Why the Human Touch Still Matters in Customer Conversations

Conversational AI in customer communications has become commonplace in the past year.

This is especially true in industries such as education, healthcare, automotive, real estate, and travel. While often seen as a positive development that increases efficiency and productivity, fears that AI will replace human jobs have also crept into the discussion.

Will customer service and sales representatives become obsolete? Will our conversations with businesses soon take place without any human interaction? Is that in the best interest of businesses or customers?

Despite AI’s advancements as a valuable tool, it cannot replace us. 

Let’s explore how AI’s capabilities have evolved in customer conversation management, what it lacks in comparison to human agents, and how you can balance AI and human collaboration for effective customer conversations that generate results.

The evolution of AI in conversations

Since the release of ChatGPT in November 2022, the use of AI in conversation management has exploded, but conversing with AI is nothing new. 

The very first chatbot was developed in the 1960s by Joseph Weizenbaum; it was called Eliza and was designed to simulate a conversation with a therapist. People told Eliza their problems, and Eliza used its natural language processing (NLP) capabilities to reply. 

While people were amazed at the human-like replies, Eliza had many limitations. Plus, there were ethical concerns about using AI, which stalled further developments. 

Over the years, there’s been more experimentation about how to get computers to engage in conversation. This was put to practical use with virtual assistants like Siri in 2010 and Alexa in 2013.

Sales, marketing, and support teams also started using automated conversations.

The concept of conversational marketing – engaging customers in a dialogue via a chatbot – emerged in 2015, and businesses began to see its value. Soon, it became commonplace for customers to find a chatbot at the bottom of every website they could use to get answers to frequently asked questions.

Automated conversations are no longer limited to websites, having expanded across channels.

History of AI conversations

Source: respond.io

These automated responses saved customers time by giving them direct answers to their inquiries. No more searching online or waiting hours for a human to reply to a message or email. It also saved agents from answering basic questions over and over. 

However, for more complex questions, automated responses often frustrated users, especially if there was no way for them to reach a real person. Until very recently, responses weren’t AI-generated; they were simply canned responses triggered when a customer mentioned a certain keyword.

Now, with the advances in conversational AI over the past year, it’s possible to have much more natural, intuitive, and complex conversations without ever speaking to a person.

Replies are no longer limited to standard FAQ responses; AI is starting to process the available information about their “employer” and give substantive answers.

It can learn to use a certain brand’s tone, speak in a customer’s preferred language, and give clear instructions about how to solve problems. If the customer says a proposed solution isn’t working, AI can also provide further suggestions.

However, even today’s sophisticated AI lacks the ability to come up with innovative or disruptive solutions to unique problems. It can’t fully understand cultural nuances, contextual subtleties, and intricate human emotions.

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Cons of AI in communication: the irreplaceable value of human creativity, understanding, and empathy

AI is powered by its vast knowledge, NLP, and programmed logical capabilities. It can absorb all the information it’s fed about a product or your customer base, but it can’t predict every possible scenario.

While AI can reframe or paraphrase information that it knows,  it can’t come up with creative or original solutions. It may be able to recognize a certain tone in a customer’s message but miss subtleties like sarcasm.

And since AI is a program with no feelings, it can never demonstrate true empathy, which can have a detrimental effect on relationships in highly tense situations.

Creativity

It’s easy for AI to come up with something novel just randomly. But it’s very hard to come up with something that is novel and unexpected and useful.

John Smith
Manager of Multimedia and Vision at IBM Research

Generative AI can write songs and poetry and produce beautiful images, but it bases them on what it has learned from human work. It cannot imagine something original. At times, it may come up with something unheard of, but this is typically a hallucination rather than a new, useful idea.

Humans, on the other hand, are born with innate creativity. They offer original ideas, inspired by anything from environmental cues to art and literature. In professional contexts, the ability to think quickly on your feet translates to creative problem-solving, which is crucial in difficult customer conversations.

