Are we forgetting about the customer in the man-machine debate?

Ever since ChatGPT was launched at the end of 2022 there are many commentators who have not stopped talking about the opportunities presented by artificial intelligence (AI). If AI can answer all customer questions then why would organisations need real people in their service operations? 

The truth, of course, is that there are many reasons why customer support offered by humans could be superior to even the smartest AI systems. For example: 

  • Many customers just don’t want to engage with a robot – they want to talk to a person. And, because they are paying for the service, their opinion should count. 
  • The customer has a detailed problem that has never been encountered before – the AI will only be able to help where it has been trained on complex solutions.  
  • The customer has a problem that’s hard to describe without demonstrating it. Sometimes several factors combine to create a specific problem – like a customer locked out of their account with an old phone number registered on their account – so they can’t receive a reset code. It can be tricky explaining a step-by-step problem that has multiple issues to a bot. 
  • The customer needs the support and empathy of a human interaction – a customer claiming on a life insurance policy after the death of a family member is unlikely to find much empathy engaging with a bot. 
  • The customer needs immediate and urgent help – they just missed a flight and need to quickly find an alternative and get a boarding pass for this alternate flight. 

These are all scenarios where human interactions will work better than automation for the forseeable future.  

However, one must also accept that customer journeys are changing and automated service getting better and better. It is highly likely that the first place a customer now turns for help is Google or their smart speaker. If you are trying to find why your new laptop isn’t working correctly a Google search is probably the first port of call and interacting with an AI-powered bot provided by the laptop manufacturer a sensible next step. 

But YouTube videos and bots are not going to resolve every problem, and as the examples above demonstrate, there are still many occasions where a customer service interaction could theoretically be automated, but it makes far more sense to maintain a human connection. 

There is an AI gap developing between what customers want and what many companies think is optimal or acceptable. Look at the 2024 Liveperson ‘State of Customer Conversations’ research. They found that 50% of customers are positive about engaging with a brand using AI. However, 91% of executives are positive about using AI to engage with their customers. This will eventually develop into a problem – some customers are happy to use bots, but almost all companies want to push harder on automation. 

Some companies are openly talking about how the majority of their customer service interactions are now automated. The buy-now-pay-later service Klarna is a good example. They have stated that two-thirds of customer interactions are now automated.  

This works for Klarna. Their service is focused on an app and it revolves around several distinct actions – there is a small set of questions that customers will ask over and over again. But most services are not like this. We can’t look at the example of an app offering credit and suggest that government departments or large retail brands can quickly achieve the same level of automation. 

Human to human interaction is still quintessential to getting things right, first time.  

Sensée believes this is why UK-based advisers are important for businesses serving customers in the UK. Locally-based support offers a strong cultural connection between the customer service adviser and customer. There is none of the disconnect that becomes possible when customer service is sent to the opposite side of the world. 

The UK has a great service culture and really skilled people. When brands start considering that advisers are experts it can change everything. They can include YouTube explainers and AI chatbots as service options, but always with the backup option of smart well-trained local advisers who know the products inside-out. 

The Sensée approach allows advisers to work securely from home, rather than requiring a commute to a contact centre. This allows us to find exactly the right people for each client – wherever they are located. It also allows us to find a more flexible and diverse team, many of which are excluded from the standard 9-5 office-based workplace. Our advisers are a little older than most customer service teams because we can include parents, carers, and people with responsibilities that would rule them out of long office shifts away from home. 

With flexible planning software and an agile team that can be hired close to UK clients, this really is a solution that we like to call ‘talent on tap.’  

The world is changing. AI is becoming an important tool inside the customer service environment – we are also using AI tools to improve productivity – but most companies still need to offer human advice – not just bots alone. As mentioned, it may also be preferable for some types of business to offer human interactions even where it is technically possible to automate customer engagement. 

Getting this right requires a team that understands flexibility and the true value of highly-skilled advisers. This is where our UK-based team really shines. 

Follow this link for more information on what we are doing to define how customer service can embrace new technologies, but also remain human-focused today. 

For more information about us, and the brands we serve with advisers all based at home, please take a look at our website here

What Will The Customer Service Partner Of The Future Look Like?

