We are on the cusp of a new era. Just as the Industrial Age ushered in an array of staggering changes to people’s lives, work, culture — and just about every other aspect of human thought, feeling and activity — so, too, does the advent of new types of artificial intelligence (AI) that can be used to generate original content.
As a company, the opportunity to apply these technologies to benefit our clients, their customers and our people inspires us to devise innovative solutions that challenge the status quo. We know, as with other revolutionary changes, those who embrace it survive and thrive, and those who do not get left behind.
Though it seems to have suddenly appeared on the scene, the notion of machine or computer-based intelligence is not new. It’s been around in various forms for decades, in computers and other “smart” devices. You are reading these words on such a device (as it was written on one) and encounter many examples of AI throughout your day. It is thoroughly enmeshed in the fabric of our lives.
But the new examples of AI that we have seen appear quite different. The emulation of human speech and behavior seems more lifelike and closer, if not identical, to human actions, language … even singing!
When new technologies emerge, there are always strong thoughts about how they will be integrated into our lives and our work. And as each preceding change brought questions and concerns about its effect on our livelihoods, so too, does AI, especially generative AI.
First, let’s explain what it is — and what it does — in simple terms.
Generative AI is a technology with the ability to emulate some aspects of human communication.
ChatGPT is the most high-profile of a number of newly released generative AI apps (the “GPT” stands for “generative pre trained transformer”) that will respond to almost any query. Developed by OpenAI, it was released to the public last November (2022) and you may have seen and heard some of the results. During the research preview, the use of ChatGPT is free, so many people signed up immediately and produced poems, jokes, songs, videos and more.
The use of generative AI engendered controversy in the creative community but it’s much too early to fully measure and understand the impact of this new technology on every industry and profession, especially the arts. We all have questions about the application of new technologies and our imaginations take us to many places. But it’s important to consider and reflect upon the lessons learned from the introduction of other sweeping and revolutionary technologies.
Throughout history, so-called disruptive technologies supplanted existing ones, causing changes that resulted in improvements in the health, wealth and well-being of the majority of the populace. Of course, there were also unforeseen displacements and other effects on people at many levels, from individuals, families, towns, cities, states and nations and not all were benign, but in aggregate, improved technology resulted in improved lives. Material well-being and lifespans increased, and work became less physical and not the center of our existence but rather a means to support our families and lifestyles.
Agriculture reduced the need to hunt for food. Steam power begat the Industrial Age ... also known as the Industrial Revolution, which changed human culture from a largely agrarian form of living to one where manufacturing and other industrial pursuits drove the economies of much of the world, and transformed the day-to-day lives of people, their jobs, their health and relationships — just about everything. Digitalization and computers also revolutionized humanity, as we know, and made many new things possible, including the viability of working from home for millions of people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But before each major change, each tidal shift in the uncertain seas of history, there was more than a bit of fear and trepidation. It is natural to be concerned about the future. We are hard-wired, in fact, to do so as part of our survival mechanisms.
It may sound simplistic or even juvenile to say that we should not fear the future, but we have the past to guide us, even when the implications are unknown. Surely one who made their living tending to the horses that drew a coach did not welcome the arrival of an automobile, or those who tilled the field by hand did not celebrate the appearance of a plow or tractor, but they inevitably had more opportunities and enjoyed a greater quality of life after the changes. So, too, will we be moved by the alternating seismic and subtle shifts caused by AI and its related technologies.
“The combination of significant labor cost savings, new job creation, and a productivity boost for non-displaced workers raises the possibility of a labor productivity boom like those that followed the emergence of earlier general-purpose technologies like the electric motor and personal computer.”CNN, 3/29/23
Our business is customer experience. We combine people, data and technology to ensure our clients and their customers always have meaningful and productive interactions. While we already leverage AI, for example, in the form of chatbots, speech analytics and automated call routing, generative AI promises to have a significant and beneficial impact on contact centers.
Source: Everest Group, 2023 – Generative AI – The New Age of Artificial Intelligence
While many are focused on the possibility of using generative AI to create human-like interactions with customers on behalf of brands, leading some to raise concerns about the elimination of contact center jobs, the reality of the application of this new technology in CX is more complex.
At its heart, CX is about engaging and retaining customers. Human connection is intrinsic to world-class CX. While technology is creating new ways to engage customers, technology alone will not meet all of your customers’ needs; there are times when only human interaction will suffice. This is especially true in exchanges that have a high emotional charge for the customer.
While generative AI does present opportunities to build new customer-facing experiences, equally importantly, it presents opportunities to support agents interacting with a brand’s customers, and these applications are set to revolutionize the contact center in ways that will benefit agents and customers alike.
According to McKinsey, “AI freed up service representatives to focus on higher-value and complex customer inquiries, improved representatives’ efficiency and job satisfaction, and increased service standards and customer satisfaction.”
Leveraging generative AI to reduce the burden of repetitive tasks will enable agents to spend more time on higher-value activities, such as listening to and understanding customer needs and helping them find resolutions. This increased productivity will be a direct result of having smarter agents who are better equipped to handle any challenge. According to ISG, “AI will likely first be put to use assisting agents with repetitive, manual tasks such as data entry and capturing intents/actions. This will help speed up resolution and allow the collection of more accurate information. While it may be possible to replace a portion of the workforce with AI and reduce the costs of running a business, the benefits of automation should be used to provide a better experience for the agent, not make them work harder by reducing heads.”
We know well that CX is a superpower and a clear competitive advantage for companies: “Delivering a five-star customer experience is a huge differentiator for a brand. Gartner predicts 89% of organizations will compete primarily on CX and Forrester says CX is the only sustainable competitive advantage remaining. The pressure is on for CX professionals to get it right, and organizations are smartly investing in AI to enable their success across the customer journey.” – Forbes.
In addition to helping agents do their jobs better, which exponentially enhances CX, the other powerful thing is AI’s ability to gather a wealth of information about customers, behavior, preferences and other salient points. The ability to derive data from 100% of calls and other interactions is not new but the power of generative AI technology to create new content based on the data it receives is a game-changer.
With contact centers able to track trends, preferences, customer problems that commonly occur, and agent behavior, CX professionals will learn what’s working and what’s not. Having this kind of data identifies the things we need to know to fully inform and sharply focus our strategies and tactics.
As noted by Forbes: “AI helps employees make customers feel heard and solve problems faster, and for that reason, contact center professionals aren’t going anywhere. The key is to have AI on your CX team.”
I’d like to check in with you from time to time and share my thoughts about CX and other matters that affect us all. I also welcome your ideas and opinions. Please reach out to me at Bharat.R@startek.com. Technology is often thought of as a moving target. It is, but it’s also an ever-changing catalyst for growth and change. The challenge for brands and the CX solutions providers who serve them is to recognize and act upon these opportunities.