The Future of Customer Service: What Role Will Artificial Intelligence Play?

What comes to mind when you think of artificial intelligence? Most people immediately associate the term with Terminator-like robots or self-driving vehicles—and they aren’t entirely wrong. But artificial intelligence (AI) and robots aren’t exactly one and the same. Though often used in conjunction with bots, AI specifically refers to the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines. From sorting your trash to replacing your furry friends, AI powers many technologies we use on a daily basis.

According to Transparency Market Research, the global artificial intelligence market is worth about $126 billion, with that number expected to reach $3 trillion by 2024. With a growth rate of about 36% every year, it’s easy to see why companies are heavily investing in AI, especially in the realm of customer service (CS). By incorporating AI-powered bots and AI-assisted human agents, AI can help improve the overall customer experience, and drive value across businesses. Looking into the future, AI will be a skills-enabling technology that empowers businesses—and differentiates them from one another.

The global #AI market is worth about $126 billion, with that number expected to reach $3 trillion by 2024. - via Click To Tweet

Streamlining Work and Boosting Productivity with AI-Assisted Bots

A Kayako study indicates that, for 73% of CS professionals, managing time and workload is the greatest challenge. As the frontline of the customer experience, CS professionals face a constant bombardment of tickets to resolve and customers to pacify. But according to, up to 80% of the questions that customer service reps get each day are repetitive, low-level questions with simple answers.

Mike Murchison, the CEO of Ada Support—a platform that allows companies to build custom CS bots—experienced this problem firsthand. “For months, my co-founder and I manually responded to thousands of support emails for six companies. We discovered that virtually every company had the same problem: repetitive questions asked via email, live chat, and phone calls,” he says. “We thought: there has to be a better way to do this.”

That’s where AI-powered bots come into play. Not to be confused with AI-assisted human agents, these conversational computer programs interact directly with customers—without human intervention. Using deep learning and Natural Language Processing, chatbots can easily understand and provide answers to consumer questions. They can also simplify the ticket triaging process by handling low-level inquiries at first contact.

Dutch airline KLM uses an AI-powered bot to address low-level customer concerns via Facebook Messenger. The bot can push check-in alerts, flight status updates, and boarding passes to customers—but it can also handle common inquiries, like requests for seat changes.

Because bots like KLM’s can push personalized, accurate, on-demand data to customers in real time, they ensure a higher level of satisfaction. And they’re useful for agent productivity, too; SparkCentral reports that CS bots can lower the average agent handle time (AHT) by over 10%. With chatbots handling most of the mundane, low-level inquiries, CS agents can move on to more complicated questions that require empathetic care or a more human touch.

#CustServ #bots can lower the average agent handle time (AHT) by over 10%. - via Click To Tweet

How Can AI Augment The Human Experience?

While AI-assisted chatbots can easily answer simple questions, they have a limited ability to carry out more nuanced requests. Where chatbots are insufficient, AI-assisted human agents—human CS reps supported by AI technology—can effectively personalize the customer experience and simplify business workflows. Karlijn Vogel-Meijer of KLM describes this approach as “the best of both worlds: a timely answer, a correct answer, and a personal answer. The best of humans and the best of tech.”

At Workato, we use tools (such as IBM Watson) and CS apps—like Zendesk and ServiceNow—in conjunction with AI to accelerate business efficiency. For example, we’ve coupled AI with our CRM and CS apps to  detect customer sentiment and trigger intelligent follow-up actions. IBM Watson analyzes the tone of support tickets and takes the appropriate action—in the form of a text message or Slack update—based on Watson’s analysis of the ticket’s dominant emotion.

Our company isn’t the only organization to see success with AI; CS platform provider LivePerson reports they can increase efficiency by up to 35%. Part of that increase is because AI enables agents to work proactively, resolving an issue before customers even notice the problem. For example, a leading café chain integrated Splunk and ServiceNow to preempt issues with the self-service iPads in their restaurant. If an iPad crashes, Splunk will record the error in real time—before any human can—and automatically create a support ticket in ServiceNow. And in an increasingly on-demand world, proactive support is key to customer happiness—especially for digital or technology-based products. According to an Enkata report, taking initiative in your support could increase customer retention rates by 3-5%.

Adapting To The Adoption of Artificial Intelligence

As AI continues to become more mainstream, it will also become part of every aspect of the customer journey—not just support. Though some pundits speculated AI-powered bots would rob us of our jobs, PWC reports that few consumers see it that way. But do companies agree? Or are they AI shy?

Gini Rometty, the chairperson and CEO of IBM, believes that despite the hype, AI will ultimately aid humans—not replace them. “Some people call this artificial intelligence, but the reality is this technology will enhance us. So instead of artificial intelligence, I think we’ll augment our intelligence,” she says.

55% of mature organizations have already invested in artificial intelligence or say they will do so by 2020. - via Click To Tweet

But the transition to AI-inclusive workflows can feel daunting; there can be a steep learning curve. To successfully incorporate AI into existing business processes, businesses must think strategically about how AI can meet their needs. Karley Yoder of GE Healthcare explains that, while the technology is strong, its applications often aren’t clear. “We see many places where the technology is ready, but the product idea isn’t advanced enough yet. Meaning, the data science work is strong, but not enough thought has been given to workflow integration and regulatory adherence.”

Ultimately, many companies recognize the opportunities AI creates; according to Gartner, 55% of mature organizations have already invested in artificial intelligence or say they will do so by 2020. As the desire to adopt AI continues to grow, businesses will refine its applications and find a place for AI alongside their human agents.

Want to learn more about the future of customer service? Read about how bots can enhance your support workflows.