AI Customer Service in 2024: Balancing AI Adoption & Human Interaction

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AI customer experience refers to the integration of artificial intelligence technologies into customer service and support processes to enhance the overall customer journey.

It involves using AI-driven solutions, such as customer support chatbots, virtual assistants, predictive analytics tools, and personalized recommendations to provide more efficient, personalized, and seamless interactions between businesses and their customers.

Is AI an indispensable assistant to support specialists in 2024? Let’s explore the benefits and pitfalls of AI adoption for your business.

Key Takeaways

  • Balancing AI and human interaction in customer service can significantly boost the overall customer experience.
  • Integrating AI with human agents allows for a smooth handoff between automated systems and human representatives.
  • One thing that companies must be clear on: AI is a tool, not a replacement.
  • Striking the right balance between high-tech and high-touch is key to enhancing the customer experience.

AI Is a Tool, Not a Replacement

Balancing AI and human interaction in customer service can improve the overall customer experience significantly.

AI-driven technologies are extremely efficient when it comes to handling routine inquiries and tasks such as providing basic information, tracking orders, or processing simple transactions.

By using AI for these tasks, businesses can reduce response times, streamline processes, and ensure consistent service quality around the clock, leading to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty. According to the Intercom Customer Service Trends Report 2024, 45% of support teams are already using AI.

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However, the human touch is still necessary to deal with complex situations where empathy, critical thinking, and creativity are required. Unlike AI, humans can understand complicated questions, interpret emotions, and provide personalized solutions tailored to people’s needs.

Benefits of Using AI in Customer Service

Top Benefits Support Teams See from Using AI

Integrating AI with human agents allows for a smooth handoff between automated systems and human representatives, ensuring that customers receive the best of both worlds: the speed and accuracy of AI alongside the empathy and problem-solving skills of humans.

This balanced approach not only resolves issues effectively but also strengthens customer trust, encourages deeper engagement, and ultimately drives long-term business success.

AI is a game-changer in customer service, says Rajul Rana, chief technology officer at Orion Innovation, a digital transformation and product development services firm.

“There are a growing number of use cases where companies and consumers are benefiting from having AI customer service applications,” he says. “In our work partnering with companies to integrate AI into their customer service operations, they are seeing improvements across the board.”

For example, generative AI can automate repetitive tasks, such as booking appointments or answering frequently asked questions, which can free up human agents to focus on more complex and high-value interactions, Rana says.

Emerging technology, such as AI, continues to transform the way we work, according to Bill Pappas, head of global technology and operations at financial services company MetLife.

“Striking the right balance between high-tech and high-touch is key to driving heightened customer experiences,” he says. “AI allows us to better personalize and meet customers where they are, whether it’s phone, web, chat, email, or another preferred channel. Companies should leverage AI for efficiency, humans for empathy.”

AI empowers customer service agents by putting a variety of information right at their fingertips, which goes a long way toward illustrating how it can enhance human interaction rather than replace it, Pappas adds.

And even as customer service agents benefit from AI-powered tools, so can customer service leaders, says Clay McNaught, president at Gryphon.ai, a provider of compliance and AI-powered conversation intelligence,

“Leaders can gain a holistic view of how their agents handle customer interactions and areas where they need more support,” he says. “By reviewing key moments throughout customer calls, managers can create highly personalized training to help improve the agent experience and equip them with the skills to create positive customer experiences.”

Examples of AI in Customer Service

Healthcare companies can use AI customer service to reinforce “human kindness,” says Daniel Barchi, chief information officer (CIO) at CommonSpirit Health, a non-profit, Catholic health system.

While it may seem that the best solution is always for a human to interact with a patient, AI that fills information gaps, provides real-time updates, and proactively reaches out to schedule screenings and checkups is better than just relying on busy clinicians, he says.

For example, CommonSpirit Health has deployed an AI-powered application in its emergency rooms that keeps patients updated on their initial wait times, the progress of their visits and testing, and the meaning of lab results, Barchi says.

