AI – The future of customer service?

Social housing is in the midst of a customer service revolution. The development of customer service centres, web sites and online payments over the past decade or so has seen the loss of repair workers, local offices and resident wardens.

The introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in customer services is set to bring about significant change. This technology is transforming many services, empowering customers to deal with their own queries or service requests, all remotely.

AI can help customer service providers get more out of the large data sets that have been available to service providers for many years but have remained largely unexplored. AI does not degrade over time, unlike other facets of production, but assists organisations to operate and enhance how people data is collated and interrogated.

So, are we seeing the beginning of the end of human domination?

It was forecast that by 2025, the computer would be able to outperform a human. That now looks like being well overtaken.

Google’s DeepMind, for example, does not forget how it solved past problems, using this acquired knowledge to tackle new issues. Sequential learning and the ability to remember old skills and apply them to tasks, comes naturally to humans. However, DeepMind is still not capable of the general intelligence that humans use when facing new challenges.

The ultimate aim is the creation of Artificial Intelligence machines which match human intelligence, and we are not too far away from this.

A recent report from Accenture and Frontier Economics, suggested that AI-enabled technologies could double the economic growth rates of many advanced countries by 2035. With such forecasts in mind, there can be no doubt that AI will enable many roles in housing, especially those in customer services, to become fully automated.

However, applying a human level of intelligence, to what is ultimately a machine, is still considered a dangerous prospect by many.

So, how do we make sure the machines we ‘train’ don’t perpetuate and amplify the same human biases and prejudices that plague society? Do we programme machines to maximise the happiness of the greatest number of people? How does this affect those who don’t fit the mould? How do we control what we have started?

To create an effective customer service AI, a human expert is required to initially give the system the knowledge and design flow pathways. Interestingly, that is exactly how Keyfax from Omfax works – using call flow intelligence  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 use their knowledge and understanding to help design the call pathways. Data sets relating to the resident, their property, their relationship with the organisation and their history, are then added to create intelligent, personalised responses.

There is power in the Keyfax system, which is so much more than a repairs diagnostic tool, just as AI aims to fully exploit the power of data sets.

AI is pushing at the boundaries of customer services and may, in the not too distant future, make current technologies obsolete.  The impact on social housing services has yet to be seen but Keyfax has already made strides in that direction.

Peter Graddon, Director of Omfax Systems

To read more of my thoughts on AI in customer service. Download the latest edition of Housing Technology here

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