artificial intelligence

Why Robots Won’t be Replacing Agents…Or Will They

It seems one cannot pick up a newspaper or magazine in 2017 without seeing a headline related to artificial intelligence (AI). From important newspapers like The New York Times (The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence) to business strategy magazines such as Harvard Business Review (How Companies Are Already Using AI), AI is a topic of current interest to a wide variety of audiences.

Customer care - the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase - is often talked about as a function where humans could be replaced by “bots,” – short for robots – supported by artificial intelligence technology. The purported benefits are said, in theory, to be clear: fewer people required and faster response time.

An April 2017 article by Time Magazine with the provocative title: Find Out If a Robot Will Take Your Job, however, seems to contradict this often-articulated view that customer care will become increasingly automated. The online version of the post has an interactive component that encourages readers to, "Enter your occupation to see how much of your work may someday be done by machines."

The results from entering “customer service representative”, summarized in the graphic, are illuminating. Well-respected global consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that, using today’s technology, 29% of a contact center agent’s job can be done by a robot. Some of the specific tasks that it lists that can be automated include:

  • Collect deposits, payments or fees,
  • Distribute materials to employees or customers,
  • Prepare documentation for contracts, transactions or regulatory compliance.

McKinsey also provided a list of tasks a robot can’t do, currently, including:

  • Execute sales or other financial transactions,
  • Respond to customer problems or complaints,
  • Promote products, services, or programs,
  • Refer customers to appropriate personnel,
  • Explain regulations, policies, or procedures.

The conclusion one can draw is that while there are some tasks that robots can successfully complete, there are others where artificial intelligence and robotics will assist contact center agents - support, but not replace, live assistance. At NICE inContact Interactions 2018, the customer conference in Orlando, FL in May, I’m excited to be delivering a session that will explore the topic of artificial intelligence in customer care – both the reality today and the promise for tomorrow. I hope to see you there!