64% of people not happy about idea of AI-generated customer service

Not unreasonably, nearly half worried it would give them the 'wrong answers'

Customers would prefer companies to ignore AI when it comes to providing aftersales service, according to a report published today.

In a December 2023 survey of 5,728 customers by industry watcher Gartner, 64 percent of respondents said they would prefer it if companies didn't use artificial intelligence in customer service. Sixty percent worried that it would make it even harder to reach a human being, while 42 percent were concerned that AI would provide the wrong answers.

The results will not surprise anyone who has spent quality time on hold, being told repeatedly that their call was important, but due to "unprecedented" call volumes, getting through to a human would take a while.

Gartner's survey comes a week after another, from business inventory platform Katana, that found half the customers in a much smaller study - 250 respondents - preferred talking to a human rather than an AI-powered chatbot.

Many customers fear that GenAI will simply become another obstacle between them and an agent

Taken as a less expensive option than hiring more humans to answer telephones or respond to messages, the allure of AI for business leaders is easy to understand.

"Sixty percent of customer service and support leaders are under pressure to adopt AI in their function," said Keith McIntosh, Senior Principal, Research, in the Gartner Customer Service & Support practice.

"But they can't ignore concerns about AI use, especially when it could mean losing customers."

Last year, telecoms giant BT announced 55,000 positions were to be axed by 2030, with thousands likely to come from customer services due to "digitization and automation of processes."

BT, and companies like it, would do well to ponder Gartner's findings. According to the survey, 53 percent of customers would consider switching to a competitor if they found out AI was being used for customer service.

Many companies already direct customers to self-service options, such as a web portal. However, a customer who cannot resolve their issue that way is usually more keen to speak to a human than deal with yet more layers of obfuscation. McIntosh said, "Many customers fear that GenAI will simply become another obstacle between them and an agent.

"The onus is on service and support leaders to show customers that AI can streamline the service experience."

Therefore customers must feel that an AI-powered service is there to help rather than hinder. McIntosh went on: "AI-infused chatbots must communicate to the customer that they will connect them to an agent in the event that the AI cannot provide a solution.

"It must then seamlessly transform into an agent chat that picks up where the chatbot left off. This way, the customer can trust that they will be able to efficiently find their solution while using the AI-infused channel."

Good customer service is vital to maintaining customer loyalty, and anyone who has had to endure endless hold music in a futile attempt to get through to a human able to resolve an issue will attest to that.

However simply replacing a perky message repeatedly telling the customer how important they are with a GenAI assistant serves only to emphasize how unimportant the company considers customer service personnel, and is unlikely to inspire that loyalty. ®

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