The Future of Bots and Agents: Experts Weigh In

Andrea Lowe | May 11, 2018

Technology – most notably chatbots – have changed the face of customer service. They offer customers instant access to personalized advice and answers at virtually any time of day, all at a fraction of the cost of many other customer service channels. These capabilities have caught the attention of execs in a range of industries and put chatbots at the center of an increasing number of business strategies, as more and more organizations look for ways to improve customer service while simultaneously cutting costs. 

As chatbots and automation become increasingly prevalent – Gartner projects that by 2020, more than 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human agent – it’s caused some concern over how the job market will be impacted, specifically, whether chatbots and AI might soon make human agents obsolete.

While there is no denying AI will cause some disruption, it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, a number of industry experts seem to agree that moving forward, AI will be most effective working alongside humans; for organizations to truly benefit, their focus must be on worker augmentation, not replacement. 

To help your organization prepare for the future of customer service, we’ve compiled excerpts from a number of industry analysts as they offer their perspectives – good or bad – into the future of bots and human agents, along with potential pitfalls to avoid and ideas on how to find a workable balance.

 

GARTNER

Sound strategy will make all the difference

“AI’s potential to reduce staff head count attracts the attention of senior business executives as a potential cost-saving initiative. A more informed expectation, however, would be for applications that help and improve human endeavors, as AI promises benefits far beyond automation. Organizations that embrace this perspective are more likely to find workers eager to embrace AI.

CIOs are struggling to accelerate deployment of artificial intelligence (AI). A recent Gartner survey of global CIOs found that only 4% of respondents had deployed AI. However, the survey also found that one-fifth of the CIOs are already piloting or planning to pilot AI in the short term.

Such ambition puts these leaders in a challenging position. AI efforts are already stressing staff, skills, and the readiness of in-house and third-party AI products and services. Without effective strategic plans for AI, organizations risk wasting money, falling short in performance and falling behind their business rivals.” 1

 

WIRED

Responsible AI adoption essential to success

“As intelligent enterprises integrate AI technologies into their systems, customers and employees will expect even more from these interactions. As artificial intelligence becomes people’s “go-to” technology, it will require enterprises to step up to a new challenge: creating responsible AI. This not only has business implications, but also individual and societal implications.  AI will be successful only if it’s adopted by people, and it will only be successful it if helps provide better outcomes for people and society.

In addition, [enterprises] should make AI technologies highly accessible and transparent. Giving customers and employees opportunities to interact with the AI (via a machine, robot, device, etc.) will help them to better understand what the technology is doing and how it’s enabling them to reach their goals.” 2

 

CHATBOTS MAGAZINE

Chatbots will help humans work faster

“AI-driven chatbots are extensively being used in customer support. The idea is to take over the initial interaction with customers and route them to different places based on the queries.

It has been speculated by the ever foreseeing herd that these intelligent algorithms will eventually eat up the jobs of customer support agents and are here to replace them. But…chatbots are here to assist humans in providing a faster, contextual and better support experience.

Chatbots can be used to perform mundane, repetitive and simple tasks such as collecting information for booking a hotel/flight, routing users to answer their generic queries, filling up a form or giving recommendations. AI-powered chatbots, in the current form, are not yet capable of handling complex queries which require a higher level of cognition. Today, and in near future, chatbots are here to assist, not replace us.” 3

 

FORRESTER PREDICTIONS 2018

Increased automation could diminish customer satisfaction

“Globally, 31% of firms Forrester surveyed were using chatbots in 2016 or planned to do so in 2017. Many companies are chomping at the bit to replace human agents with virtual ones, especially when they see claims of deflection rates of up to 80%. Giving customers the ability to stay in a text channel and receive real-time guidance from chatbots, live chat agents, or a combination of both will be a growing trend.

However…

Pressure to reduce costs and headcount in contact centers will negatively impact customer satisfaction (CSAT) as companies push more customers toward digital and chatbots. Dissatisfied agents will further decrease CSAT given the added tasks of tagging phrases to aid machine learning for AI. Customer satisfaction and service levels will dip as chatbots gain momentum. Service levels and customer satisfaction will suffer due to increased management expectations of automation with AI and chatbots. Contact center managers are under pressure to yet again cut agent headcount amid increased complexity of calls and diversity of access channels. Lofty goals, such as reducing call volumes by up to 50% in two years by driving traffic to digital, are not unusual. Customer service numbers will be harder to find on corporate websites and in apps as companies look to drive more traffic to chatbots, self-service, and chat.” 4

 

KPMG

Embracing tech is vital – what you do with it makes all the difference

“The 2017 Top of Mind Survey reveals that early adopters of AI and robotics among manufacturers and retailers in the consumer goods industry have a variety of motives. The most obvious one, lowering operating costs, is cited as a key benefit by 27 percent of businesses using basic robotics and by 23 percent of those investing in cognitive robotics (AI-powered machines that can learn).

Over the next two years, we believe that a rapidly expanding number of businesses will use technology to lower costs, reduce risk and improve service. Companies that sit on the sidelines risk being put at a competitive disadvantage,” said David Neely, Managing Director, Technology and Process Enablement, KPMG in the US. 5

 

GUARDIAN

AI will help humans personalize experiences

“Travel companies are investing in artificial intelligence, but that doesn’t mean fewer jobs for humans… Artificial intelligence can replace some existing jobs, and managers have to take care of what the next step for people is, that is relevant in the data world.