For example, a customer might have a very specific use case for your product that only applies to their business and thus face issues that aren’t covered in any of your product guides. An AI agent isn’t equipped to understand or resolve unexpected use cases like that.

A human agent learns about the new use case to assist the customer with solutions that meet their needs. The agent may think of a workaround, or if they don’t know how to solve it, they know whom to consult, all the while assuring the customer they’re finding a solution.

Understanding context and culture

Even questions and problems that have easy solutions may at times, be difficult for AI to understand in certain contexts. For example, some users are more tech-savvy than others. The way they frame a question might deviate from what AI expects.

Humans are better able to understand who they’re talking to and determine whether they’re chatting with a technical expert or someone who needs simplified responses. 

Language and culture bring in additional challenges. When working with customers from around the world, communication styles and language abilities vary.

If someone is attempting to communicate in a second language, a human makes inferences, whereas AI tends to take what is said literally, possibly leading to offense and frustration.

On top of that, certain words have different connotations in different cultures, and AI may not understand what the person means.

AI limitations in customer communication

Source: respond.io

AI lacks empathy

Understanding both meaning and feeling is key to successful client conversations. Sometimes, there’s no easy fix to a problem, or customers are too upset to want to listen. Since AI lacks emotional intelligence, relying on it to defuse tense situations may lead to a loss of business.

When communicating by text, it’s important to read between the lines. Humans recognize sarcasm, passive aggression, and other warning signs that a customer is reaching their limit. At this point, the customer doesn’t just want a battery of solutions from a robot.

They want to know that their complaints are heard and that their business is valued. It takes a human to patiently listen and give a thoughtful reply, then suggest solutions after calming things down.

AI can’t take the place of a human in offering personalized and thoughtful advice, speaking to customers with understanding, and making customers feel appreciated.

Best practices for balancing AI with a human touch

Despite AI’s limitations, it remains a powerful tool for businesses. Proper use of AI in customer communications allows you to automatically handle conversations at scale, offers 24/7 availability and global reach, reduces operational costs, and improves the overall customer experience.

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To achieve these benefits, you need a strong implementation strategy and techniques for continuous improvement.

Benefits of implementing conversational AI

Source: respond.io

Find a balance between AI tools and human interaction to ensure the best experience. Automation saves time but can cost you when used inappropriately. Certain situations require human attention.

Here are some strategies you can use to decide when to automate and when to switch to human agents.

Automate with AI-generated responses

According to a recent study, 83% of customers expect an immediate response when they contact a company, but many businesses don’t have staff available 24/7 to answer customer questions or provide support. For efficient resource management, most businesses prefer to reserve their time for pressing issues. 

Using AI allows businesses to offer instant responses far beyond the typical welcome and away messages. With a friendly, human tone, AI engages customers immediately around the clock. It handles marketing broadcast responses and answers most standard sales inquiries, leaving agents free to deal with tougher concerns.

Provide answers and guidance for sales inquiries

When someone is considering purchasing from you, getting immediate and accurate answers may be what keeps them from going over to a competitor or losing interest.

AI conversations quickly answer most questions prospects have or point them in the right direction. For straightforward purchases, this may be all customers need to make a decision. Businesses with longer or more complex sales cycles can use AI to qualify leads or book demo appointments with a salesperson.

Offer basic technical support

Customer concerns regarding support issues are often urgent.

No one wants to wait until office hours for a human agent to be available. While certain support issues do require our intervention, using AI in customer conversations can settle the majority of problems.

Armed with all the resources from your knowledge base and technical support guides, AI can often generate answers that fit what the customer is asking for. 

Train your AI for predictable situations

Generative AI with machine learning (ML) capabilities makes it possible to expand the possibilities for customer conversation management, but you have to train your AI. While it’s impossible to predict every possible scenario, you can prepare it for the most common situations.

Make sure your AI has access to all the relevant information it needs, including product information, technical guides, brand voice guidelines, and agent training manuals.

With generative AI, the quality of the output often depends on the quality of the input. Run practice conversations and provide feedback or adjust the instructions until you’re satisfied with the answers.

