25th Oct 2016
From Star Trek to I, Robot, artificial intelligence (AI) used to be the stuff of Hollywood fiction, but today it’s being used in the real world to enhance customer service.
Clients using Celaton’s inSTREAM software, for instance, are transforming their service by using technology that not only reads and understands the meaning of emails, but can then complete processing in fractions of a second. One of these clients is Virgin Trains, which claims the software has reduced the time spent opening and reading emails by 80-85 per cent.
It’s no surprise then, that Andrew Anderson, Chief Executive Officer of Celaton, believes AI represents the future for customer service. Anderson talked to The Institute of Customer Service about this future and how companies might harness automated intelligence.
You claim intelligent automation will be the differentiator that takes customer service into the future, but do you think it’s something people are ready for?
Today, we’re already asking Siri [Apple’s intelligent personal assistant] to remind us to buy flowers for our partners or to send mum a birthday card.
In 20 years from now, customers won’t be wondering whether service centres use similar technology; they will be expecting companies to embrace it if it makes their lives better.
Is there a danger that AI will take empathy or the human touch away from customer service?
AI is a very broad term, and what we do certainly isn’t a threat to humanity or anything like that.
Cognitive learning simply saves time, and presents a complaint to a real person who can deal with the query personally. This isn’t about replacing people with IT or taking the empathy and emotion out of customer service. Far from it; if customers can see that companies respond faster, and more appropriately, this has to be a good thing.
Using AI, companies can send customers emails that look personalised but have, in fact, been automatically generated. How do you feel a customer would react if they found out the email they received was generated by an algorithm?
You can still make a generated email meaningful if it’s a relevant reply. It’s rather like if a business asks someone to send in their CV. Most of the information on that CV isn’t specific to or just for that one organisation, but changing the name at the top at least makes the person receiving the document know it’s for them only. What customers get is still set within the context of their initial inquiry.
I believe it’s the service people want to see, and they are much less bothered about the route companies take to give it to them.”
Do you think that organisations in general are ready to adopt AI to enhance customer service?
Lots of people are sceptical about taking this sort of approach to customer service. But the customer service bar is continually being lifted. Today, to be competitive, firms need to do everything better and faster. It’s no good just to be known for good service, firms need to distinguish themselves and this is one way of doing that.
This interview is taken from a longer feature in issue 21 of The Institute’s Customer Focus magazine.