The future of AI in customer service

How will you know if you're dealing with a robot or a human being?

The future of AI in customer service

That sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? Because, let’s be honest, its blatantly obvious when you’re interacting with a pre-programmed chatbot on your device or even speaking to one. Hello Siri, Alexa and the numerous infuriating “Let me connect you to an agent” recording loops out there! But for how much longer will that be the case? 

AI integration will become much more sophisticated and mainstream in the coming months and years. What was once the stuff of science fiction could well become a reality before the start of the next decade. And whilst the early applications of AI are primarily advertised around creation of content, imagery and coding, the use of this technology in customer service is well worth considering – and not just from the perspective of being the customer either. For business owners, AI has the potential to transform the way in which inbound communications are handled. Increased volumes, reduced costs and operational efficiencies could be on the horizon if executed properly. 

It’s worth noting that the chatbots we all love to hate in the here and now aren’t powered by AI. They are rule-based programs which operate by following pre-programmed workflows, returning set answers to keywords and questions. They can’t learn from their interactions, and it’s why we often end up in frustrating chat loops, getting nowhere fast. Occasionally you may interact with a web chat function which does utilise conversational AI – these systems can learn from their experiences via a process known as Machine Learning and provide a more ‘user-friendly’ experience by implementing Natural Language Processing. At present, neither option is a match for a conversation with a real person – something which, at Cymphony, we know all too well! 

But that could all change. The news is increasingly full of headlines about AGI, or Artificial General Intelligence, being not decades but only a matter of a few years away. Latest predictions brought the achievement down to as soon as 2026. AGI is the state in which a machine possesses human-like cognitive ability. The concept of sentient machines is something that rightly fascinates and/or terrifies pretty much anyone you speak to. Whether it’s a debate about ethics or a frantic rush to try and legislate a technology that is evolving exponentially, AI is, and will remain, a hot topic. But for many, including senior management and heads of large organisations – that goes for franchisors too – the subject is something of a mystery. Now that’s frightening! Sceptic or supporter, there’s no halting the march of evolution and the progress of this technology. In the meantime, the synergy of AI and our existing technology is where the possibilities are really taking shape.    

Take a standard customer service enquiry for example. Conceivably, in the not-too-distant future, web chat functions will interface with an AI chatbot – something like ChatGPT, Jasper or YouChat – and who knows how much more advanced they’ll be in just a few years. By having access to advanced conversational AI, web chat is probably going to be able to interact with consumers more or less like a human being. And there’s absolutely no reason to think that written content couldn’t be converted to voice too, leaving customers chatting, quite happily I’m sure, to a bot on the phone without even realising. Perhaps the conversation would be so reasonable and productive that they wouldn’t mind even if they did.

Imagine never having an abandoned call ever again or never losing customers through frustration on web chat. Every single inbound enquiry into your business being dealt with in seconds by a friendly, knowledgeable and capable AI operator. One who can hold a call with some useful information and offer workable solutions before seamlessly handing off to a real-life person should the need arise. 

To be clear, this is not a passing phase. Any business owner who wants to reap the benefits must work to get ahead of the game and seriously plan for how they can integrate AI and, when it gets here, AGI into their services and operations. Retrofitting will be costly and substandard, so, going forwards, developments need to have AI synergy in mind. 

For franchisors, this is going to mean some serious collaboration with your networks. As with any model adaptation or development, there will be those for and those against. You may even have franchisees utilising AI in some for in their businesses already, without your knowledge. Working to educate and influence will be crucial for smooth network adoption in the long run. My advice is to make this a board-level agenda item and do it today. Cymphony is proudly identifying ways in which we can give our customers the very best of both worlds. What are you going to offer your customers? And how? Ignorance or avoidance is the fastest way to becoming obsolete. Embrace AI because, make no mistake, your competitors will be!

Tim Morris
Tim Morris