To avoid frustration, always offer a human agent fallback in your automation workflow so a person can step in when necessary. No one wants to waste time on a long argument with a bot. That leads on to the next point: making it easy to access a human.

Set clear expectations and create easy human escalation pathways

It’s important to clarify which conversations can and can’t be managed by AI and make sure your customers have an easy path to speak to a human. 

Make it clear that customers are interacting with an AI bot from the very beginning so they can adjust their expectations. Although sophisticated AI conversations come across as close to human, customers may feel tricked if they realize later that they’re talking to a bot.

Start with a greeting like, “Hi! I’m Adam, your AI assistant! How can I help you today?” or use the robot emoji to indicate an automated conversation. Once that’s clear, customers can continue the conversation. One best practice is to offer a link or button with the option to talk to a human along with every reply. 

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Help your AI out by training it with cues that the customer requires human assistance. For example, if a customer uses keywords like “human” or has a negative reply to the AI assistant more than twice, it may be time to direct them to a human agent. If an agent is not available immediately, set expectations accordingly and prioritize their request for the next available one.

Future outlook: AI and human collaboration

We’ve seen how AI in customer communications offers advanced automation opportunities to make better use of time and resources. However, we’ve also seen that AI works best in conjunction with a human touch. 

While AI lacks creativity and empathy on its own, humans can collaborate with AI to provide innovative and thoughtful solutions. In most cases, AI is best used as a trusted partner and assistant, as in these examples.

Collaboration with AI for creative problem-solving

Humans have a unique capacity for creativity, but they can’t predict all obstacles and possible outcomes. It takes time to formulate a creative idea into a viable solution. 

On the other hand, AI can analyze vast datasets to uncover hidden patterns that escape the human mind. It can also help humans expand creative seeds of ideas and structure their thoughts. Collaboration between human creativity and AI’s analytical prowess can lead to innovations that neither could achieve alone. 

Collaboration with AI for fast, polished responses

Conversations with customers often require a personalized touch, and in complex situations, you don’t want to give them an automated answer. However, AI can help with composition by turning a quickly drafted reply into a full paragraph or making a lengthy answer simpler and more concise.

While AI may not recognize a customer’s level of understanding on its own, a human agent can turn to AI to craft a reply suited for a person with limited technical knowledge or for a software engineer. 

Collaboration with AI for assistance with tone

In a tense situation, emotions run high. It takes a human to read the situation and decide how to respond or react accordingly. Although AI may not pick up on the nuances of tone, humans occasionally lack the patience to be consistently tactful or the language skills to effectively express empathy. 

The right AI tools help write an understanding message more quickly. For example, you can enter a direct answer and use AI to adapt the phrasing to show you recognize the customer’s frustration and want to help.

Conversational AI for customer service is a valuable tool

AI has blossomed into a valuable tool in many aspects of business, yet the human touch remains irreplaceable, especially in customer conversation management.

It’s crucial that your customers can always access human agents during automated conversations for the best results.

Chatbot inventor Joseph Weizenbaum said,

“We should never substitute a computer system for a human function that involves interpersonal respect, understanding, and love.”

Customers value a personal relationship as much as they appreciate convenience.

For basic customer conversations, AI speeds up the sales and support processes, reducing repetitive tasks for agents and letting them focus on more complex or urgent cases. Quick responses lead to satisfied customers, but customers still want to know they can reach a human when the stakes are high.

AI works best in collaboration with humans, as it helps us express and share our unique ideas or acts as a valuable guide as we work through the creative process.

When paired with humans’ emotional intelligence, AI can aid in crafting replies that strengthen the customer relationship,  creating an environment where each interaction provides value and inspires confidence in the customer.

From where we stand, AI isn’t likely to replace humans entirely as it isn’t sentient, but it’s growing into a partner we can trust.

Curious about enhancing your customer experience with AI? Learn more about the benefits of using generative AI in customer service.

Edited by Aisha West

منبع: https://learn.g2.com/ai-in-customer-communications