Thursday, September 21, 2023

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AI in Customer Service: The Race to the Bottom?

Artificial intelligence (AI) related technologies are all the rage — or are they? We recently discussed the pros and cons of generative AI text for public relations and communications, including our powerful AI writing assistant for press releases and pitches. While we think there’s great potential here for streamlining draft creation and speeding up the press release process, we also believe humans must be part of the mix.

What about using AI and chatbots in customer service? Again, there is great potential here. Most CRM (customer relationship management) systems have had some sort of AI built-in to them in recent years.

A recent example is CRM giant Salesforce offering Einstein GPT, billed as automated customer service, which “combines generative AI models with real-time CRM data to deliver personalized content across every customer interaction.

Another example is Intercom, one of the biggest customer support and live chat companies. They just launched Fin (in beta), a chatbot that claims to be “a breakthrough AI bot that accurately and immediately answers customer questions, reducing support volume and resolution times.” Fin is powered by Open AI’s GPT-4 and Intercom’s own machine learning.

Side Note: Intercom was most recently in the news for announcing they would “no longer support Twitter Integration due to the recent API pricing changes implemented by Twitter.” Twitter’s API is now priced at $42,000 per month (it was previously about $2,800 per month).

You may be thinking; those sound like good, time-saving examples, so why allude to ‘the race to the bottom’? Read on!

AI-enabled customer service

With rising cost pressures, more companies are turning to AI-powered tools for customer service functions. At the same time, customers have higher expectations in communicating with brands and companies.

There is no denying that integrating automation into some customer service functions is both a time and labor saver. Chatbots and similar technology can reduce the cost and the quantity of human-assisted responses. But it’s not without challenges.

Interestingly, the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) shared key findings of two studies on the perceived humanness of online agents. The part that stood out most to me was when participants perceived the chat agents as machines, they were less likely to trust it. IPR reported, “the findings of this study showed the importance of human-like qualities in online agents for organizations to build trust with consumers.”

Related: Why Trust in Business is Paramount in a Polarized World

Risks of automated (AI) customer service chatbots

There are several reasons why a company may choose not to use AI customer service or chatbots, including these 8 considerations:

  1. Lack of human touch/empathy: AI systems lack the ability to empathize with customers and understand the emotional nuances of their concerns. This can result in customers feeling frustrated and undervalued.
  2. Limited problem-solving capabilities: While AI systems are designed to handle specific types of inquiries, they may not be equipped to solve complex issues requiring human judgment or intervention.
  3. Lack of personalization: Automated AI systems may be unable to provide personalized service that considers a customer’s history, preferences, or unique situation.
  4. Language barriers: AI systems may not understand regional dialects and vernacular or complex sentence structures, leading to customer miscommunication and frustration.
  5. Technical errors/limitations: AI systems may encounter technical issues or glitches (such as network latency, data quality, and integration with other systems) that can disrupt customer service and result in negative experiences for customers.
  6. Security concerns: AI systems may store customer data, which could be vulnerable to cyberattacks or data breaches, putting customer privacy at risk.
  7. Cost: Implementing and maintaining AI customer service systems can be expensive and may require a significant upfront investment in technology and training.
  8. Ethical concerns: There may be ethical concerns around the use of AI in customer service, such as biases in the algorithms used or the use of customer data for purposes customers have not consented to.

Automated customer experience platform provider Cyara commissioned a Forrester study that revealed nearly 75% of global customers say chatbots aren’t able to adequately handle complex questions — almost half of them said that chatbots have provided responses that were out of context with their questions. The scary part is that 30% of (global) customers in the study said after a negative chatbot experience, they are likely to go to a different brand, abandon their purchase completely, and/or tell others (friends and family) about their substandard brand experience!

Global cloud customer experience and contact center solutions firm Genesys published a research report showing that 47% of North American consumers reported becoming extremely frustrated with a dead-end chatbot. Globally, 31% said they stopped doing business with a company after a negative customer service interaction. High on the list of what consumers have the least tolerance for is chatbots that can’t escalate to live (human) web chat.

Relationship-building relies on human connection (and trust). Our unique ability to provide proper context, emotion, empathy, and personal understanding of a given situation is something a machine can’t do — at least not yet.

Benefits of automated (AI) customer service chatbots

As I mentioned earlier, there is no denying that integrating automation into some customer service functions is both a time and labor saver. And when done right, it can improve brand loyalty and even drive an increase in leads and sales.

Bots can be programmed to solicit customer feedback after their exchange, collecting valuable information and insights. Unlike humans, chatbots can be available 24/7 to answer customer’s queries. Chatbots may free-up time for humans by responding to common, repetitive questions — and they can respond nearly instantaneously, eliminating wait time.

There is no shortage of content out there praising the value and benefits of chatbots in customer experience and why you should be using conversational AI bots for servicing customers. Just google ‘benefits of AI chatbots in customer service.’

In the ‘Measuring consumer-perceived humanness of online organizational agents research’ report (from IPR’s key findings), the authors admit that “technological advances may alleviate negative experiences as AI capabilities grow, the quality of interaction remains crucial in organization-public relationships as the ubiquitous use of live chat with both human and AI agents is further normalized. Humanness remains a key aspect of social perception, influence, and relationships…”

Personal customer service or AI?

Whether a company decides to use chatbots and AI-enabled customer service is up to each individual organization. As with all evolving technologies, it’s best to approach with ‘eyes wide open’ and carefully consider the potential risks to brand loyalty and reputation.

Here at Burrelles, we’re all for using AI and machine learning to speed up tasks like our AI-assisted press release and media pitch writing tool, and AI-enabled monitoring and measurement tools (combined with our human teams).

Our platform has a live chat system where users can chat with their dedicated customer service specialist (or another team member) and search the knowledge base for step-by-step instructions to accomplish what they require.

But we won’t be turning on the automated chatbot anytime soon. Burrelles has a long history of trust and credibility. And our customers have come to expect the personalized support that Burrelles is known for.

Related: ChatGPT: Pros and Cons of Generative AI Text in PR

Burrelles’ comprehensive media monitoring provides automated, software-based measurement and the option for human-verified, qualitative coverage—both online and off. You can contact us here for more information and to discuss your monitoring and measurement needs.

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