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AI, RPA and Customer Support: Striking the Right Balance

How much technology should you implement? Start with these three considerations.

Step by StepTechnology permeates every part of our lives, and customer service is no different. Contact centers have long embraced tech advancements to help expedite custome support, and they are starting to harness artificial intelligence to deliver more efficient and effective customer service. The adoption of AI comes as no surprise—IDC estimates that the AI market will grow from $8 billion in 2016 to more than $47 billion in 2020.

Another example of a recent tech advancement we’re seeing adopted in customer service is robotic process automation. RPA tools are designed to mimic the same manual, repetitive, routine tasks that a human does by using a combination of user interface interaction or descriptor technologies. They are already showing some promise when it comes to certain automated processes. A McKinsey study on RPA found that the major benefit of the technology in the 16 case studies it examined was a return on investment of between 30% and 200% in the first year.

While some may think this means customer support agents will no longer be needed, it doesn’t. Live support staff is crucial to customer care, especially when dealing with higher level inquiries or even frustrated customers. With this in mind, customer support organizations implementing technology such as AI, RPA and bots, to potentially streamline service or save costs, must remember that live representative interaction is imperative in nearly all customer situations.

Bots Versus Live Support

robotAI, which has been around for some time, was expected to expedite the overal customer service experience. For example, an AI-driven system can directly deal with password resets or calls requesting account balances or updates on flight status, with the intent of improving the contact center’s support efficiency and enabling live agents to assist customers with more complex issues. AI can also help streamline the information customer service agents need to answer inquiries. These AI systems act as a bot or virtual assistant for the agent, providing information based on search terms that the agent can then tailor for the customer they are assisting.

While technology advances may offer a quick and cost-effective way to handle customer support inquiries, there are still customers with complex requests, requiring live support. For example, a customer receives a response to what is classified as a tier one request, but she has a follow-up inquiry that needs to be addressed. Or, a bot provides an incorrect auto-response, such as the case with a misunderstood question, frustrating the customer.

Human interaction becomes even more critical when a customer is anxious or unsatisfied. As such, recruiting and onboarding qualified customer service representatives should not be removed because of investments in other support technologies. It takes the right balance between technology-driven support and qualified call center representatives to create a truly efficient customer support operation that ensures customer satisfaction.

Striking the Balance

With the promise of technology and the ability to more effectively provide customer service, now is the time to ensure your contact center is striking the right balance. So, how much technology should you implement? My top three considerations for finding that right level are:

1. Evaluate your audience. Are your customers predominantly Millennials or Baby Boomers? Is your product or service for the tech savvy or for those less reliant on technology day to day? By examining your customers and their typical preferences, you can better structure your support model to provide the appropriate type and levels of customer support delivery.

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2. Examine your typical support. Look at the most common questions your customer support team receives. Are these complex and technical in nature or simple and easily addressed by a virtual assistant? This can help you gauge how many inquiries can be handled by a bot versus a support agent.

3. Address staff skills. No matter what level of technology-based support you choose, make sure you have skilled staff at the ready. There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than dealing with uninformed employees.

The power of customer support automation may be augmenting actual human customer service. However, the true return on investment for these tech advancements—claiming increased efficiency and cost savings—has yet to be determined.

Before implementing too much technology too soon, make sure that new implementations complement your current customer service delivery. In doing so, evaluate what level of tech-driven and live agent support is right for your customers and reevaluate these needs on a consistent basis. Successful contact centers should be looking at key performance indicators quarter by quarter to ensure the right customer service is delivered to meet changing needs.


Phil FriedmanIn 1984, Phil Friedman  started Computer Generated Solutions, a diversified IT solutions and services company providing software, consulting, systems integration, training and help desk support. With more than 7,500 professionals and a global presence, CGS maintains a leadership position delivering end-to-end, award-winning solutions in over 40 countries. CGS has been recognized by Inc. Magazine, Deloitte & Touche, Crain’s New York Business, among others, as one the fastest growing privately held technology companies in the United States.