What is the future for customer service outsourcing? Sensée has certainly shaken things up in the UK with the purchase of The Contact Company. The acquisition almost doubles our employee base, adds new capabilities, and provides greater flexibility for clients who can now choose from the options of a 100% work-from-home (WFH) team, one based at our secure contact centre in Birkenhead, or a combination of both.  

We can also offer powerful hybrid solutions for clients who prefer to build their own core teams inside the office, but with the support of a flexible WFH or hybrid team to optimise resources in response to forecast (and actual!) customer demand. 

We will talk more about what this means for Sensée in future posts, but how does our ability to offer more flexibility to customers look when contrasted to the market more generally? 

There has certainly been a ‘bigger is better’ approach to business process outsourcing (BPO) in the past year or so. Foundever was created by the merger of SYKES and Sitel. Concentrix and Webhelp are in the process of merging. Teleperformance acquired Majorel. That’s six big global companies that have now merged to become just three.  

The moves have happened at a time when AI is getting better and more powerful, driving greater productivity for customer service advisers by performing many of the manual admin tasks they used to have to manage – like writing up notes after a call for example. AI chatbots are also starting to become useful, after years of arguably being the opposite. 

So there is clearly a view amongst the very largest outsourcing groups that human interactions are still an essential part of the customer service process. When we interact with our favourite brands we often want to talk to a real person. There are many basic services that can be automated, but when a question or request is urgent – or needs empathy – then a bot isn’t the experience that anyone wants, at least not yet anyway. 

So what will the customer service partner of the future really look like in this environment where human experience remains important, but blended alongside automation and self-service? 

We believe that specialist and more flexible partners are needed. Experts in designing customer experiences and focused locally on the markets that they serve. 

We call it having ‘talent on tap’. Having the scale to respond to peaks and troughs in customer contact volumes, but being able to cope with this variability in a smart way – by using technology to predict volumes and plan the right number of people that need to be available. 

Think about it like this. The BPO providers that operate ‘traditional’ aircraft hanger-sized contact centres with thousands of advisers have been like the oil tankers of the industry. Big and unwieldy, demanding multi-year service contracts, and often unable to easily diverge from what has been agreed in a contract. 

This isn’t how customer service planning is going to work moving forward. Nobody can plan how their business will look in 3, 4, or 5 years. So clients need partners that are prepared to work alongside them to provide the scalability and flexibility they demand. 

It’s like contrasting the unchanging British civil service with ChatGPT. One service has not changed in decades and is highly resistant to any rapid change. The other is constantly being reviewed, improved, and updated. 

This is what a modern customer service partner looks like. Agile, flexible, and able to predict how customers might behave next year. Ready to scale and evolve alongside your business. 

We have seen the automation of basic customer service questions over the past few years. It’s very unusual now to ever need to talk to an adviser if you are resetting a password – this has become normal and accepted. Automated services are getting better. AI interactions will only improve this. 

But it will be a long time before AI can answer all customer questions and even when AI can technically manage most customer interactions there will be many occasions when it is preferable to have a human-to-human customer interaction – just to create a connection or demonstrate empathy. Sales opportunities are often created from these service conversations. 

So the customer service partner of the future will be one that embraces the different paths a customer can take to get help. One that can improve your self-service options – including chatbots – as well as provide highly flexible and adaptive human advisers that know your products and services inside out. 

This doesn’t sound like the traditional contact centre services we’ve seen marketed for 20 years or more. The pandemic forced many business process outsourcing companies to explore more flexible options such as variable shifts and working from home. Something that has been entirely normal at Sensée for years – it didn’t take a crisis for us to have to explore them. 

So if your organisation requires a specialist customer service partner, what kind of partner is the best fit? A mature service outsourcer that delivers along traditional lines, or a next generation partner that delivers highly flexible teams to optimise your workforce and technology resources? 

Here at Sensée – and especially since the addition of the bricks and mortar capabilities of The Contact Company – we’re able to deliver the best of both these worlds. A solid and proven outsourced contact centre proposition that’s underpinned by nextgen collaboration, comms, scheduling and management solutions – with AI-driven solutions supporting skilled advisers. And all flexibly delivered via home and office-based resources to match client needs and ensure outsourced and internal teams ‘work as one’.

In essence, a powerful new co-sourced and co-managed delivery proposition…. and a boutique service partner you can trust.

For more information about us, and the brands we serve, please take a look at our website here