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PHOTO: Markus Winkler

Artificial intelligence technologies are increasingly being used to augment human agents in contact centers and for customer service.

But there is general agreement that companies shouldn't rely too much on AI. In some cases, the technology isn’t designed to handle some queries. And some customers just prefer to speak with humans. Yet humans alone can’t handle the growing influx of queries coming into the contact center from a wider variety of sources — from social media, from text queries, as well as the more traditional emails and phone calls.

To deliver excellent customer experience, businesses must strike a balance between AI and humans. Here are some tips to strike the proper balance.

Define Contact Center Strategy

Defining your contact center strategy is one of three essential steps in balancing AI and humans in delivering CX, according to Roberto Valdez, senior manager of risk advisory services at Kaufman Rossin.

“With artificial intelligence, it’s easy to become focused on a new application, solution or tool because exciting advancements are occurring on a regular basis,” Valdez said. "Adopting a tool that doesn’t fit your environment — or worse, erodes aspects that your customers love about their experience — would be counter-productive or outright damaging. To avoid this mishap, arm your organization’s leaders with clearly defined strategic objectives, high level goals that everyone stands behind. You’ll make better tactical decisions and have a more successful integration of your adopted AI applications.”

The strategy should focus on empowering the customer, Valdez added. “Artificial intelligence applications are exciting for their ability to transform customer experience. Successful adoptions include conspicuous companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix, where artificial intelligence is used to personalize the customer experience through recommendations of both expected and unexpected products, services, and information, and customers feel empowered by that personalized experience.  But an AI solution can continue optimizing blindly if no one’s governing the program, leading to awkward outcomes or 'type-casting' your customers.  Someone who understands the nuances of the program and knows your customers intimately, should keep her hand on the wheel.”

Related Article: How to Make Conversational AI Smarter

Use AI to Simplify Tasks

Many providers tout the ability of AI to remove the burden of repetitive tasks for contact center agents, providing faster responses — and, therefore, better CX for customers as well as alleviating agents from mundane work.

“A blended AI approach where automation can help the human be more human is most ideal,” said Graeme Provan, global director of business automation at Genesys. “Having artificial intelligence focus on the repetitive tasks, allows the employee to concentrate on human-based skills.”

Using AI to assist agents helps reduce the complexity of onboarding new employees by simplifying day-to-day activities, Provan explained. We need and will continue to need the human element for creative thinking and emotional engagement, while AI can provide backend support by pulling relevant information and more.

“What’s important is allocating work to the right resource, whether it be the bot or the human, and having the human work side by side with the technology to ensure the highest probability of a positive business outcome,” Provan added.

Related Article: How Robotic Process Automation Fits in Your Contact Center

Optimize Use of AI, Other Technology

“Often companies make the mistake of looking at the application of AI in a vacuum. It’s important to recognize that AI is simply the newest tool in the automation continuum — humans and machines have been working together side by side for years — albeit the technology toolset continues to evolve,” said John Hibel, senior director of marketing, Intelligent Self-Service at Verint.

To identify where to blend automation with humans, it’s vital to look at what humans are best at, and where machines excel and view the goal as a partnership. Machines are better at prediction, but humans are better at judgement, Hibel added. Once the game plan for human-machine automation has been defined in this way, it’s critical to put in place the resources to be successful, and the fuel for predictions is data/intelligence.

“AI becomes more valuable the more systems are connected, to access more and different kinds of data to supply context. Whoever has the most data wins; this is the premise of the ‘Insight Era’ where we recognize that better and richer customer interactions support significant competitive advantage.”

Use broad array of data sources so they are included in what is built (AI + human automation). But to be useful in delivering CX, the data needs to be clean and trustworthy, Hibel said. “While data is a critical element of AI, it’s a double-edged sword. More data from more sources provides the fuel and context that makes AI smarter — but more data and more connections also can create bigger privacy and security headaches. You can’t separate the business value from these pains, so the way to win is to excel at managing them together.”

Editor's Note: The article has been updated to give correct attribution. Roberto Valdez, not Mike Mills as originally stated, discussed contact center strategies.