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

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