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The media has recently been awash with stories, including this one in The Telegraph, about the difficulties faced by both consumers and businesses with the rise of AI, chatbots, and other digital customer solutions. The technology has brought opportunities and challenges to the service sector.

There are two schools of thought that are playing out. On one side, it has led some organisations to rely too much on technology, seeing it as a silver bullet to solve all their service challenges and drive more transactional behaviours and a lack of human care.

On the other, it has enabled new and exciting ways for customers and organisations to interact – from AI-enabled chatbots and enhanced search, to self-checkouts through to streamlined and more personalised online experiences. The reality is, in truth, probably somewhere in the middle and will be dependent on the type of consumer you are and the type of service or activity you are undertaking.

Exactly how technology will shape the future is unclear. For some time, we have tended to overestimate the wonders of tech in the short term but underestimated the longer-term view.

In relation to customer service, one thing is clear: there will always be the need for human interaction at some point in delivering a personalised experience with emotion and connection – key aspects of the customer experience – no matter how sophisticated technologies become. Even this week, Elon Musk announced that his neurotechnology company, Neuralink, has implanted its first brain chip in a human, raising the possibility of a cyborg future few seem to be clamouring for.

Channel choice and data are crucial for customers

Chatbots have been under a lot of scrutiny lately, and the findings of our most recent UK Customer Service Index (UKCSI), released last week, reflected this. Our research revealed that % of customers have concerns about AI becoming more commonplace, while 63% fear the loss of human interaction as a result.

New technologies offer seemingly endless possibilities but are still falling short when it comes to offering the genuinely personal service experience customers want. Perhaps present-day tech’s main value lies in the ability to empower service agents rather than replace them? Often, the key is getting data to the right people at the right time, with the required context to make a difference to the experience of the end user.

Machine learning can of course enable organisations to learn and understand a lot of information about their customers at pace, from product preferences to buying habits. We are at a point where companies have so much more data than a human could ever have a hope of making sense of, and the potential to mine the value of this data with the new tools at our disposal may usher in an exciting new era.

However, it is only useful if it is relevant and connected to an outcome that ultimately helps either the customer or the internal employee deliver better. Ultimately, equipping service staff with insight from a range of sources – including, but not only, customer data – is a smart and effective way to ensure a better service experience.

How do businesses get there?

As businesses, we have a legal and moral responsibility to keep our customer data confidential and secure and use it for appropriate outcomes as new technologies become more commonplace. And with access to more customer information than ever before, organisations clearly have an opportunity to serve them better.

Data and technology should be viewed as enablers to train, empower, and develop staff. And through its careful use and application, this data can deliver a more relevant, useful and personalised experience.

Jo Causon

Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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