Once upon a time, consumers dreaded encountering a virtual agent. From call centres to very early chatbots, customers came across unreliable voice response systems and digital agents that could only respond to very specific questions. Often, this was frustrating for customers and counterproductive for businesses. In contrast, today’s artificial intelligence technologies are more context-rich and accurate than ever before.
Digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have made ordering, searching, and performing tasks incredibly simple. As a result, consumers now expect every interaction to be as seamless as asking Alexa to play a song. Now, businesses are beginning to recognise the enormous potential of artificial intelligence – which, when married with the human workforce, can streamline operations, cut costs and increase productivity. In this article, we explore the potential of human and AI symbiosis in customer support.
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What is symbiotic AI?
‘Symbiosis’ is defined as a mutually beneficial relationship between two actors. Their interactions allow both parties to profit concurrently, whilst supporting the growth and regeneration of the other. The term is usually applied to mutually beneficial interspecies relationships – for instance, the relationship between bees and flowers, or crabs and sea anemones. As such, symbiosis is a useful term to consider the way that artificial intelligence can develop a mutually beneficial relationship with human customer service agents.
When machine learning was first developed, engineers struggled to produce programs that could perform tasks without being explicitly directed. However, the past decade saw significant advancements. Now, deep learning technology is allowing artificial intelligence to reach new heights. For instance, Google’s DeepMind department has recently unveiled a new version of AlphaZero. Recently, they demonstrated the program’s capabilities through chess; within four hours, AlphaZero reached Grandmaster level through reinforcement learning.What AlphaZero shows is the incredible potential of human and AI symbiosis. With human guidance, machines can achieve amazing feats. When this logic is applied to customer service, a virtual agent will be able to enhance its service over time. As the machine encounters more and more queries, it will become increasingly adept at identifying patterns and context. For example, a chatbot will become better at deflecting repetitive FAQs away from human agents. This will not only free up agents’ time, but it will also increase throughput and enhance customer satisfaction.
Digitising the workforce
The relationship between a virtual agent and a human worker drives both efficiency and effectiveness, resulting in a symbiotic co-existence. Experts predict that this interplay will define the workplace in the next decade. Although some are concerned that machine learning will lead to reduncies, this is far from the case. Looking to the future, bots will complement human skills as oppose to replace them. This is because both possess differing and mutually beneficial skills, which ultimately, will be advantageous for both employees and management.
Primarily, employees need to see AI as an important tool, as opposed to a threat. For example, AI is in fact projected to create more jobs than it replaces. According to a recent study by Gartner, this is particularly the case within the health and public sectors. Moreover, AI facilitates opportunities for learning. Through interactions with a virtual agent, staff can learn more skills relevant to the digital age. Therefore, employers should ensure their training programmes mimic the tendencies of the digital age. Learning should be continuous, flexible, and agile, so training is up-to-speed with digital innovation.
Whilst employees need to recognise the value of AI, companies need to acknowledge the importance of their staff. For instance, companies face significant issues if they don’t deploy AI effectively. Firms need to assess where human and AI symbiosis works best, ensuring they don’t implement the wrong balance. Often, the key is to make sure the employee feels they are retaining control. For instance, there are sensitive customer service tasks that require personal judgment or emotional intelligence. Through emphasising the importance of these roles, staff can feel empowered whilst working more productively.
How chatbots are impacting the market
It’s one of the most well-known laws of economics – efficiency reduces cost. In turn, this enhances customer satisfaction, drives demand, and stimulates growth. The speed of this process will pick up as bots increase the throughput of simple tasks, whilst humans deal with more complex issues. Despite a climate of hostility towards automation, technologies like self-service bag drops and self-checkout kiosks prove the success of this model.
Moreover, artificial intelligence is driving growth in several sectors. In the hospitality industry, uptake of AI-powered assistants has spurred growth. When used in conjunction with human interaction, these technologies have significantly increased customer satisfaction, and thus, demand. For example, the Hilton Hotel group’s virtual agent ‘Connie’ works side-by-side with the hotel concierge to attend to guests’ needs faster. However, the introduction of assistants like Connie hasn’t suppressed employment figures – quite the opposite. Due to the growth these technologies facilitate, employment in the hospitality industry has rise 2.9% over the last decade.
Through innovative, smart investments, companies can quickly outstrip the competition. By establishing a symbiotic relationship between staff and AI early on, businesses can deliver a higher standard of service than their rivals. In an increasingly customer-centric market, companies that adopt this approach will rapidly see results. Despite the reluctance to implement AI systems that characterised the early 2000s, now, a company’s competitiveness hinges on an adaptable approach. Once a mutually beneficial relationship between staff and a virtual agent is achieved, businesses will quickly reap the benefits.
Why the hybrid virtual agent is the future
If a company wants to remain competitive in the contemporary business landscape, they need to make the hybridisation of the workforce part of their corporate strategy. This will not only involve investing in technological development but also reformulating the role of the human agent. To facilitate an optimal hybrid workforce, companies need to redefine company culture. This will involve reworking organisational structures, rewriting job descriptions, and encouraging critical thinking. Subsequently, businesses can facilitate a maximally beneficial relationship between the human and virtual agent.