CEB Blogs


Customer Service

(Most) Reps Shouldn't be Afraid of Robots Taking Their Job

Artificial intelligence can bring down costs and make customer service more consistent, but it won't be able to field a large portion of a company's customer calls; those require judgment and guidance

In 2013, a piece of research was produced at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford (pdf), which has become increasingly infamous since due to its chilling warning that 35% of all human occupations are at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence.

This useful page from the BBC lets you see how susceptible your job is based on the data and, unsurprisingly, customer service jobs rank quite highly. They are the 49th most likely job to be automated by artificial intelligence (AI) and have a 91% likelihood of being replaced by robots, a risk that falls into the study’s “quite likely” category.

Customer Service Functions Already Experimenting with AI

Companies have already started to use AI in their customer service operations to find cost savings and improve the consistency of the service provided to customers. MasterCard, for example, is launching an AI bot that will allow consumers to make payments, ask questions and manage their accounts through instant messaging.

This isn’t the company’s first experiment with AI; last year MasterCard launched biometric authentication tools, allowing cardholders to make payments and manage accounts with a selfie. In that case, use of AI addresses the simultaneous demand for increased security and decreased service friction (a cost-benefit shortcut describing the amount of effort required to cross security barriers in order to access one’s account, versus the benefit of having an online service option).

When Self-Service Fails, You Need a Human

Despite the very real promise of AI, it’s unlikely to dramatically reduce the amount of times customers will want to call a company. And when that call does happen, companies will almost certainly need a human to field the call.

Most customers prefer self-service solutions, according to CEB data, but when efforts to DIY their way to a solution fails, the customer will reluctantly and exasperatedly contact the company’s call center directly. And when they do, they are often more frustrated than they would have been if they had they called in the first place, and not used online tools. Customers approach almost all calls with “emotional baggage,” and all they really want is for companies to make customer service easy or “effortless” to use CEB’s langauge.

This has two implications. First, when technology fails, there needs to be a live human being on the phone, and, second, those front line reps need to be prepared for a higher level of intensity and complexity in the calls they take.

For customer service mangers, filling open job positions with the right people will be even more important as service becomes automated and “smart.” And those people are what CEB calls “controller” reps.

When the customer service robot cannot compute the nuanced needs of your customer, controllers will be best-equipped to intervene with human judgment and guidance.


More On…

One Response

  • Very insightful post! Fears of AI stealing jobs has been expressed over the years. Is customer service needless? Perhaps, but not anytime soon. Yes, customers prefer intelligent service, but, emotional listener more so. They still want human interaction which they are familiar with. They want assurances that the customer rep would understand what they want, hence, they prefer people and not robots.

Leave a Reply



Recommended For You

Customer Service: How to Write a Job Post for High-Performing Reps

It's time to throw away the template that you've used for the past decade. You...