Artificial Intelligence in Customer Service

I read with interest, various articles earlier this year about the use of Artificial Intelligence in customer services.

In March RBS announced that a trial of advanced ‘human’ artificial intelligence has been successful and it is to be rolled out more widely to support employees.

Piloted among 1,200 staff who manage relationships with small businesses, the AI, known as ‘Luvo’, is able to understand questions and then search through large amounts of information before responding with an answer. If Luvo is unable to find the answer, it passes the query on to a member of staff. The aim is to support staff to help them answer customer queries more quickly and easily.

Luvo answers questions with staff through web chat and deals with queries such as:

* My customer has lost their card – what steps do they need to take now?

* My customer has locked their PIN – how do they unlock it?

* How do I order a card-reader for my customer?

Like humans, Luvo has to be trained when dealing with new subject matter and its answers become more accurate over time.

In the months to come, RBS plans to explore if Luvo could be used to answer questions direct from customers.  The aim is to reduce the need for people to wait for a human advisor to be free to answer a simple question and at the same time free up time for staff to answer more complex problems.

Then in June the London Borough of Enfield announced that they were introducing an artificial intelligence robot named Amelia to answer some customer queries.

Amelia will be included on the council website to help guide people quickly to correct information on self-certification for planning, and applications for permits and licenses.  If Amelia cannot answer a question, it calls in a human colleague and ‘learns’ from them.

Currently, waiting times on council call lines average between five and 10 minutes, and it is hoped Amelia will help to reduce this.  Amelia-powered services should start going live in the autumn and will be available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Frank Lansink, CEO EU at IPsoft, who developed Amelia, enthused: “With the rise of powerful cognitive platforms such as Amelia, government organisations have an opportunity to completely reimagine how frontline public services are delivered. Organisations can not only unlock significant cost efficiencies as routine, high-volume tasks are automated, but, more excitingly, can unlock the full creative potential of their people.”

Excuse me if I am not so enthused; social housing customer services have been moving in this direction of developing the full potential of their people for some time.  But the real point is the way technology is developing and being used in the workplace.

For a while now I have been talking to anyone who will listen about the impact that technology will have on the future operations of social housing.  Technological developments have had  enormous impact on other industries- banking and finance, travel and holiday bookings, newspapers and book publishing, retail and groceries, employment and recruitment, welfare benefits and other government services.  Other areas such as health services are beginning to explore the potentials.  There has been a virtual revolution.

My forecast is that social housing will see a similar revolution in the way its services are delivered.  We have seen it in many ways already with the development of contact centres, web sites, on-line payments, the use of emails and the rise in the use of text messaging and now of social media. As a consequence, over recent years we have seen the loss of rent collectors, repairs inspectors, local offices and resident wardens.  More recently, there has been the growth of on-line self-service.  Although this still in poorly developed, there can be no doubt that this will have the most dramatic impact on services over the next five year and more.  That’s why the development and introduction of AI in customer services is significant. It moves things forward, providing a system to empower residents to deal with their own queries or service requests (orders!).

One interesting thought – I believe one of the inhibitors to change has been our continuing commitment to the use of the keyboard – even with the introduction of SMS and web chat.  But how antiquated is that!!  We have SIRI, Skype, Miriam, as well as FaceTime.  I don’t think it will be long before voice recognition and communication becomes the norm.  Add AI to that mix and ………….  will we soon be speaking with a virtual person in customer services?

So what about AI?  Are we seeing the beginning of the end of human domination?  It was forecast that by 2025, the computer would be able to out-perform a human.  That now looks like being well overtaken.  Recently a computer using AI beat the world champion at the incredibly complex game of Go.  What was significant, and possibly worrying, was that the computer made unpredictable moves that ‘surprised’ its developers.  This betrays a lack of control inherent in the design, which may be OK with a game like Go, but raises important ethical and governance issues.

I don’t pretend to understand how it works, how computers ‘learn’, other than by tracking our enquiries, searches, decision pathways and landing pages – as  Google and others follow our internet journey and ‘learn’ by this what our ‘favourites’ are, to then direct ads and offers to us.  The examples of RBS and Enfield talk about learning from experts – so some expert has to initially give the system the knowledge and design the flow pathways.

Interestingly, that is exactly how Keyfax works – scripts are developed to initially reflect the known and repetitive pathways for a range of enquiries.  They are then refined and extended based on feedback.  Experts are called in to help with their knowledge and understanding, to help design the scripts pathways.

So maybe Keyfax isn’t Artificial Intelligence – it’s Human Intelligence.


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