or analysing the outcome of a customer phone call, the fact is that AI enables organisations to collect and utilise crucial consumer insights to enhance their customer relationships at a time when brand loyalty is more important than ever and harder to maintain. As these technologies continue to develop, businesses will need to find the right balance between the roles of humans and machines, which can be difficult to achieve.

AI technology puts up and breaks down barriers

Excellent customer experience has become so vital in maintaining loyalty for brands that despite fears of AI, the evolution of online personalised and programmatic communication have raised the bar for customer relationships. This means that it has become crucial for businesses to demonstrate that they know who their customers are and what they want and can tailor each individual experience accordingly to their needs. As such, innovative use platforms for AI have developed as a result of the dramatic changes in the way we communicate with brands.

For example, popular women’s fashion retailer Forever New uses its chatbots to help shoppers on their website to find outfits appropriate for certain occasions or pieces that match with items they have previously viewed. Similarly, organisations using Salesforce Community Cloud can provide their customers with a highly personalised experience augmented by Einstein.

AI enables organisations to collect and utilise crucial consumer insights to enhance their customer relationships

This change in how we choose to interact with other people, brands, and businesses, shows that more often than not, we are connected through a piece (or multiple pieces) of technology that now sit in between us and who we choose to communicate with.

However AI voice technology has not yet even reached the “peak of inflated expectations” on the technology Hype Cycle [1] so it’s important to keep in mind that success stories like Google Duplex’s Assistant, are increasing interest in the adoption of the technology, but they are well-rehearsed demo’s and that the real-lifee application of AI that we experience in our day to day interactions have their limitations.

For instance, most people have experienced the pain of calling a service provider and being presented with no other option but to “tell us the reason for your call in a few words”. Then, being incorrectly directed or being asked repeatedly the reason for the call or the frustration of being stuck in a Chatbot loop.

These common examples illustrate that there is still a long way to go before AI reaches a point where chatbots or virtual assistants will be capable of not only having an effective conversation with a customer but more importantly resolving their query. Many companies who use AI Chatbots to provide first line service to their customers fail to adopt chatbot best practice principals like handing off to a person when they detect the problem is too complex. It raises the question of whether this automated communication with consumers is more effective in terms of its streamlining and efficiency, or if companies are unintentionally creating barriers between them and their consumers, especially given that AI voice technology is still in its relative infancy.

Despite this risk of disconnection from consumers creating large challenges for brands, AI technology has also opened up opportunities that don’t involve replacing the human workforce with automated platforms or robots. Smart businesses are looking to AI and machine learning to optimise the phone conversations they have with their customers. However, some businesses seem to have expectations that AI promises a complete replacement to human interaction leading to customer service issues as the technology isn’t yet at the stage where it can provide the same level of service as a person.

The development of AI is transforming consumer communications by allowing organisations to analyse phone calls and extract essential data from them. Currently, this technology can deliver phone call analysis, allow managers to improve training and gather statistics on their call agents, which can be used to improve and automate the process.

By integrating AI technology into conversations with consumers, brands are able to capitalise on phone interactions by making the experience seamless, useful and helpful to their customers, and extending these qualities across all customer touch points across the business.

Inevitably, technology will change how some jobs roles are performed and while certain routine or repetitive tasks will not require a human to perform them, we are a very long way from entire sections human workforce disappearing overnight. The future of AI technology is one of partnership and improvement, rather than displacement. In the world of customer service it is evident that speaking to another person is often the best, most efficient and effective way of getting something done.

[1] https://www.gartner.com/en/research/methodologies/gartner-hype-cycle

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