Exploring AI's Impact on Call Center Operations

The future of artificial intelligence (AI) is the subject of a lot of buzz and speculation about if and how it will take over for human tasks. Recently I heard a great comment, suggesting that if a human can do it so can AI, but if it hasn't been done in AI before it may take some serious research and development.

This reminds me of the relationship and differences between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Ford's genius was in automation and the assembly line. He introduced the specificity of each person on the line performing a single task. The workers became skilled at that one task due to repetition, but they quickly became bored with the monotony. Edison, on the other hand, embraced an "innovation through experimentation and failure" model in which experimentation and trying different things came together to make breakthroughs.

The application of AI involves recognizing that people don't want or need to do the mind-numbing tasks for much longer -- computers can handle these tasks and have already started to in many industries. But in working with AI or training AI to take on advanced tasks, we need some creativity and the freedom to learn through trial and error if we're to develop a working system of innovation.

In the customer service realm, AI will continue to transform how customers interact with both human and artificial agents. But will the result of this transformation mean the elimination of most customer service jobs? AI will fundamentally change such roles as it takes over assembly-line type tasks, but the need for human agents to answer questions and data scientists working behind the scenes to innovate remains strong. According to Gartner research, by 2020 AI will be the driver that creates more jobs than it eliminates, a dynamic that's likely to be true within customer service.

Exploring AI within the Call Center

Advanced AI tools are perfectly suited for extracting mundane tasks from call center agents. The industry leaders in call center solutions are using AI to find patterns in data and then present that to the agents and company in an automated way. The result is instant context, and the ability to send some calls to automatic responders and others to human agents, as appropriate. Call centers can then task their employees with more enriching queries and jobs, and develop their critical thinking and communication skills.

Consider the McDonald's drive-thru window for an example of such natural language AI at work. The company utilizes voice recognition AI to transfer a customer's order to the payment system and food prep line. It's more accurate than the notoriously scratchy drive-thru speakers and helps remove a layer of mundane tasks through automation while not replacing the need for workers to fill the orders. And of course automating the order-taking helps speed up the drive-thru process with on-screen order confirmation and freeing the employees from being glued to the register to enter orders.

Despite the promise of AI to add context and instant data to any interaction, it does have limitations. False results are a prominent limiting factor of AI's current usage within service centers. Consider a customer who orders a premium sports package year after year. The customer calls into the center knowing that he'll order the package at full price if it comes down to it, but he's still looking for a discount and threatens cancellation in the hopes of receiving a discount offer. If the customer speaks to an agent who is aware of this common practice, the agent would know not to offer a minimum or no discount at all. If an AI engine trained to pick up on any mention of cancellation but without the machine learning capability to understand context handles the call, it might erroneously offer a steep discount to ensure against cancellation.

Continue to Page 2: Is Replacing Humans on the Horizon?