AI takes centre stage in development of future customer service roles
New research suggests 93 per cent of organisations plan to use artificial intelligence as part of future customer service activities
Organisations can take a lot of customer queries and deflect them to digital agents who can answer them at lower cost and quicker in many cases. Photograph: iStock
Recent research carried out on behalf of Microsoft, the Contact Centre Management Association (CCMA), and IT solutions consultancy Codec reveals that over a third of Irish organisations with customer contact centres view artificial intelligence (AI) as a high priority for customer relationship management (CRM).
The importance of AI will increase, according to the research, with seven-in-10 saying that AI will be a high priority in the future, both for the overall business (69 per cent) and for customer service activity (68 per cent). The growing importance of AI is highlighted by the finding that 93 per cent of organisations plan to use AI as part of future ongoing customer service activities.
[Read more about Microsoft's research into AI in Ireland]
However, only 14 per cent currently use AI solutions, and just 33 per cent of them plan to implement AI in the immediate future for customer service management. Interestingly, this is despite one-in-three organisations having AI technology already integrated into the solutions they are using.
Failure to utilise this functionality represents a significant missed opportunity for Irish business, according to Microsoft enterprise director Ger Perdisatt. “AI agents and tools can engage with humans to reason, communicate and answer questions intelligently,” he says.
“The application of that to customer service and customer contact scenarios is pretty clear – customers self-serving to get their issues resolved faster, human support teams able to focus on the more complex cases – and significant cost and efficiency gains as well. These are very significant benefits that many Irish organisations are missing out on.”
He puts the relative slowness of adoption down to a lack of understanding of how to implement AI in an efficient manner while bringing benefit to their business.
“AI means many things to many different people. You have to break it apart into use cases rather than speak about it from a technical perspective. No deep technical knowledge is required to utilise AI. Our experience is that when we talk to customers and explain it, they are pleasantly surprised that it is not as technically complex as they thought and the time to value of any investment is much quicker than they assumed.”
Tom McArdle, operations lead with Codec’s Microsoft practice agrees. “To me, one of the key reasons organisations are slow to adopt AI in the customer service area is that they don’t fully understand the benefits it can bring,” he says.
“AI is something you hear a lot about but there is still a lack of knowledge out there in relation to it. It sounds very futuristic and that can be intimidating. Rather than talk about AI in its broadest sense we need to talk about chatbots as a practical aid and give examples of how AI can be used to enhance an organisation’s performance. We have to make the benefits more tangible.”
According to Ger Perdisatt, customer service is the use case that rates most highly at present. “We are working with customer service organisations to assist them in introducing digital customer service agents,” he says. “Organisations can take a lot of the simpler customer queries and deflect them to digital agents which can answer them at lower cost and quicker in many cases. In our experience, organisations can deflect up to 60 per cent of the most frequent queries to digital agents.”
The overall impact is to improve customer service. “It’s not about the substitution of the human agent,” he points out. “It’s about freeing up people to do their best work. The deflection rate on our own customer service system is now up to 40 per cent. That means our customer service teams deal with the other 60 per cent in a much more personalised, value-added way.”
At another level, these chatbots interact with customers in a more attractive and personable way than a website, pointing them to a knowledge base to solve the problem for themselves. “The agents use idiomatic natural language to communicate with customers,” he adds.
That can mean much more than handling inbound queries. “We are working with customers to provide digital customer service agents in multiple languages,” he says. “Microsoft can offer this capability in 60 languages. This allows companies to enter new markets at a much lower cost.”
The technology can also be used to support the management of contact centres. “We have built a system for a customer service organisation that uses AI to help them make more accurate forecasts in relation to their resource needs,” says Codec’s Tom McArdle. “It predicts the number of contact centre agents needed at different times. That’s very tangible. If you tell a call centre manager that the software can forecast how many agents they will need next Wednesday afternoon, that’s very valuable to them.”
Cybersecurity is another key area for AI. “We are using advanced AI to detect security threats. In a financial setting, it can look at the behaviour of individuals; how are they transferring money? What device are they using? How are they typing? It looks for anomalous behaviours to alert the institutions to potential threats. Most institutions have false positive rates of 98 or 99 per cent with traditional systems. AI can give much better insights.”
AI also comes into play in the cybersecurity services Microsoft offers its customers. “We leverage more than six trillion data points every day to protect our customers ‑ only AI can do that,” Perdisatt explains.
Microsoft has a number of ready-to-use AI tools which customers can easily incorporate into their customer service systems. These PowerApps allow users create custom-built applications by connecting them in different ways. “Non-technologists can use them to connect different pieces of software to create workflows to improve different areas of the business. They can use it to predict how much product is required at various times, for example. It’s the democratisation of technology.”
Indeed, the Microsoft Dynamics customer relationship management platform comes ready loaded with digital customer service agents and AI-powered tools to gain deep insights from existing data which can further enhance the customer experience.
“Our customers can use the Dynamics platform to start their AI journey while enhancing the customer experience and adding to their competitiveness,” Perdisatt concludes. “A growing number of Irish businesses are already enjoying these benefits, but the others need to start now if they are not to lose out in the longer term.”