Report warns businesses could lose custom if they make customers speak to robots instead of people

17th Jul 2018

A new report released today reveals almost half of UK consumers (48%) would stop using – or switch – organisations if they were forced to speak to robots over people.  

The report, compiled by The Institute of Customer Service found that if customers were denied the choice of speaking to a person first, they would vote with their feet, either refusing to use the organisation (13%) or seeking an alternative provider if one was available (35%). Even amongst customers who prefer to use online chat to interact with an organisation, although 62% stated that they were willing to communicate with an artificial chatbot, 70% would rather deal with a person. 

The report, The Heart of Artificial Intelligence, analysed the attitudes of consumers, employees and employers towards the adoption of artificial intelligence, its effect on customer service and trust in organisations.

Despite two-thirds of people (65%) being able to name artificial intelligence (AI) applications, and almost a third (29%) saying they had used a virtual assistant themselves, the report showed inconsistency amongst consumer attitudes towards organisations using AI as a complete alternative to human conversations. 

Trust is a defining factor for consumers when it comes to AI, with the majority of individuals stating they believed companies should make it wholly transparent if and when they aren’t dealing with real people. 

Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service said: “Many people are open to use of artificial intelligence to collate information, detect fraud risk or alert emergency services in a crisis situation. Attitudes are more mixed when it comes to using artificial intelligence to analyse an individual’s profile, and many customers are troubled by the prospect of technology that can attempt to interpret their thoughts and feelings.

Our research shows consumers are significantly more concerned when AI is deployed ‘secretively’ or to make decisions that involve moral or ethical judgements.”

The business perspective  

The report found that attitudes within businesses are less sceptical, though not without conflict. Almost 40% of employees believe that artificial intelligence has improved the customer experience, and over a third (34%) said it had also made their job better. 

Evidencing the disparity in employees’ experience, more than half said they didn’t believe AI had made a difference to customers or their jobs. A quarter (26%) indicated AI had led to job losses, although around the same amount of employees (28%) believe it has also created new job opportunities. A further 40% said they were unsure about the future consequences for their jobs, but over a quarter (29%) of staff in organisations that had introduced AI quite widely were hopeful it would have a positive impact on their future role.

The Institute of Customer Service report includes responses from 1,000 consumers, 1,000 employees and interviews with senior managers responsible for the deployment of AI across 21 organisations and sets out clear recommendations for business leaders, including: 

1. Increasing board level knowledge of AI 

2. Identifying processes that can be improved through automation, that work best by empowering employees with technology and that will continue to require high levels of employee input such as complex enquiries, complaints or high value sales

3. Piloting the launch of technology, taking in customer and employee feedback

4. Engaging employees in the deployment of AI

5. Ensuring AI adoption meets with regulation and legislation, paying particular attention to risks around ethics, privacy and security

6. Being transparent with customers about when they are speaking with an artificial intelligence agent 

The report concludes that there is a clear role for AI, with research demonstrating that three-fifths (59%) of employees with extensive experience of working alongside AI believe it improves the customer experience. However, The Institute warns there is a clear perception gap between business and consumer appetites for AI use which needs to be addressed by UK businesses. 

Jo Causon concluded: “Consumers want the adoption of AI to be implemented through businesses being transparent and involving customers in the testing of new technologies before widespread adoption. Customers and businesses still want and need human intelligence, and rather than seeing AI as a quick fix to make savings, businesses need to focus on reinvesting in the end to end customer experience, and the skills of those delivering it.”

To download the full report go to An executive summary of the report is available here


Notes to editors

For further information please contact: 

Rebecca Peck, Sophie Lanning or Bethan Davies

E: [email protected] 

T: 0207 010 0877 (Becca), 020 7010 0843 (Sophie) or 0207 010 851 (Bethan)

About The Institute of Customer Service 

The Institute of Customer Service is the professional body for customer service delivering tangible benefit to organisations and individuals so that our customers can improve their customers’ experience and their own business performance. The Institute is a membership body with a community of over 500 organisational members - from the private, public and third sectors – and over 3,000 individual memberships. For more information about The Institute of Customer Service go to    

‘The Heart of Artificial Intelligence’ is published by The Institute of Customer Service and sponsored by Capita Customer Management, O2, and UK Power Networks. 

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