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All of a sudden it feels as if Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere – not only is AI technology revolutionising various aspects of business operations, but it’s in conversations across the internet, social media, and the news. Industry sectors are in a process of transformation – trying to ascertain what exactly the future looks like with AI.  There is much we don’t know for sure, and fear is a natural byproduct of uncertainty and speculation. Yet, within the customer service sector, advancement in AI and automation tech is already having a significant impact on how progressive customer contact centres do business.

This article examines the relationship between customer experience and AI currently, and looks to answer the question: will AI replace human touch in the customer contact centre of the future?

Historically, contact centres have depended on customer service representatives to tackle enquiries and solve issues. Yet, recent AI advancements have enabled machines to replicate many of those agent functions: chatbots, interactive voice response, and other services designed to expedite and enhance customer service are part of the customer contact toolbox.


AI has been the gateway for self-service

‘Self-service’ has been inching its way into our lives long before the chatbot was born. Petrol stations and ATMs are two examples where we’ve come to expect to help ourselves – and yet even those evolutions were met with some resistance at their outset. Nevertheless, a study by Nuance Enterprise suggests that now 67% of people prefer self-service, inferring only 33% are left waiting to ‘hold to speak to a customer service representative’. Self-service, therefore, is here to stay and AI technology is ushering in powerful tools giving customers swift and efficient solutions to their problems or queries wherever and whenever they need support.


Benefits of AI in the customer contact centre

AI is 24/7; it can handle high volumes of customer interactions; delivers consistent responses guaranteeing a uniform service experience; and excels at gathering and analysing data from those interactions, yielding valuable insights into customer behaviours and preferences.

AI-powered systems are also used for call routing, which entails employing algorithms to assess the nature of a customer’s enquiry to then direct that call to the most suitable department or service representative. AI can analyse various factors including: the customer’s voice, tone, language, and past interactions with the company to make informed decisions. The process ensures customers are directed to the most qualified agent, resulting in quicker and more effective resolution. That said, the human factor is still crucial to this equation.


Does AI replace humans?

AI has made significant strides in supporting customer service representatives by taking the repetitive and/or simpler tasks off their hands, freeing them up to deal with the more complex interactions. But, there are still too many compelling reasons why it remains an impractical option to remove people from the chain of support altogether… that is, at least for the foreseeable future; and maybe even if ever.

A fundamental obstacle preventing AI from replacing human agents in call centres lies in the current technology’s struggle to comprehend and address complex inquiries. While AI-powered systems excel at managing straightforward questions, such as those related to order tracking or account details, they often fall short when confronted with intricate queries demanding human qualities like empathy, critical thinking, and problem-solving. This limitation becomes especially apparent when customers are in emotional distress – for example, when grappling with billing errors or service disruptions.

Then there’s also the conundrum around the ethics of removing people from customer contact altogether. It’s a topic that isn’t touched on often, yet deserves consideration. If, for example, an AI system makes a decision that harms a customer, who is responsible for that decision? It goes deeper than simply: can the technology perform the service. There are other factors at play beyond capability that make it unlikely we’ll ever see a complete absence of human touch from contact centres.


Change is inevitable, synergy is the goal

As the customer service industry evolves to meet changing customer demands, the widespread adoption of bots has become not just essential for many companies, but expected by many customers. It has understandably raised concerns among customer service representatives about potential job displacement, especially as AI’s potential is still relatively unknown. But, at TSA, we believe synergy between people and AI is the goal.

AI is here to stay and will only become more powerful with time. History, too, tells us that workplace transformation in the face of technology is inevitable – you only need to look at the Industrial Revolution or even as recently as the pandemic to recognise that the companies that survive and thrive are those that continue to adapt.

We’re already seeing the way AI is optimising customer experience systems and we’re focusing on the relative advantages. In the less interesting ‘backend’ of operations – things like call recording, agent monitoring, data analysis, volume forecasting, and business reporting – the value of AI is clear. And yet, we’re also seeing it improve the role of our frontline service representatives by giving them the opportunity to develop skills to handle the more complex customer issues, and then put those skills to best use.

The optimal strategy in the foreseeable future for call centre operations is to integrate AI technology with a human touch. AI solutions have the capacity to elevate the performance of customer service representatives, and when harnessed together, the synergy of human creativity and cutting-edge technology is what delivers the best in service and efficiency.


TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX Consultancy and Contact Centre Services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.

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