AI Chatbots vs Humans in Customer Support: What Will the Future Bring?

The data does not lie – as being more efficient, less expensive and often more welcome than humans (especially by younger generation of customers), chatbots will soon dominate customer support. However, talking about the AI versus human issue raises several important questions:

  • Are chatbots having the edge over humans in all business areas?
  • What about the so-called “human element” in customer service?
  • Is human interaction going to be a luxury some clients will be ready to pay for in the future?

Let’s break it down. 

The Chatbots are taking over in Customer Experience

In the recent years, the customer approach towards interacting with chatbots has changed drastically. About four years ago, the Sitel Group revealed that 70% of consumers surveyed about customer service would rather choose to talk to a human than to a chatbot. Recent studies show a major shift – in the research done by Invesp, we see that almost 70% of today's consumers used a chatbot for customer support purposes in the past 12 months. What’s more, 40% don’t even care if it’s a human or an AI-driven chatbot that is helping them as long as they are getting the help they need. Also, the Usabilla report indicated that 54% of respondents would always choose a customer service chatbot over a human rep if it saved them… 10 minutes.

These 10 minutes seems like a final nail in the coffin of human customer service, but even without it the above proves that AI-chatbots has become a global trend that is only expected to grow in the nearest future. Consumers tend to simply favor them in need of simple tasks that can be done quickly, such as tracking an order, finding some basic information, or asking equally basic questions. Spending minutes, hours, or days first waiting in a queue, then explaining an issue to a service desk agent, and waiting for an intervention when it comes to a system incident, user account activation or a piece of software delivery, is a ready-made scenario for a nightmare. This is because…

As Humans, we are not perfect

We sometimes have troubles with going through complicated policies and procedures, get challenged by language barriers, or simply experience a bad day at work in terms of communication – these are only a couple of imperfections that put customer experience at risk. Clients rarely think about these matters, and actually, they don’t have to. It’s the company’s responsibility to find a way to improve their customer service.

Therefore, there is little to no surprise chatbots are gaining worldwide appreciation based on their strengths, which include:

  • constant self-learning;
  • multiple language choices;
  • no limits for time and number of tasks;
  • no on-boarding or training phases;
  • reduced cost in comparison to human employees.

To be more precise, the company Invesp points out that chatbots can save up to 30% in customer support costs. It’s hard to fight with numbers, and they reveal that AI can also reduce the number of errors and speed up response times significantly by answering up to 80% of routine question. Cherry on top – it doesn’t go on lunch breaks. As you see, there are many business reasons to put AI in charge of customer support. Organizations see it clearly and have been already taking advantage of this tool – according to Juniper Research report, by the end of this year, 75-90% of queries are expected to be handled by chatbots. Thus, are we witnessing the end of humans taking care of customers’ needs, problems and inconveniences?

…but is AI ALWAYS a better Option for a Customer Service?

Not necessarily. As AI-driven chatbots begin to dominate customer service, so does some kind of a backlash against them. For instance, a survey commissioned by Acquita found that 45% of consumers find customer service chatbots “annoying”. Regardless of the significant improvement AI is bringing service desks and customer support centers in companies worldwide, it is still not human, which means it lacks the ability to think outside the box, show some sympathy, or pay attention to small nuances – what is often crucial for a person on the other side to feel fully understood. Another thing is of a cultural matter – businesses deal with a variety of customers with different backgrounds, including ethnicity, culture, or demography. The capability to ensure at least decent amount of cultural sensitivity is one of the key benefits of having humans instead of bots at the service desk. Unlike chatbots, humans are also able to handle emotions – displeased, angry or even panicky customers? Human customer service providers have seen it all and learned about it by experience. 

What is always most valuable in customer support, is acting with urgency. Not all problems are serious, but some of them require a response in the blink of an eye. Although we have already established that chatbots are much quicker than humans, the devil is in the details. If we think about areas where AI and automation can work successfully in order to provide efficient customer support, business like banking, hair-dressing salons, cinemas, theaters, or many kinds of e-shops easily come as examples. But what about those requiring “enhanced” interaction, such as search-and-rescue, fire and ambulance services, police, security or IT service desk? Here, the time pressure doesn’t allow seeking help from any – even most advanced – technology.

Let’s take a closer look at the least dangerous area – in comparison to those involving human lives at stake – the IT service desk. Comarch GOC (Global Operations Center), a 112 for IT related issues, is a combination of Network Operation Center and Service Desk. – Here, engineers monitor, supervise and maintain the network and other elements of each client’s IT environment and resolve issues that may arise. Such services are needed by organizations with IT infrastructure that requires high availability. Each minute of an unavailable system brings huge money loss, so the time from creating the ticket to resolving the issue has to be as short as possible. Therefore, it requires human interaction and little to no place for communication errors and processing. It doesn’t mean we don’t use AI and other innovative technologies to make sure Comarch's customers can use their IT infrastructures as expected. However, getting rid of dozens of professionals and putting chatbots in their place would be a recipe for disaster – explains Marcin Geroch, Consulting Manager at Comarch ICT. 

AI chatbots are also not enough when specific language requirements enter the game. – Once, we were applying for a project in Austria and the client wanted to be served by Austrians. It was about the language that our support would use to communicate with the client's employees. We said we could provide German speaking specialists, but the client intended to pay extra for the service in the Austrian dialect. Here, too, AI could have quite a challenge to overcome – Marcin Geroch adds.

So, the Winner is… wait, is it possible to win this Battle?

The importance of AI-driven chatbots for business these days can’t be overestimated. If done right (meaning: not being annoying), conversational AI gives companies a chance to significantly increase their competitive advantage and improve interactions with customers. If the task at hand is simple – for instance: there are some issues with the delivery of a purchased product – chatbot is the one to trust. However, customers don’t like addressing important matters with a bot, what even a university research has proven. It’s about customer trust with the brand. Talking to a non-human about a risky medical operation? An unavailability of a banking system? No, thank you. So, what will the future bring? Will customers be willing to pay a little extra to be sure they have a human on the other side? Will human customer service become the same old-fashioned art as hand-tailoring – exceptional, luxurious, and slightly more expensive? We’ll see. There’s no point in stopping technological progress, but humans as customer service providers will always offer the unique personalized touch. And isn’t it what every business wants to offer?

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