There is a lot of publicity around Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially in the form of chatbots and virtual assistants, with many organisations promoting their use of it, particularly in relation to contact centres and customer service delivery.
But what exactly is AI? Well that is the six-million-dollar question! The Engineering and Physical Science Research council suggest this description:
“Artificial Intelligence technologies aim to reproduce or surpass abilities (in computational systems) that would require 'intelligence' if humans were to perform them. These include: learning and adaptation; sensory understanding and interaction; reasoning and planning; optimisation of procedures and parameters; autonomy; creativity; and extracting knowledge and predictions from large, diverse digital data.”
But What Does That Actually Mean?
That description is a bit of a mouthful, but in simple terms AI can do more, and think faster, with greater amounts of information than is humanly possible in the same timeframe. But of course, humans are not computers. They are complex beings, and their communication is not binary in the same way that a computer communicates. This is what makes AI special and where the ‘intelligence’ bit comes in, AI enables computers to think in a more ‘human-like’ way.
Which areas of AI are relevant to customer service?
AI will become a huge part of life and will touch almost every person and business sector over the coming years. And whilst AI is a vast topic that will offer many amazing and ground breaking benefits, only a subsection of the technology is currently relevant to customer service.
The area of AI that is currently the most relevant to customer service has been termed "conversational AI". This uses Machine Learning (one element of AI) together with Natural Language Understanding (NLU), Natural Language Processing (NLP) and speech technology to enable people to communicate with, and be understood by computers. IBM were one of the first to market with this technology with their Watson offering and Google, Microsoft, Amazon and a growing number of others have since introduced their services. The traditional enterprise speech providers are also transitioning to the new conversational methods. How this translates into servicing the customer is the use of chatbots and virtual assistants, with a service automation back-end system.
Traditionally the automation of speech used Auto-Attendants for very basic routing of calls and IVR for interactions that needed to look up information or perform transactions. Setting up of these systems was very complex and involved various levels of coding which brought in complexity. Technical consultants configured menu options that provided different services and customers used their telephone key-pad or sometimes their voice to choose options and provide information. The amount of work to set the systems up, the price of the technology (especially if speech ports were used) and the time it took to build or edit meant that it was not widely adopted. IVR's were never loved by customers, could only provide a fixed number of menu options and were not natural to converse with.
What Can Conversational AI Do?
Conversational AI provides a far more natural, feature-rich and user-friendly way to introduce automated services for messaging (Webchat, social, email and other) and for speech (telephony, smart devices). Interactions with customers are for more conversational as they interact as if talking with a live advisor rather than being guided down specific paths. The responses to questions do not use pre-recorded announcements like IVR, they just convert the text to speech using a choice of life-like voices. This makes it far easier, quicker and more cost effective. Added to this, most conversational AI is available as a cloud service on a pay-as-you-consume model, meaning no big set-up costs and project ROI's of less than 6 months.
The other big advantage with conversational AI is that the interfaces for building conversation flows and customer journeys are simple to use and are typically written by members of the customer service team. There is no coding and even for integrations to back-end applications it can be low-code that is performed by IT rather than requiring developers. The customer services team can edit workflows, approve suggested training phrases that the system makes and publish the changes in seconds. No IT involvement, no recording new dialogs, simple!
The Intelligence Part
Whilst having a computer understand what you are saying is incredibly intelligent the technology can also can extract other information such as sentiment and emotion from the conversations. It can understand if you are upset or angry, using speech and tone analytics. This is what makes it so useful for interacting with people in a customer services environment. AI can use a customer’s history, the context of the call, and tracking of words and phrases to decide on the most appropriate action to provide the best outcome for the customer and business. It can be configured to escalate in all sorts of ways and trigger new journey paths, just like a live agent.
Development of AI has increased significantly in recent years to introduce more human-like traits, and to offer new digital interfaces for customer to interact with. Chatbots or virtual assistants are looking and sounding more human than ever, and are enabling customers to 'connect' with the online robots they are interfacing with. If, as analysts predict in the next 5 years, that everyone will start their interactions with a virtual agent then businesses will need to differentiate by offering more personalised services such as speech interfaces that recognise your voice and avatars with almost life-like human faces .Therefore, conversational AI transitions away from basic chatbots towards intelligent, engaging and dynamic characters that show human-like emotions. They also offer the ability to interrogate knowledgebases in a fraction of the time it would take a human agent. Thereby offering the speed of a computer with the more personal touch that you would expect of an interaction with a human being.
Want to know more? Find out how AI chatbots work in our blog or contact us or call us on 0333 6000 360.