“We will see ‘technological unemployment,’” says Professor Ryan Abbott, professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey, but if a chatbot gives hotel recommendations based on reviews and your preferences, rather than plugging a relative’s place, maybe that’s for the best.

“People who have been rendered obsolete by technology have always gone on to find new and better jobs,” he adds. “When machines outperform people in every way, that’s another problem – but that’s a long way in the future.” 6

 

WIRED

Chatbots will help banks better connect with millennials

“It comes as no surprise that artificial intelligence (AI) tops the list of potentially disruptive technologies. Vast amounts of processable data and techniques such as machine learning have made it possible to create algorithms capable of outperforming humans at detecting trends, making predictions and taking appropriate action. In the financial sector, legions of smart machines are taking over a wide range of tasks that were once the preserve of human workers. Jörn Leogrande, vice president mobile services at payment platform Wirecard, says that while machine learning still requires humans to be involved in some of the more complex decisions, these tools are increasingly being used for customer-facing activities. “Providers of financial services are using AI to make predictions about customers’ behavior, which can then be used to push certain products, reduce churn and create market insights for product and brand development,” he says.

The industry-wide chatbot bandwagon is picking up momentum, partly because chatbots are perceived as a way to engage with younger generations—who as a demographic cohort don’t think too much about saving.” 7

 

MCKINSEY

AI will create new jobs, force workers to adapt

Automation technologies including artificial intelligence and robotics will generate significant benefits for users, businesses, and economies, lifting productivity and economic growth. The extent to which these technologies displace workers will depend on the pace of their development and adoption, economic growth, and growth in demand for work. Even as it causes declines in some occupations, automation will change many more—60 percent of occupations have at least 30 percent of constituent work activities that could be automated. It will also create new occupations that do not exist today, much as technologies of the past have done.

Even if there is enough work to ensure full employment by 2030, major transitions lie ahead that could match or even exceed the scale of historical shifts out of agriculture and manufacturing. Our scenarios suggest that by 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories. Moreover, all workers will need to adapt, as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines.” 8

 

AI EXPO

Human displacement is inevitable

For retailers, one of the main appeals of AI is its ability to measure and monitor shoppers’ behavior, and then adapt the customer journey accordingly to offer a personalized experience.

If brands can track the style, or price points, their customers are generally looking at, they can highlight new products and services which can boost spending – as well as proving they know what their consumers are looking for.

The potential for AI to improve the shopping experience for customers, whether online or in-store is clearly large. However, the reality is that it’s inevitable some retail jobs will become replaced, or repurposed, as technology advances to the point where it can perform tasks more efficiently than humans. 9

 

MYCUSTOMER

Successful contact centers will offer best of both worlds

“The day when chatbots handle all customer queries and contact center agents are completely replaced is a very far off day. I believe people in the contact center industry have a bright future and to write them off entirely would be to ignore the strategic importance of human interaction to a brand,” warns David Rowlands, contact center director UK and EMEA at 8x8. “The successful contact center of the future will be able to harness the best of both the human and automated worlds, to give customers the service and experience they want.” 10

 

COMPUTER WEEKLY

There’s no substitute for the human touch…yet

“Artificial intelligence could eliminate many white-collar jobs in coming decades. Its effects are already being felt in the call center industry, but there is still no substitute for the human touch.

The development of bots and automated messaging is already changing the world of call centers, which are often thought to be one of the company departments most at risk of becoming obsolete in a world of artificial intelligence.

Call centers are the front line of all big organizations, providing a vital link between businesses and customers. They are also the place that can make or break the brand experience. So, while we are seeing forms of AI in the call center today, trained and intuitive human beings will not be fully replaced by robots just yet.” 11

 

BUSINESS INSIDER

Total workforce automation not feasible

“US consumers appear to be warming up to the idea of using of chatbots as a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, according to new research from Aspect Software Research. In its online survey of more than 1,000 18- to 65-year-old US consumers, 44% said that if a company could get the experience right, they would prefer to use a chatbot or automated experience for CRM.

The technology could have the potential to help businesses significantly cut labor costs. While complete automation of the customer service workforce is not feasible, automating customer management and sales positions in the US where possible through chatbots and other automation technologies could result in considerable savings.

Nevertheless, businesses must ensure that the chatbot experience isn't substandard, lest they risk alienating customers. Moreover, the automation service shouldn't be offered in isolation, but be able to seamlessly be picked up by a human agent, the study found. Eighty-eight percent of respondents expect their chatbot interactions to follow them through their transfer to a live person.” 12

 

1 https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/lessons-from-artificial-intelligence-pioneers/

2 https://www.wired.com/brandlab/2017/04/technology-trends-people-ai-new-ui/

3 https://chatbotsmagazine.com/bots-are-here-to-stay-so-are-your-customer-support-agents-e27c3fee316b

4 https://go.forrester.com/2018-predictions/

5 https://home.kpmg.com/xx/en/home/insights/2017/06/top-of-mind-survey-2017.html

6 https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/feb/17/holidays-travel-automated-lastminute-expedia-skyscanner

7 http://www.wired.co.uk/article/inside-fintechs-future

8 https://mck.co/2BxZXXx

9 https://www.ai-expo.net/chatbots-evolving-retail-industry/

10 https://www.mycustomer.com/service/channels/could-chatbots-ever-completely-replace-human-agents

11 https://www.computerweekly.com/opinion/How-AI-is-disrupting-the-role-of-call-centres-and-call-centre-staff

12 http://www.businessinsider.com/chatbots-vs-humans-for-customer-relations-2016-12