AI in Customer Service: Leveraging Efficiency Without Sacrificing Humanity

Contact center agent with AI

As advancements in artificial intelligence proceed at a breakneck pace, attitudes toward the use of AI are changing just as quickly.

While fear and uncertainty over its effect on jobs and the future of societies persist, a growing number of organizations are intrigued by the idea that AI could allow them to offer consistent, always-on customer service more cost effectively.

In fact, a recent survey by Metrigy found that more than 80% of companies are increasing their AI spending in 2024; the top reason, cited by 75.4% of those companies, is that they recognize the efficiencies AI brings.

But while many businesses are exploring how automation can help them reduce the costs associated with delivering customer service, leaders are still trying to understand the implications that outsourcing customer support to AI will have on their brand, reputation, and customer experience.

The Benefits—and Limitations—of AI in Delivering Great CX

One of the biggest selling points for many who are considering AI as part of their CX strategy in their contact center is cost savings, both in automating activities previously handled by people and in helping agents work more efficiently.

Of course, cost is a critical concern in the contact center, where labor costs account for up to 70% of total costs. AI can help automate routine processes, and it is starting to play a key role in supporting the work performed by human agents and in streamlining backend functions associated with customer service—for example, by helping to streamline quality assurance practices as well as agent coaching and training by delivering aggregate data and insights. The possibilities of utilizing AI as a tool to supplement CX practices seem plentiful.

But let’s be clear: AI can’t replace the human characteristics that are so critical to delivering great CX, such as empathy, decision-making, critical thinking, and flexibility. AI can’t build an authentic relationship with a customer, and it relies on massive datasets that can expose sensitive customer data if breached. And while businesses with a strong customer focus are committed to providing great service, AI doesn’t care about doing what’s right for the business or for the customer; you have to program in when AI is allowed to make an exception in order to deliver a remarkable experience to a client, whereas a human can understand when making a policy exception is the right thing to do.

How to Optimize Your Use of AI in Customer Service

Here’s what you need to consider as you evaluate which areas of customer service might be a good fit for AI.

  • Start by understanding your brand. How would your customers describe what it’s like to do business with you? If your organization is like most, the customer experience you offer goes beyond your product or service to also include your brand and how you handle interactions with customers. If your value proposition is focused on efficiency and expediency, you may have more leeway to rely on bots to help resolve very simple customer issues; if, however, your value proposition is more focused on building a connection with customers, you need to take care in how and where you implement AI across the customer experience.
  • Don’t erase human expertise from the equation. Using AI-enabled tools to enhance your contact center operations can be a win, but handing over the reins to the thinking or the magic of your brand without human interaction or oversight is a big risk. For example, if you’re automating your quality assurance processes, ensure that a human is reviewing the evaluations generated by AI. AI can digest large datasets, but it may not be able to translate nuance, rapport, or real connection, which all matter! It can be helpful to think of AI as a tool—after all, you wouldn’t hand over all of your thinking and decision-making to a tool.
  • Use AI to support, not replace, the customer service agents on the front line in driving customer satisfaction. The real opportunity for AI in customer service lies in using AI-enabled solutions to support your agents with things like real-time guidance or automated notetaking. Having bots handle simple customer inquiries can free agents to do what they do best: building a rapport with customers while solving more complex issues requiring human judgment.
  • Create policies on the use of AI within your organization. Do you want to allow your teams to use generative AI to write emails to customers or draft annual reviews for their direct reports? Ensure that you have clarity on where you are using AI versus where you are relying on people across all customer service-related activities. Communicating those policies across the organization can help remove some of the fear, risks, and ambiguity surrounding AI.
  • Ensure that your customers know when they are interacting with AI. Set up your AI-powered tools so customers or prospects know when they are not engaging with humans; research has found that there are significant risks when bots aren’t properly labeled and identified as AI and can, therefore, be mistaken for a real person. Passing off an AI as a human is not only misleading but also dangerous for all who engage with the AI and for the businesses that choose to deceive their prospects and clients.
  • Think critically about the future you want to build. Apply critical thinking to your brand, your business, and how you want to take care of your customers. Check-in to see whether your employees and customers are satisfied with how AI is being used within your organization, and stay up to date as AI advances to ensure that you’re using the technology not only effectively but also responsibly.

As AI continues to evolve, you may be surprised at all of the ways it can supplement what you are doing, but you may also be surprised by how strongly your customers value the human touch that human agents offer.  Connection matters, and only humans can authentically build rapport and connection with your customers. If you decide you want to explore AI within your customer service functions, proceed with intention and with caution. The best use of AI is as a tool to support the humans who are the face, voice, thoughts, and heart behind the customer experience you provide. Connections matter to your brand, your organization, and your very important clients—don’t sacrifice your organization’s humanity for AI-driven efficiency.

About the Author

Natalie Ruiz is the CEO of AnswerConnect, a leader in providing innovative human-powered customer experience solutions for small and mid-sized businesses. She has helped drive the company’s growth and expansion through strategic initiatives and a focus on customer-centric services. Under her leadership, AnswerConnect has flourished, setting new standards in the industry for service excellence and technological advancement. Natalie is known for her dynamic leadership style and commitment to empowering teams to achieve peak performance.

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