The Real Benefits of Artificial Intelligence

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Microsoft made headlines in 2016 when a representative of the company started acting inappropriately on Twitter. Fairly new to the public social media platform, the representative, called Tay, quickly began dishing out highly offensive comments.

Adding further insult to the damage done to Microsoft’s reputation, Tay was an early prototype chatbot that was engineered by Microsoft’s own research team. Though its intentions were noble, Tay was given the ability to learn from reams of user behavior to formulate its own original responses. As such, it was easily corrupted, drawing inspiration from some of the bad influences it came across. Microsoft couldn’t fire Tay, but it did have to remove tens of thousands of tweets that it had fired off in poor taste.

Tay is often cited as living—if not quite breathing—testament to the dangers of letting artificial intelligence–driven machines act on their own. And for companies looking to implement sentient tools in their customer service endeavors—where appeasing the customer is paramount—the prospect of a Tay-type incident has deterred even some of the most tech-savvy enterprises from going anywhere near artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

“Whether you’re looking at [AI] from an agent perspective or a customer perspective, this is a revolutionary technology, [one that] will change our industry,” says Kathleen Jezierski, chief operating officer at COPC, a global consulting company. “But we also have to remember that when it goes wrong, it can go wildly wrong,” pointing out that Tay’s mishaps were not just seen by one person, but by thousands.

While it might be a terrible idea for a company to let AI conduct free and unsupervised conversations with people, let alone run a Twitter account, the consensus is that such tools can be useful guides to customer service organizations as they try to resolve common customer issues. They simply require the supervision of humans.

Tools that use AI and learn from data to become smarter over time can help contact center agents quickly access information scattered across multiple locations. And when used wisely, these tools can also allow customers to quickly find solutions on their own.

When, for example, agents have to deal with very complex issues, they need to be able to search for relevant information quickly. If no answers are available, agents can make note of this lack of information and improve the knowledge base by collecting feedback about it.

The same AI technologies can also analyze text or voice recordings to identify customer emotions and intentions and then use that information to determine where a call or message should be routed.

But the technology is far more versatile than that. According to Kate Leggett, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, AI and machine learning will extend far beyond the contact center to impact nearly every aspect of customer service, including field service and customer success management.

Companies, then, should start using these technologies sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as buying a solution and pressing some buttons. Many complex considerations have to be taken into account before companies can introduce AI into their workforce.


Contrary to its portrayal in movies such as Ex Machina or Her, AI has plenty of limitations right now and will continue to be limited in the not-too-distant future. Experts agree that those who wish to replace live customer service agents entirely with robots will be disappointed, at least for the time being.

“The expectation that AI is going to do your laundry and solve world hunger is overblown. We’re far away from the true potential of AI,” Leggett says. “But using AI today to solve very discrete scenarios—to be able to shift the needle on some fundamental metrics like productivity and efficiency—is here today.”

Using AI to shave two seconds off every call by automatically classifying cases wound up saving one major insurance company up to $18 million a year, she says.

But not every company can expect those kinds of results right away. Therefore, companies must set realistic goals with AI-driven technology, experts advise.

“AI has been effective at structuring large data sets and millions and millions of records, which no human could ever do alone,” says Matt Swanson, CEO of Augment, provider of a customer experience AI platform. However, “where AI still struggles, and will for some time, is in decision making and the judgment of the appropriateness of what matches a scenario,” he cautions.

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