When AI Is Ready, Will You Be?

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THESE DAYS in the contact center, the promise of artificial intelligence looms large. By now, most of us will have heard this advice: “Keep humans in the loop until the AI is ready”.

What a funny turn of phrase.

Until the AI is ready.

I’ve been thinking about this phrase quite a bit lately. I wonder—what do we expect we will do when the AI is ready?

Look, I get it. There’s an undeniable draw to the idea of building a contact center that runs purely on AI, tempting contact center leaders with visions of seamless efficiency and unparalleled cost savings. If we follow this strategy to its logical conclusion, companies would be choosing to forfeit interacting directly with their customers.

I have to ask: Are we sure? Like, really sure?

Because the notion that we will never regret automating away one of the only opportunities to engage directly with our customers is one heck of a bet to make.

Some of you might be thinking: “Christina, be serious. You can’t be suggesting we don’t automate our contact center interactions.” And no—that is not what I am suggesting, and not (only) because you wouldn’t listen to me.

What I am suggesting is that you consider the long game while we wait for the AI to be “ready” (whatever that means). I’m suggesting that you acknowledge the potential for customer service to build customer relationships and drive loyalty.

Frankly, I wonder if we are the ones that need to be ready—ready to reimagine the customer service landscape in a way that elevates, rather than replaces, the human connection.

In a world where AI is capable of handling a greater majority of customer interactions, the human touch will become a rare opportunity for differentiation. By automating all the routine stuff, brands can reallocate higher-cost human resources toward solving high-value problems or creating memorable experiences. Savvy brands will strategically integrate human touchpoints at exactly the right moment in a customer’s journey. For instance, companies selling complex tech or wellness products could use AI to identify customers needing extra guidance. They could then offer personalized video sessions with experts who can provide tips tailored to the customer’s lifestyle or needs, enhancing both the product’s value and the customer’s loyalty.

This is all way easier said than done, of course.

To get this right, there’ll need to be a not-insignificant investment in foundational analytics and journey mapping to identify where AI should take the lead and where human agents can provide the most impact. It also requires investing in the development of new hiring profiles for the agents of the future, and ensuring these agents are empowered to handle more complex and nuanced interactions. And the effort will extend to your foundational architecture, to ensure that AI systems and human agents are seamlessly integrated with each other and with the necessary back-end systems to support your customers.

When you talk about AI-driven experiences, everything starts sounding a little mechanical. But the leaders of tomorrow will be those who use AI to elevate human connection, not replace it. 

Christina McAllister is senior analyst, Forrester Research, covering customer service and contact center technology, strategy, and operations.

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