Does AI ‘s ROI Mean Humans Are SOL?


Increasingly, we hear terms like “seller bots,” “cognitive computing” and “relevant metadata” (which one can only assume is a lot more valuable than irrelevant metadata). Such terms can sound pretty scary to many people who work in an under-automated call—I mean, contact—center. Even for those of us who are tech savvy, the idea that human beings found a way to steal their own jobs indicates that it is mankind’s intelligence that may have been artificial all along.


A reality check shows good news

Despite their typecast use in many sci-fi plots, bots are simply tools for humans to use to do a better job and provide socially intelligent customer service while increasing profits. Bots allow agents to offer personalized service while their electronically animated brethren do menial tasks. Predominantly, research shows that human beings still value connecting with each other, preferring it over any other interaction.

That includes the screen-glazed-eyed 19-year-old Generation Z customer who, despite his professed love of all things automated, was thrilled to find out that Haley (or Kaylee or Bailey) was a real person when his overly confident trial-and-error trouble-shooting method wasn’t enough.


Artificial intelligence is an oxymoron

It’s right there in the name: it’s artificial intelligence. After decades of research and billions of dollars poured into that research, robots still cannot think. Many people might take exception to that statement, but the fact remains. Being learned, gaining knowledge and applying it at record speed does not mean your AI can turn an angry customer around in 7 minutes. Why should you hope your AI can do it? This customer is getting ready to write the worst review anyone’s ever read on Yelp and tell her 5,000 Facebook friends that your company is “actually” the devil. Yet, why can’t your AI do it? Because an artificial brain does not read emotions or urgency. That’s what makes it artificial. Facebook’s AI program, touted as able to identify suicidal thoughts, essentially turned out to be a filter for flagging posts that human handlers must then interpret and respond to. Quite often, AI is just a very focused computer program—with some programs (as in this Facebook case) designed with nobler purposes than others.

Self-learning algorithms are impressive and can even beat humans in games of logic. Still, to be intelligent is one thing. To live in the reality of the human experience is a different thing entirely. Intelligence that does not feel or have empathy is by its very definition artificial. As phony as some people can be, they can still have an emotional connection to a motive. An AI mechanism may even perform well on an IQ test; it just would not know why it was taking the test and would not care about the result.

Keeping and attracting talented people is Job 1

I’m not saying that we’ll never have technology that can replicate human intelligence and behavior 100%. I’m sure someone in Florida will invent the first robot to be arrested for a DUI. I’m just saying the return on investment for artificial intelligence does not include anything beyond programming, at this point.

The future of customer relationship management is still dependent on the acquisition and retention of talented employees. Those who are highly skilled at making the customer feel valuable are themselves the most valuable asset the organization has to offer.

I’ve heard from the latest generation of geniuses about accepting the new truth about technology. And I certainly understand where they’re coming from because every generation has said the same thing. However, there is no such thing as new truth. The truth can never be invented; it can only be revealed. So, allow me to pull back the curtain.

I was corporate leader over call centers in 38 states, back when they became automated with predictive dialers and computer screens. There was resistance and some initial job shrinkage and talk of everyone being replaced by robots (though we envisioned something that resembled Daft Punk more than Siri). We faced new compliance restrictions, regulatory issues and other problems. In truth, the technology made humans better and the industry started to grow. It turns out that industries are disrupted when they don’t grow and change, but if you know the value of your people you won’t disrupt yourself! We realized that the sci-fi concept of humans being replaced by the technology they create was just that—science fiction. Since 1990 the number of call centers and call center employees has increased well over 400%. So the profitability of artificial intelligence is not a threat to your job security. On the contrary, it’s proof that you’re in an industry that’s worth investing in long term because it has a big future.

So the next time someone tells you that the ROI for AI will cost you your JOB, you can LOL!

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