“This allows them to share their real-time status with loved ones and to anticipate when their ER visits will be complete,” he says. “This AI tool is a helpful digital companion that reduces the anxiety of not knowing what to expect and enhances the overall experience.”

In addition, CommonSpirit proactively addresses care gaps for patients through AI-driven campaigns focusing on preventive measures, Barchi says.

“These AI initiatives help identify patients due for specific screenings, including annual wellness visits, breast cancer screening, HbA1c testing for diabetes management, and other checkups,” he says. “The AI process is a companion to the clinician and the patient and supports customer service by ensuring that we do not miss routine opportunities to maintain health and provide preventive measures.”

AI is also improving customer service in the public sector by enhancing the efficiency of contact centers and enabling more personalized interactions with citizens, says Jerry Dotson, vice president of public sector at Avaya, a provider of contact center and communications solutions.

“By leveraging [customer service] AI, agencies can quickly process a wide range of requests from service issues to compliance questions and handle large volumes of inquiries in real-time,” he says. “This not only reduces wait times and prevents staff overload but also ensures quick and accurate responses that meet the high expectations of the public.”

Communication service providers (CSPs) can also use AI and machine learning to improve the customer experience, says Ashu Varshney, CIO at RingCentral, a provider of cloud-based communication and collaboration products and services.

“As networks grow in complexity and end users are adopting various kinds of access devices and networks, it can be a challenge to maintain the high quality of service that customers expect,” he says. “By collecting diverse quality data points from customer endpoints and networks and leveraging AI, CSPs can accurately instrument and manage customer experience while maintaining high network performance.”

Additionally, by analyzing quality and network data patterns, CSPs can better manage the quality of the end-user experience by dynamically managing network resources, reducing congestion, and improving bandwidth and latency, Varshney says.

Pitfalls of Implementing AI in Customer Service

While an AI chatbot for customer service brings efficiencies for enterprises, companies need to approach it with caution, particularly in customer-facing functions, says Gaurav Kachhawa, chief product officer at Gupshup, a conversational messaging platform.

“Sometimes their inability to truly understand context and nuance can lead to frustrating experiences for customers with complex queries,” he says.

There is also the risk of AI developing biases from flawed training data, resulting in discriminatory or inappropriate responses, according to Kachhawa.

“Plus, an over-reliance on AI could erode the human touch that many customers value, diminishing brand loyalty and customer satisfaction,” he adds.

Striking the right balance between human empathy and AI-driven efficiency is crucial to avoiding these pitfalls and delivering a seamless customer experience.

“One of the ways to avoid it is to use domain-specific large language models that have guardrails that ensure regulatory and enterprise compliance, hallucination controls and are fine-tuned to various industries, such as retail, banking, healthcare, etc.,” he says.

“With domain-adaptation for precision, strict moderation for safety, and calculated human involvement for accountability, one can balance the efficiency of AI while guarding against unforeseen issues.”

The Bottom Line: Delivering Empathy

There is no doubt that generative AI will change the way people engage with customer service, but it won’t change how people respond to good or bad service, says Jonathan Rosenberg, chief technology officer and head of AI at Five9, a provider of cloud contact center software.

“One thing that companies must be clear on: AI is a tool, not a replacement,” he says.

“A key part of what contact center agents do today is to deliver empathy, i.e., listen, apologize, assure, and help calm angry or upset customers. Empathy is something only a human can deliver, and thus, there will always be a need for human touch.”

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Linda Rosencrance
Technology journalist
Linda Rosencrance
Technology journalist

Linda Rosencrance is a freelance writer and editor based in the Boston area, with expertise ranging from AI and machine learning to cybersecurity and DevOps. She has been covering IT topics since 1999 as an investigative reporter working for several newspapers in the Boston metro area. Before joining Techopedia in 2022, her articles have appeared in TechTarget, MSDynamicsworld.com, TechBeacon, IoT World Today, Computerworld, CIO magazine, and many other publications. She also writes white papers, case studies, ebooks, and blog posts for many corporate clients, interviewing key players, including CIOs, CISOs, and other C-suite execs.