14 June 2024 958 words, 4 min. read

Will human customer service soon be a thing of the past?

By Pierre-Nicolas Schwab PhD in marketing, director of IntoTheMinds
In this article, I explain why and how AI, particularly generative AI, will replace human presence in customer service. No customer service will be spared, not even in physical stores.

I explained in this article that ChatGPT was 252% better than humans at handling customer complaints. This is just one aspect of the upheaval that generative AI will bring to customer relations. Within 18 to 24 months, all humans will have been replaced in written customer interactions. Within 4 years, telephone contacts will be automated. Even contacts at physical points of sale are under threat. Follow us into the wonderful world of artificial intelligence.

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Step 1: no more human interaction in 2 years

Customers want answers as quickly as possible. This has led many companies to adopt an omnichannel approach. All channels were good for communicating with the company, and the latter had to have the same quality criteria in its responses by email, WhatsApp, Twitter, and forums… In recent years, this has led to a proliferation of human-machine interfaces (MMIs) to satisfy customers’ need for immediacy.

Soon, no human beings will be behind a computer to answer your questions. They will be replaced within 2 years by generative AI.

The cost to the company was significant, but so were the promises. The idea was to offer tailor-made customer service based on customers’ communication preferences. This aspect of customer service is about to be turned upside down. There will soon be no human behind a computer to answer your questions. The various communication channels were already concentrated within single interfaces (CRMs) to facilitate employees’ work. These will be replaced within 2 years by generative AIs producing formatted responses for them. The reason is simple: LLMs (Large Language Models) have perfectly integrated “best practices,” and customers are more satisfied: faster responses, fewer errors in answers, etc.

If you thought there was still a future behind customer service, think again. Because even if you had to send a letter to a customer, a robot could write it, posing as a human.

Step 2: Call centers will disappear within 5 years

Telephone contact will offer you only a few prospects.

As long as 6 years ago, Google presented a telephone conversation between a conversational AI and a hairdressing salon. The level of complexity remained low (making an appointment), but it already foreshadowed what interactions might become in the future.

A few weeks ago, OpenAI arrived with ChatGPT 4o. A giant step had been taken. The conversation was natural, and AI intonations were surprisingly human.

Now imagine all this being implemented in call centers, CRM data on the one hand, and company documentation on the other (the so-called “knowledge base”). What’s the point of having separate human resources to monitor responses, KPIs, and follow-up? Remember that AI is already present in the software used by call centers:

  • At the time of the call, to assist agents, help supervisors, suggest additional sales opportunities, propose strategies to counter objections
  • After the call, tag conversations, transcribe, summarize, and analyze feelings.
  • In ex-post analyses, coach, analyze the customer experience, understand the value proposed to the customer, and determine how the latter understands it.

Below is a mindmap I created based on a presentation given by Luc Francis Jacob of Nixxis (whom I thank in passing for sharing information).

customer service - current and future uses of AI in call centers

Current and future uses (in orange) of AI in call centers.
On the mindmap (access the interactive version here), the elements on an orange background correspond to future AI applications. Virtual agents, which could be used in the most common cases, are among the predictions made by industry experts.

As much as I regret it, call centers will see their business shrink in the coming years. AI will be further integrated into call center software, and we’ll no doubt see a “triage”: Humans will still oversee only certain special calls.

Will in-store customer service disappear?

The ultimate stage in the replacement of human presence concerns physical stores. At present, market research shows that customers still prefer humans to AI. However, other market research also points out that customers better accept automated systems when they are anthropomorphized.

In the distant future, science fiction fans could see robots replacing humans. Experiments are already underway, with Japan leading the way.

Without going quite that far, cost-cutting geniuses have found a way of digitizing humans without making them disappear altogether. In some American establishments, the reception desk is occupied by a screen through which you can speak to someone on the other side of the planet in a low-cost country (see video below). When you don’t have AI skills, you need ideas.

Mais cela veut-il pour autant dire que le service client en magasin est amené à disparaître ? Je ne crois pas qu’il disparaîtra mais il y aura sans aucun doute un développement, à long-terme, vers la robotisation des tâches à plus faible valeur ajoutée. Le cas d’usage de McDonald’s dans son restaurant de Forth Worth (Texas) illustre bien cette volonté de tester dans des conditions réelles jusqu’où la technologie peut remplacer l’humain.

But does this mean that in-store customer service will disappear? It shouldn’t disappear, but long-term development will undoubtedly be focused on robotizing lower value-added tasks. McDonald’s use case in its Fort-Worth (Texas) restaurant illustrates this desire to test the extent to which technology can replace humans in real-life conditions.

However, this ultra-technological vision has yet to be a reality. Autonomous stores are losing ground after creating a buzz and have even closed, like Carrefour Flash, Carrefour’s autonomous store. There is a technological cost to replacing humans, which seems remarkably high for the moment.

To conclude

You must be very open-minded to imagine the general revolution that AI and generative AI will bring to the marketing world. No sector will be spared, and companies will be creative in replacing humans wherever possible. Customer relations, which was immune, isn’t immune at all. The effects are going to be brutal. It’s best to be prepared.

Posted in Marketing.

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