Bots in service
When you call up a business, or when you go online to talk to their staff through web-chat, the current expectation is that you’ll be speaking to a human being, a flesh and blood person who will look up your details, run through the issues you’re having and, all things going well, come up with some kind of resolution for you.
That, however, is starting to change. Increasingly, calls and web-chat are being handled by ‘bots.’ Automated gatekeepers who will try and answer the most common queries before you ever so much as breath in the direction of a real person.
How many times have you been on a site recently and seen that little chat-box pop up in the corner with ‘someone’ asking how they can help you?
And just like that, you’re speaking with a bot. A while ago, I was working to improve customer experience for a major UK retailer who used a chat-bot on their website. With a heavy emphasis on web-chat and online interaction over call center contacts, the chat-bot was a vital part of filtering out simple inquiries before they got to a human being who could be better occupied elsewhere.
Chatted up on every site.
A swift internet search reveals many sites talking up the use of Artificial Intelligence as the silver bullet that will streamline your customer service experience, answer your queries, and solve your problems while cutting costs and saving the man-hours that the companies you use would normally assign to one of those expensive customer service operatives.
Except for two, rather significant issues.
Firstly, chat-bots are not a true artificial intelligence, they’re a pre-programmed chat machine designed to give pre-written responses to enquirers.
Secondly, most of the time they don’t work. At least, not in your favor as a customer.
Make no mistake, businesses are using artificial intelligence, and to great effect, but you sure as heck aren’t talking to one on their website. What Chat-bots are to you, the customer, are basically a glorified answering machine. IF you ask it what a businesses opening hours are, then it’ll be able to tell you. IF you ask it a question about a specific situation you have, it will go “right, I’ll get a human for you,” and pass you onward. The exaggerated claims of chat-bot companies about how they will take workloads off of human shoulders are just that, exaggerations. To a company, they’re useful because they can filter out some basic inquiries. To you as a customer, they’re extremely limited in their functionality.
Intelligence in the background.
The effects Artificial Intelligence are having on your time as a consumer are far more subtle and far more behind the scenes than you probably realized, and the best usage of AI is when you don’t even notice it at all.
Take Netflix. Have you noticed how, when you finish watching a show, how it always has a list of suggestions for what you might want to watch next? It might surprise you to know that list isn’t a standardized group of titles tied to the ones you’ve watched. Instead, Netflix uses an artificial intelligence program to analyze the shows you and thousands of others are watching to learn what you’re most likely to watch next. Similarly, amazon uses their AI to cross reference thousands of factors to suggest products to you.
When an online store suggests that you buy an umbrella on next day delivery, its because an AI has checked your address against the local weather report, seen that its going to rain, and has seen from your purchases that you like to go walking.
Even coffee house Starbucks has gotten in in the act. When their loyalty scheme sends you a discount email on Wednesday for the specific Mocha-Frappucino that you always buy on a Friday, its because their AI is tailoring an offer to you, among hundreds of thousands of others.
Companies AIs are curating a list of purchases to find you exactly what you want on a daily basis, filtering out hundreds of results through a huge analytical engine.
Because at the end of the day, Artificial Intelligence may not be answering your calls, but it is your silent, dedicated and ever-present personal shopper.
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