We’re seeing more ‘digital humans’ in the news lately – from Cora at The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to Sarah at Mercedes-Benz – more businesses are turning to visual automated solutions to augment their customer service offering.
Forrester forecasts that the rise of AI and automated solutions will replace what they call ‘Tier 1’ customer service teams. In other words, automated tools will handle simple customer queries. This will create more time for human customer service agents to deal with more complex queries.
Forrester’s prediction is reinforced by MIT, which found that over 80% of what they dubbed as “iconic” firms were starting to invest in automated solutions (15% of these businesses being in the retail sector). But how is this technology being used, and is it more of a support or a threat to customer service professionals?
Digital humans that can learn and adapt
Digital humans go beyond automated webchats setup to answer simple questions and filter more complex ones to human agents. Digital humans use technology that can learn and adapt.
RBS recently announced that it will be using Soul Machines’ digital human, Cora, to interact with customers online. Cora has a “virtual nervous system” that will allow it to detect, and react to, human emotion – both verbally, and through facial expressions. NatWest has been using Cora as a chatbot since late 2017 (it’s already had more than 400,000 conversations), but when it launches the pilot of the digital human technology, it’s expected to have a significant impact on customer communication. Its ability to understand and mimic emotion will break technological barriers and, if successful, prove that digital humans can be trusted to handle more complex interactions.
We want to talk to people
Automated webchat is great for customers to get quick order updates, or to make general enquires, but some people will always prefer to speak to a person. One study, by GetApp.com, found that 88% of respondents still preferred to talk to a person when they had a customer service query. Digital humans take automated solutions a step closer to replicating the human-to-human experience. It could help that 88% of people to adapt to automated support.
However, it’s important to get the education and information campaign around this new technology right. Automated tools and, eventually, digital humans, represent a great opportunity for businesses to adopt technology that supports their customer service teams. Yes, there’s some fear-mongering about the impact on jobs, but this is the case with most new technologies.
NatWest, for example, hasn’t always had the best marketing around their new technology. When talking about Cora, it said that it could improve on human agents by: “providing consistent, accurate answers all the time in a way that humans can’t always do.” This statement came at a time when the bank had to make job cuts. However, the bank has also said that Cora is designed to complement, not replace, human agents. It appears to be giving mixed messages about a technology that many are still uncertain about.
The technology will take time to learn how to replicate a human-to-human conversation, and it may take years to perfect this and be able to deal with complex queries, but what will the role of human support staff be by then?
What role should digital humans have in customer service?
Digital humans can be used in conjunction with regular customer service teams to save organisations money, but the same is true for many more cost-effective automated solutions.
While digital humans can learn to detect and mimic emotion, they won’t be able to replace a human agent’s ability to empathise and therefore understand complex issues. Empathy requires the ability to have emotions and is often dependent on life experience; it will be some time before AI can experience emotions well enough to understanding and show empathy. What they could do is serve as an optional customer service route alongside human and other automated options.
Visual bots and digital humans could, like other automated services, save organisations time and money in the future. However, people need to feel comfortable using the technology. They need to be able to trust it. I’m not sure we’re quite there yet. While technology is improving all the time, human customer service operators need to be available as a failsafe option, for when problems are too complicated or emotional for a machine to process.
About Jack Barmby
Jack Barmby is the founder and CEO of Gnatta, a customer communication platform that enables companies such as ASOS and AO, to talk to their customers over any system or channel. Gnatta pulls together all the various systems and channels a company uses to communicate with customers, connecting the data from those systems to provide everything a company needs to have informed and intelligent conversations with them.