Artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for years, but it's the recent advances that have created so much buzz. These advances show that AI is making machines smarter in very visible ways, ranging from "smart homes" to lifelike robots making the rounds of late-night TV shows.
Tesla boss Elon Musk has been famously vocal about the potential dangers of making machines really smart, even saying, "Mark my words — AI is far more dangerous than nukes." But many other CEOs have simply been focused on leveraging AI to reap promising business benefits.
But what, exactly, is artificial intelligence? AI is a collection of technologies and capabilities that all have the same thing in common - make devices smarter by programming them to think more like humans. This means giving them the ability to recognize speech, plan, adapt to circumstances, and make decisions.
As an example, many of us have Nest thermostats in our homes. These are AI-enabled devices that try to improve heating and cooling efficiency by adjusting scheduled temperature changes based on patterns of homeowner behavior. But these aren't perfect changes and sometimes homeowners have to override the adjustments the device has made.
And herein lies one of the issues with the current state of AI - it has some intelligence limitations.
Despite this, contact centers have been forging ahead with incorporating artificial intelligence into their service models, taking advantage of its powers while also accommodating the limitations. While limitations exist on responsible and practical use of AI, it has been proven to drive considerable improvements into customer experience (CX.) AI has been woven into interactive voice response (IVR) systems, analytics tools, and workforce management software. But the most visible use of AI is chatbots that interact with customers in online chat sessions.
Business leaders typically view AI as a tool that can greatly increase efficiency while also (hopefully) enhance the customer experience. For example, chatbots can handle hundreds of simultaneous chat sessions, so the potential for reducing labor costs is substantial. AI can help expediently resolve customer issues and requests, especially transactional engagements such as paying an invoice. In addition to reducing labor costs, AI frees up the bandwidth for live human agents to handle more complex requests that require a human touch.
But how do customers feel about AI? Does it really enhance their experience?
According to our research, consumers are gradually adopting artificial intelligence and feeling more positive about it. However, there are also some caveats, and opinions vary greatly by age group.
Year-over-year, the percentage of consumers that have used AI for any reason has increased from 45 to 50 percent. This was mostly driven by an increase in the use of chatbots from 25 percent in 2018 to 34 percent in 2019. Not surprisingly, Generation Z and Millenials, the “digital natives,” index higher than the average, with most members of these generational demographics actually preferring to conduct business over digital channels over voice. In a recent discussion I had with a contact center manager whose business services student loans noted that his customers were specifically telling him that they did NOT want to talk to a person. Because the lion’s share of these inbound contacts were related to making a payment on a loan, it comes as no surprise that the preference is to resolve the issue via digital channels. It’s faster and far more efficient and in the end, a human is not required to complete the transaction.
Just as the emergence of ATM’s in retail banking 30 years ago, eliminated the need for bank customers to enter a brick and mortar location and speak with a teller to make a deposit or withdrawal, digital channels, AI and chatbots in the contact center are giving the same, if not more level of convenience.
Attitudes towards chatbots have also improved since 2018. Forty percent of consumers now say that chatbots make it both faster and easier to get issues resolved, compared to 30 percent and 33 percent respectively in 2018. Generation Z and Millenials have significantly higher opinions of chatbots. For example, 58 percent of Generation Z and 56 percent of Millenials think AI-enabled chatbots make it easier to get issues resolved, well above that 40% average.
Now for the caveats.
Ninety- two percent of consumers want to be informed up front if they are interacting with a chatbot, which means businesses need to be transparent about using AI. And, although many consumers are feeling more positive about chatbots, an overwhelming 91 percent say they still prefer to interact with live agents rather than chatbots. Perhaps that is due to the previously discussed limitations – 80 percent of consumers want chatbots to get smarter before they would be willing to use them regularly for customer service. Still it’s impossible to overlook the real benefits that chatbots can bring to customer experience for processing transactional engagements that are simple.
Artificial intelligence is likely to keep advancing, making machines smarter and smarter. This will help with consumer adoption rates. Additionally, younger consumers are already mostly positive about what AI can do for their customer service needs, and as these groups become the dominant consumer groups, businesses will need to respond to their preferences.
Contact centers that understand and are already using artificial intelligence are well-positioned to adapt to evolving technology and customer expectations. Businesses that are exploring options for contact center modernization would be wise to ensure that the contact center software they move forward with offers AI capabilities and more importantly, can assure future proofing the contact center with AI as AI is rapidly developing and evolving.
AI can also has a role to play in the area of managing to contact center KPI’s. Workforce management and workforce optimization (WFM/WFO) platforms leverage AI to help forecast the peaks and valleys of call volume, manage agent schedules, and help contact center leaders understand call tracking metrics quickly and easily.
If you're interested in finding out more, you're in luck! The 2019 NICE inContact Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark is full of thought-provoking information and statistics and is just a quick download away. Download your complimentary copy.