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AI: To bot or not to bot, that is the question

As AI continues to make its mark on various industries, it is no surprise that it has also infiltrated the world of customer service. The use of chatbots and virtual assistants in this field has undoubtedly brought about numerous benefits, but it is not without its challenges.

While AI offers efficiency and convenience, there are concerns about its impact on human interaction and potential job displacement. Despite these reservations, businesses are embracing AI in customer service, but is it truly the best approach for providing exceptional experiences? In this article, we will delve into the nuanced complexities of AI in customer service and offer insights on how businesses can effectively manage its impact.

Increased stream of annoying targeting

Our email addresses have become one of our most valuable assets. Your professional address is the key for an endless group of salespeople targeting you. With the increasing use of AI-powered bots and targeted messaging, it has become harder to protect ourselves from unwanted communications. These sophisticated tools can create emails that appear genuine, making it difficult for us to spot scams or malicious messages. Even on LinkedIn, sophisticated outreach programs exist solely to manipulate connections and boost followings.

Bot me not

I learned this the hard way when I recently fell prey to one such email, believing it was a real person reaching out to me on LinkedIn. It was exciting to receive a message from a senior executive whom I knew from my past, not only did he want to connect, but he also asked for my opinion on an article he had published. I spent a lot of time carefully reading and crafting my response, eagerly anticipating a thank you or further conversation from the CEO himself. But to my disappointment, I received no response at all. It was not until later that I realised I had probably been “botted” – just another automated response designed to engage with connections and increase followers. My experience left me feeling frustrated and disappointed and very annoyed with this executive wasting my time!

The key takeaway from this incident is that it is important to remember that technology should never be left alone to handle human interactions and relationships – we must always be aware and in control of how it is used and whom we are interacting with. And when interacting familiar acquaintances, be certain to engage in the conversation yourself.

Thank you AI

The use of AI in customer service can also be highly efficient in providing swift resolutions to customer inquiries. Using advanced algorithms and natural language processing, AI chatbots can fully understand and respond to a wide range of customer inquiries, effectively reducing wait time. Unlike human agents, AI-powered systems operate 24/7, catering to customers in different time zones and providing constant support.  

Recently, I had a flight back from Oslo to Geneva with a connection in Munich. If I missed that connection, I would have to wait in line for rebooking and spend the night at a lousy airport hotel – not my ideal start to the weekend. However, by utilising the Lufthansa app and bots on that plane from Oslo with internet connection, I was able to rebook my ticket and find a suitable hotel through I was also able to inform my wife of the change in plans. This interaction with AI-powered technology left me pleasantly surprised and satisfied. I could secure my favourite hotel and the best connection home, while delayed in the air.

Get used to AI

In the near future, it is estimated that artificial intelligence will play a significant role in customer interactions, with a projected 80% of all customer interactions being powered by AI by 2025. As revealed in the Gartner Customer Service and Support Technologies report 2023, nearly 40% of industry leaders prioritise implementing AI applications trained on large language models to enhance customer satisfaction and retention.

As technology continues to advance, certain industries such as retail are beginning to fully embrace AI on the front lines. Customers can now engage with automated bots that have been programmed to provide thoughtful and empathetic service, similar to that of a human employee. These bots continuously learn and improve, serving up personalised product recommendations and information to customers. According to a recent survey by the Capgemini Research Institute, 83% of 800 surveyed organisations believe these advanced chatbots are the most relevant application of generative AI, with 63% of retail companies already utilising it to enhance their customer service experience.

A double-edged sword

My two recent very different encounters with AI have shown its potential for efficiency and disappointment. A flight’s problem was quickly solved by AI, but in a LinkedIn communication I felt frustrated by the realisation that I was interacting with AI instead of a human. When incorporating AI into customer interactions, businesses must be mindful of potential damage to their reputation caused by inappropriate or misleading interactions. This applies to companies of all sizes, not just large corporations.

Automated first responses may seem appealing, but they can leave prospects and customers feeling let down. In today’s world, the human touch is crucial, and it is essential to use AI carefully and strategically in communication and problem-solving.

The ethical implications of AI in consumer interaction are also far-reaching and immediate, with one of the most prominent being the potential for data breaches and unauthorised access to personal information. The constant collection and processing of massive amounts of data creates a substantial risk for this information falling into the wrong hands, whether through hacking or other security breaches. These are particularly significant concerns for industries where customer interactions and privacy of data are of utmost importance, such as banking and healthcare.

However, it’s a double-edged sword. While AI poses a major risk to cybersecurity, it is the same AI technology that has the potential to significantly reduce the risk of breaches and save organisations millions in costs. In fact, IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach 2023 global survey revealed that organisations extensively using AI saved an average of $1.8 million in data breach costs and were able to identify and contain breaches over 100 days faster compared to non-AI users.

Nearly four decades have passed since my first encounter with the possibilities of artificial intelligence at Digital’s innovative facility in Valbonne. The potential of this technology was evident even then, yet it took decades before I faced the decision of incorporating AI into my own business. As I reflect on this, I am reminded that if I could wait 40 years for the right moment to embrace AI, I can certainly move cautiously today in selecting the most effective solutions for my company and clients.

So, while you will not find a robotic assistant greeting you on anytime soon, please bear with me if it takes some time for me to send a response, but when you get one, it will be from me or one of my colleagues.

Rolf Olsen

CEO, based in Geneva

Rolf Olsen launched Leidar in 2010 and continues to lead the company as CEO.  He advises clients on strategy and narrative development; crisis management; and complex reputational issues on a global scale.

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