It seems one cannot pick up a newspaper or magazine in 2019 without seeing a headline related to artificial intelligence (AI). From important newspapers like The New York Times (From Agriculture to Art — the A.I. Wave Sweeps In) to business strategy magazines such as Harvard Business Review (Collaborative Intelligence: Humans and AI Are Joining Forces), AI is a topic of current interest to a wide variety of audiences.
Humans and Machines Together
The consensus is that artificial intelligence is becoming good at many “human” jobs - diagnosing disease, translating languages, providing customer service - and it’s improving fast. However, as detailed in the Harvard Business Review article referenced above, research with 1,500 companies found that firms achieve the most significant performance improvements when humans and machines work together. Humans and AI enhance each other’s complementary strengths.
Humans excel in leadership, teamwork, creativity and social skills. AI brings speed, scalability and quantitative capabilities to business tasks. What comes naturally to people (making a personal connection, for example) is unachievable for machines, and what’s straightforward for machines (analyzing gigabytes of data) remains virtually impossible for humans. Customer service requires both kinds of capabilities.
Bots in Customer Care
Customer care - the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase - has been talked about as a function where humans could be replaced by “bots" - short for robots - supported by artificial intelligence technology. The purported benefits are said, in theory, to be clear: fewer people required and faster response time.
An April 2017 article in Time Magazine with the provocative title Find Out If a Robot Will Take Your Job, however, seems to contradict this often-articulated view that customer care will become increasingly automated. The online version of the post has an interactive component that encourages readers to, "Enter your occupation to see how much of your work may someday be done by machines."
The results from entering “customer service representative” are illuminating. Well-respected global consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that 29% of a contact center agent’s job can be done by a robot. Some of the specific tasks that it listed that could be automated included distributing materials to employees or customers and preparing documentation for contracts, transactions or regulatory compliance. McKinsey also provided a list of tasks a robot can’t do, currently, including: execute sales or other financial transactions, or respond to customer complaints.
However, what has become increasingly clear is that it isn't about chatbots or intelligent virtual assistants replacing agents. The secret sauce of using chatbots is offering your customers a convenient, automated option, but allowing them to escalate to a phone call with a human agent if the customer prefers, or the task is one the robot has not been designed to complete.
It's Easier Than You Think
Reading so far you may be thinking, “Backing up a chatbot with human agents sounds great, but it would probably be complicated to get working in my contact center.” For example, you may think that if your contact center software is not in the cloud – if your phone system is premises-based - that you can’t even entertain the thought of deploying chatbots and other AI innovations. You may think that you need to embark on a costly upgrade of your phone system and infrastructure to get all of the "modern" contact center features.
The good news is that most companies have already moved to cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. CRM solution providers like Salesforce now offer chatbot solutions that build on both their in-depth data about customers and their knowledge management systems.
The second bit of secret sauce that is required is software that connects those chatbots like Salesforce Einstein Bot, to your existing contact center solution. That’s where InGenius comes in. Using InGenius Connector Enterprise, companies with Asterisk, Avaya, Cisco and Mitel phone and contact center systems, can not only provide agents with screen pops and click-to-dial, but also provide escalation to a human agent from chatbots built within Salesforce Live Agent and Einstein Bot. Additionally, the agent will be able to easily review the chat transcript for a frictionless interaction.
As we head into 2019, you're probably thinking about deploying your first chatbot project. Remember to keep your human agents as part of the equation!
About Sheila McGee-Smith
Sheila McGee-Smith, the founder and principal analyst at McGee-Smith Analytics, is a leading communications industry analyst and strategic consultant with a proven track record in new product development, competitive assessment, market research and sales strategies for communications solutions and services. Her insight helps enterprises and solution providers develop strategies to meet the escalating demands of today’s consumer and business customers.
McGee-Smith Analytics works with companies ranging in size from the Fortune 100 to start-ups, examining the competitive environment for communications products and services. Sheila's expertise includes product assessment, sales force training, and content creation for white papers, eBooks, and webinars. Her professional accomplishments include authoring multi-client market research studies in the areas of contact centers, enterprise telephony, data networking and the wireless market. She is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, user group and sales meetings, as well as an oft-quoted authority on news and trends in the communications market.
Sheila has spent 30 years in the communications industry, including 12 years as an industry analyst with The Pelorus Group. Early in her career, she held sales management, market research and product management positions at AT&T, Timeplex, and Dun & Bradstreet. Sheila serves as the Contact Center Track Chair for Enterprise Connect.
Sheila earned her bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from Barnard College, Columbia University, with a major in psychology. She was awarded a masters of business administration (MBA) with distinction, with majors in marketing and management information systems, from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.