Much has been written about the evolution of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence and how these technologies will impact the customer experience, particularly in retailers where in-store and online customer advice is so important. Opinions vary from those who believe that the technology is advanced enough to replace human sales advisors to those who believe that the human touch cannot ever be replaced.

I believe the truth lies somewhere in between. To start with the most natural way to interact with a customer service advisor is by a voice call or personal interaction in-store. Other channels, such as social networks, are becoming important, but voice is still the dominant customer service channel and commercially available voice recognition systems are not yet completely reliable.

Tools such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Siri are showing what is possible when we talk directly to computers, but none of these systems offer the completely natural speech a customer can use when talking to a person.

It’s possibly just a matter of time for this to improve, but even when customers can interact directly with an AI system by talking to it, there will still be a value in having human advisors that can read the situation and customer requirements – empathy and understanding remain very human values. This is why I think the main area of focus for these technologies is how they can support and boost the capabilities of the humans interacting with customers.

The computers may not be very good at reading individual situations, but they are good at storing information and matching patterns and trends. Take a look at how Atom Bank is using Machine Learning to remember every question, every customer has ever asked the customer service team – with the solution. For basic queries the AI system can detect what the customer needs and can offer the most likely solution. For more complex enquiries, where a human advisor is involved, the system helps the customer service advisor by suggesting solutions based on this collective experience of helping other customers. It means that the advisor will almost always have the right answer to a customer question.

Companies such as banks and retailers that need to offer advice both online and in-store to customers can create an immediate advantage by exploring these technologies. They are not taking over the customer service process, but they also cannot be ignored. These tools can ensure that your advisors always have the right answer immediately, even if it is a question they have never faced before.

What do you think of the potential of AI in customer service? Leave a comment below and let me know, or get in touch on LinkedIn.