Automation can massively improve customer experience. Think about when you set up a new iPhone. In the old days, you had to go to a store and a customer representative had to physically set up your phone. Let’s not forget the valid fear that all your contacts might be lost in the transfer.
Setting up a new iPhone is so much easier now. The phone itself guides you through the process, grabbing what it needs from the web and transferring contacts, files, photos, and more from your iCloud. The phone provisions and configures itself without needing you or a customer representative to do a heavy lift. Does this mean Apple can replace customer support jobs with AI? Of course not. But now, Apple's employees at the “Genius Bar" can apply their friendly tech savvy to more challenging customer service problems.
What (and What Not) to Automate
Why automate? Saving money is nice, but it’s not at the top of the list. Much more important is enhancing the customer experience by providing faster responses with fewer errors—and freeing up time for workers to do higher level tasks.
The biggest mistake I see companies make (apart from not embracing automation) is assuming they can use automation to replace people. Automation does small, frequently repeated tasks. Rarely can a computer do a person’s job. Automate tasks, not jobs.
Let’s look at the role of chatbots for customer service. They aren't fully replacing human agents. Rather, chatbots handle the most straightforward requests like address changes or billing questions. It is impossible to predict and automate all the problems people will have. Customers will often still need to talk to a real person to solve complex issues. That's why the role of a chatbot is limited—and why human agents are irreplaceable. Automate the task, not the job.
Replace the Routine, Not the Team
Done right, AI enhances productivity and improves workers’ jobs. At Google, 3 percent of the new code is written using autocomplete. This adds a lot of value since they have tens of thousands of software engineers, but it hasn’t replaced a lot of programmers. Mostly, it makes programming a little faster and more fun. And, one hopes, reduces errors and gives programmers more time to think about the hard problems.
So, when you think about automation and robots, think of Venmo, Expedia, Docusign, Google search and the millions of other apps that make your life just a little bit easier. And work to use AI to automate the routine tasks that your team does, not replace the team.
Connect with Lyle Ungar, professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania, on LinkedIn.