The role of AI in the workforce

 Automation is typically seen as the avenue to cutting operating costs in customer service. Understandably too, given employee costs usually account for around two-thirds of contact centre expenses. But this is also the stem of a lot of moral debate surrounding automation and artificial intelligence (AI) – they’re going to lead to the creation of fewer jobs.

We as employers need to consider what this means for our workforce. Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. Job roles are evolving as automation and AI gain the ability to take on more tasks independently. When fully embraced by a business, automation can take over time-consuming processes, freeing employees to focus on more complicated, rewarding tasks. More rewarding roles leads to higher job satisfaction, which boosts employee motivation and productivity.

Automation adds value to job roles
Graduate positions and internships are infamous for offering opportunities to people to practice rote data entry skills like copying information from a file and entering it somewhere else. These skills are essential and these tasks need to be done every day, so someone has to do them, right?

However, these simple, time-consuming tasks weren’t what people had in mind when they spent three years earning a degree. Automating tasks like data entry frees people in these positions to spend more time on work that requires skill and precision. For example, law graduates can spend their time practicing law rather than filing paperwork.

We’ve seen this effect in action in a contact centre environment. Operators often ask the same questions every day just to confirm a customer’s identity, and end up feeling like they’re stuck in an endless loop:

‘Could you confirm your full name for me?’

‘Can I just check your email address?’

‘Thanks, and your order number?’

This can make operators frustrated which can lead to frustrated customers. But with AI, operators can spend more time actually helping customers.

However, AI needs to be approached with caution. Whilst it’s literally the best it’s ever been and developers are constantly improving natural language processors, their ability to interpret language and react to information the way humans do is limited.

Human and AI teams are the future (for now)
Currently most businesses that are implementing AI to create Chatbots to communicate with their consumers aren’t utilising expensive AI engines like IBM’s Watson. They are opting for emerging cheaper alternatives in the market. This means that although what AI engines can achieve at their peak is increasingly getting more complex, there is gap between how the majority of businesses are implementing the technology and what actually is possible.

For most consumer facing businesses, AI can’t replace human customer service teams. It can however do a great job of complimenting the process by removing the more repetitive and linear aspects.

Automation in general can amplify productivity in the workplace by making data more readily available. To continue with the customer service example, AI can read messages sent in by customers and then supply operators with a template response. The operator can then personalise this response to the customer’s unique circumstances.

Replacing humans in customer service is a long way away. Customer service is ultimately about creating trust, and empathy is a significant part of building trust. However, empathy is a uniquely human trait, and we’re still far from being able to produce a chatbot that can replicate it.

Cost-efficiency and great customer experience are often seen as a balancing act; choose one to prioritise, and prepare to sacrifice the other. AI will help minimise that sacrifice but not completely remove it.

AI and automation are going to change the way we work, no matter the industry we inhabit. By embracing it now, you can create better roles that attract and engage top candidates and cut operating costs at the same time.

Written by Nathan Sansby, Chief Commercial Officer at FM Outsource