The Heart of AI – does your organisation have the human intelligence to make it work?

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Capita Customer Management 4th December 2018 5 minute read

The Heart of AI – does your organisation have the human intelligence to make it work?

AI is a sophisticated technology with enormous potential for the customer management industry. But in one respect it is no different from the simplest and most basic of tools. It needs great people to make it work well.

While a lot has been written about the ability of artificial intelligence to take on the roles humans fulfil, there have been fewer explorations of the other side of the equation – the jobs AI will need humans to do if it is to succeed.

How much will the success of an AI implementation rely on employees engaging with it? What new skills will it require of those working in customer management? What are the risks if you do not possess the great people able to transform your investment in AI into a customer experience that moves forwards, not backwards?

Earlier this year Capita Customer Management was proud to be a co-sponsor of the Institute of Customer Service’s report The Heart of Artificial Intelligence. The wide-ranging study polled senior managers within major UK service organisations (and more than 1,000 employees) for their views on the key AI issues within customer service. It ranged from questions of transparency and security to consumer attitudes and the nature of the technologies themselves.

One issue came through clearly. However clever the robots might be, they’re unlikely to win customers over without the support of smart and committed humans at their sides.

Far from effortlessly replacing humans, the successful implementation of AI will lean heavily on people doing their jobs even better than they are now, argued ICS Chief Executive Jo Causson in her executive summary.

An era of new skills and enhanced abilities

Those working in customer experience will need to enhance existing abilities, develop new skills, become increasingly agile and flexible and even better at collaboration if AI is to deliver effectively for the organisations that adopt it.

Advisors will come to need “higher order customer service skills combining high levels of empathy, relationship building, brilliant communication and investigation skills and problem solving,” predicts Jo Causson. This echoes a point we have often made at Capita Customer Management; that as AI and self-serve handle more of the simple enquiries, those left for agents will become ever more complex and demanding.

Without such great people complementing the technology, and filling in the gaps around it, an AI-driven customer experience could be a hollow and indifferent one for the customer at the other end of the channel.

Organisations remain cautious about the challenges AI presents

Businesses have their reservations in this area too. While the ICS survey showed that senior managers in many companies are investigating or deploying AI-based customer experience solutions, 45% of those polled actually have no current plans to do so. That’s a significant degree of reticence.

The ICS determined, “there is uncertainty about how artificial intelligence will develop, how customers will respond, and the extent to which organisations capabilities and structures equip them to grasp the opportunities.”

Mobilising their people to deliver AI successfully for their customers is also a concern for senior managers. More than 48% of those surveyed listed employee engagement as the major challenge to their organisation deploying AI – scoring even higher in their worries than data security or integration with existing systems. The challenge of finding people with the right skills to do the job troubled more than a third of the senior managers questioned.

The potential and the pressure

What AI brings to the customer experience are opportunities to reduce complexity, enable consistency and deliver both fast, efficient transactional service and proactive, personalised help and advice, declared the ICS. But it again notes that: “achieving this will require a new range of skills, capabilities and structures that enable agility and collaboration. Organisations will also need to engage actively with both their employees and customers to build trust and demonstrate how artificial intelligence will help create better customer experiences.”

This is also a technology that can, if implemented poorly, increase the pressure on contact centre employees rather than reduce it. The results of chatbot initiatives have been mixed, for example. One organisation the ICS spoke to revealed its new internal chatbot was now handling 5,000 contacts per month instead of the 1,000 agents would manage. However, half of those contacts then required intervention from an employee. Satisfaction scores for interactions with employees remained consistently higher than for those with the chatbot. A second organisation in a similar situation withdraw its chatbot altogether because the accuracy of responses was so low.

Where AI can impact, and the new roles needed

The Heart of Artificial Intelligence identified several areas where organisations are harnessing AI to assist employees involved in customer interactions. At one end of the scale AI took on the ‘grunt’ work of order processing, form filling and those repetitive high volume, low risk queries that require little if any judgment.

But more interesting were those tasks at the opposite end, supporting customer experiences that required a higher degree of employee input and judgement. These included analysis of reason to contact, next best activity, complaints, high values sales, complex and sensitive subjects such as bereavement or vulnerable customers, or tasks requiring specialist technical expertise.

These are areas that continue to require strong abilities in empathy, problem solving and conversational skills. The ICS considered that one barrier to the successful deployment of AI could therefore be the way in which an organisation’s leadership perceives it. Is it a technology issue or a customer experience issue?

The ICS firmly favours the use of AI being shaped by people with “a deep understanding of customer experience and needs”, suggesting the new interdisciplinary role of Customer Experience and Technology Broker to bridge the gap in understanding. They will need to be much more familiar with technology than today’s customer experience managers “but still retain expertise in customer experience, insight and marketing”.

Finally The Heart of Artificial Intelligence concludes that businesses will require their people to exhibit greater flexibility, adaptability and collaboration, right across the organisation, for their AI ambitions to succeed.  

Cross-functional teams will need to acclimatise to dipping in and out of projects, with their members briefly taking on new roles before returning to their previous ones. “Job roles are likely to change in ways that organisations cannot predict,” advised the report, “and employees’ receptiveness to evolving roles and skills will be a key competence for many organisations.”

Mike Barnard, Executive Officer, Capita Customer Management said the report reminds us that “as an industry we clearly have to work on how we position technological advances in customer experience. The results show that people may be put off by dealing with a robot over a human – we have to get in to the detail of why that is and communicate appropriately.

“Technology for technology’s sake is never going to delight customers or improve their experience. The research highlights how important it is to ensure these capabilities blend with our people. Human interaction can never be completely replicated or replaced by AI and that’s a balance we will always work on to ensure we get right.

“Ultimately, the results are encouraging for us. Capita’s value is in using our knowledge and expertise in areas such as this to optimise the customer experience. We have spent considerable time in implementing customer management operations that allow the skills of our agents to come to the fore, enabled by value-adding technology.”

Find out more about The Heart of Artificial Intelligence here.

Great people are integral to our business. To find out about how our teams and individuals have helped to make a meaningful difference to our clients and their customers, read our latest edition of Intelligence here.

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