Author: Ewan McKay, Marketing and Communications Manager, Webhelp

The recent YouGov study commissioned by Webhelp, illustrated a strong preference for human-to-human contact versus AI-powered customer service tools. Here, we take a deeper dive into the individual points of view behind these results, as Webhelp’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Ewan McKay, shares the people’s voice from our focus groups.

It is hard to disagree that digital transformation has changed everything when it comes to the customer experience. The evidence is clear in the collapse of the high street as a retail force, with once untouchable brands like HMV hitting administration and retail giants like Arcadia Group struggling to compete.

Cloud computing, automation and artificial intelligence give Brands unparalleled insight into customer behaviour, telling us more about our audiences that than ever before.

However, this trend is not overwhelmingly popular with consumers, many of whom still want ‘person to person’ interactions with a brand for customer service. Our survey uncovered a surprising preference for this with almost half those asked stating that AI will not impact their lives positively over the next five years.

This viewpoint was echoed by our focus groups with customer advisors from across the UK region, during which concerns about the current ability of AI to really understand someone’s need at a personal level were raised.

“How would a computer be able to accommodate the individuality of every customer? And then of course (there is the issue of) the translation between what a computer says and how that’s heard by the customer?”

However, it was generally thought that the younger generations, those who had grown up with technology at their fingertips, would take the expansion of AI and automation in their stride. The participants of the focus group shared the sentiment that:

“The kids that are in school will all be dealing with artificial technology – they know their way around Google better than I do!” and “The younger generations are fine and will suss it out.”

Focus group members had confidence that tech savvy youngsters could handle AI in the future – Photo Credit: Giu Vicente/Unsplash

Interestingly, in our YouGov survey younger generations were actually found to be more worried about AI-led threats to privacy and security over the next five years than older generations. This sense of unease was replicated in our focus group, particularly around fraud and data breaches linked to the rapid growth of new technology, even amongst those who were broadly positive about AI:

“AI is an amazing thing, but you’ve just got to be wary of the security side of things. Is it safe to do this? Can you trust this with AI? Can you allow a computer to make decisions on your behalf?”

“I think as long as cyber security progresses with technology, then I can see it being safe – but there will always be people who will find a way to take advantage.”

Less surprising perhaps, was the fact those aged 18-24 were 20% more worried about AI’s impact on their job prospects than the 55+ sector and again this concern was repeated by our group:

“I know it’s there to make your life more convenient, but at the same time there is a potential of it taking our jobs away!”

Perhaps they are right to be concerned. Recent developments in AI and robotics include a bricklayer that can lay 1,000 standard bricks in one hour, a station that allows cows to milk themselves on demand, and most famously, the new Amazon Go store in Seattle, where there are no checkouts and no cashiers. Customers can pick what they like and “just walk out” and a receipt pops up on their phone for items they have bought.

Things are moving quickly in the online CX arena too. My colleague, Chris Bryson, Global Analytics Director, explores the upcoming trends in Chatbots, Voice Recognition and AI in his recent blog.

While it’s true that customers are becoming more familiar with AI, a poorly implemented customer service system using AI can create some very negative customer experiences, as our Global Innovation Director, Dave Pattman points out in his latest blog.

The good news is that it’s possible to overcome these concerns and preconceptions by creating customer experiences that marry people and tech seamlessly, which is what we help our clients do every day!

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Do you think that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have a positive or negative effect on ‘your life in the near future? Get in touch if you’re facing disruption – or want to disrupt – and want to talk through the implications for CX. E: