High Tech Demands High Touch: Balancing AI & Automation with Human Interaction

22 May, 2018



Recently, I had an opportunity to attend the SOCAP Southwest chapter meeting in Denver, which focused on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the contact center.

The meeting consisted of a series of sessions addressing various aspects of AI and automation technology. Here’s a brief run-down:

AI in Customer Service

The first session centered around conversation interfaces — partnering Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant with CRM and pairing of voice assistant (“How may I help you?”) with chatbot capabilities (“Is this what you are looking for?”).

The presenters conducted a demo with a utility company chatbot using questions asked in a conversational format and received responses on everything from current bill, make a payment, water usage, and more. (No more “press 1 for…”)

They wrapped up the session by showing multiple examples of cost savings organizations could get by using AI to manage simple transactions.

Conversational vs. Process Automation

Smart Action, an AI technology platform provider, followed with a session discussing conversational versus process automation, listing their practical applications, which included the ability to handle call fluctuations, transform self-service from menus to conversations, increasing customer satisfaction, and cost savings with call deflection.

Want to be shocked? The presenters said, according to Gartner, by 2020 you will have more conversations with chatbots than your spouse(!) — a testimony to the spread and continual growth of chatbots.

AI Contact Center Applications

Melissa Pollack, head of client services and content development for computer software company AmplifAI, had an excellent presentation covering the typical applications of AI in the contact center, including:

  • CRM
  • Intelligent IVR Routing
  • Chatbots
  • Speech Analytics
  • Knowledge Management
  • Incident Management
  • Sales Support

Following that, Pollock shared ways to apply AI in agent training — presenting personalized and adaptive learning to overcome the challenges typically associated with contact center training (e.g., 54% of employees reported that learning information collateral was hard to access, hard to consume, and hard to apply in real situations).

Imagine using AI to correct this by automatically and predictively determining the highest need and best way to apply. Wow!

Academic Idiom or Applicable Innovation

Greg Weber, senior consulting director at Eventus, a contact center consulting company, finished off the meeting with a fun session on “Academic Idiom or Applicable Innovation.”

This is where I was wowed by what’s happening with AI.

Weber illustrated the advantages of AI by with a real-world application: NASA engineers unable to craft a small, lightweight antenna allowing AI to complete the task.

AI can work through a trial and error process quickly because it has no artificial bias, provides opaque results, and fosters a safe environment for mistakes.

AI and Automation: World-changing Trends

Regarding the rise of AI and automation, a Forbes article talking about trends that will change the world in 2018 said, “Computers are now able to learn in much the same way as we humans do… This huge step forward in AI mean computers can now undertake more and more human tasks.”

The article also referred to automation as an “unstoppable freight train” and said, “The more intelligent machines become, the more they can do for us. That means even more processes, decisions, functions, and systems can be automated and carried out by algorithms or robots.”

The article only reinforces the points made at the SOCAP meeting: The future of the contact center, at least in part, lies in its use of “high tech” — artificial intelligence, chatbots, and automated processes.

That said, I would like to strongly argue there is a need for “high touch” as well.

AI & Automation: Where Transparent BPO Stands

The futurist John Naisbitt, in his 1982 bestselling book Megatrends, forecasted that a high-tech world would demand high-touch balance.

We believe his prediction is spot-on as it pertains to the contact center industry.

As chatbots and conversational interfaces like Alexa handle more and more customer engagements, people will still desire high-touch, interpersonal transactions.

While Millennials are adopting the use of AI applications quickly, Gen X and Baby Boomers are much slower to adjust. And, regardless of AI’s advance, many consumers still want to talk to a real person — preferably a competent, friendly customer service agent — with their customer service or product-related questions and concerns.

Let me be clear: We are not Luddites opposed to new technology.

We understand that the use of AI and automation in the contact center is a good thing. But we also know that it is not the answer to everything. To Naisbitt’s point, there is a need for balance. High tech demands high touch — and that’s Transparent BPO’s niche.

Transparent BPO has been a premier provider of nearshore contact center services for more than eight years. Our native English-speaking agents, with their strong affinity for U.S. culture and brands, produce exceptional results that a script, IVR, or chatbot can’t deliver.

I am excited about the opportunity to provide top U.S. companies and enterprises with the Transparent Difference — onshore quality services at nearshore prices — and would cherish the opportunity to speak with you about what we offer. If you’d like to learn more, click here to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation.