We are standing at a crossroads between technological efficiency and human reasoning. With the advent of a new, technically evolved era and artificial intelligence (AI) becoming the norm, many jobs are at risk, along with emerging ethical concerns in terms of chiefly human communication. Artificial intelligence has become a must-have innovation in not just the corporate sector but also frequently being used in the education sector. It has become the need of the time and those who do not make use of it are considered to be missing out or unnecessarily putting in too much effort.
With its whole-hearted acceptance everywhere, the call center industry is no stranger to the use of AI. It is a much more efficient way to deal with customer concerns and queries in lesser time while reducing labor costs by utilizing applications and soft-wares instead. Specifically, in BPO centers, AI is combined with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to augment human communication in a way that brings out increased efficiency and an overall value-added experience.
Use of AI and RPA in Call Centers
In terms of AI and RPA being associated with a call service center or a BPO outsourcing company, AI is the ability of the machine to mimic human behavior and senses while being able to make intelligent decisions and communicate effectively. There has long been a debate about whether AI would be more beneficial in the long run or make humans immobile and useless. However, it is still too early to determine the right answer. On the other hand, RPA is in particular, a software that mimics behavior in a rule-based manner. It has more to do with taking action by “doing”, instead of “thinking”. It consists of robots who are accustomed to performing the same functions, upon instructions, over and over again.
The Human vs AI Debate
Coming to the human vs AI dilemma, narrow AI is currently in use with virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa who perform regular tasks by collecting information to tailor an appropriate response. This efficiency in completing simple daily tasks has helped AI grow instantaneously. Although, for certain industries and people, doing things the human way is still feasible. So, answering the question, of whether are humans better than AI as call center outsourcers particularly would be based on the customers’ preferences who have long been communicating with human agents rather than bots, as to how comfortable they would feel by diverting from the previous mode of communication in the BPO industry.
The Automation Quandary
According to a study, the "2018 state of chatbots", people saw potential benefits of interacting with chatbots when a 24-hour service was required along with instant responses. Even though we are still far behind in adapting to such an advancement. Machine learning is still several years away from mainstream adoption. RPA adoption itself has experienced less success and more failure since its inception due to a lack of long-term planning and an overall complicated process. Still, its benefits cannot be denied as it helps agents get rid of repetitive tasks and focus on more creative tasks, decision-making, and interacting with customers, which again are tasks that humans can better perform.
Even though human-to-human interaction in resolving queries related to a particular business’s product or service is more feasible and reliable, AI can still help increase the efficiency of the entire process by augmenting rather than replacing contact center agents.
There are a few ways in which a call center can benefit from AI augmentation:
Conversational IVR (Interactive voice response)
Callers can easily communicate their queries by entering numbers or text or by simply speaking on the phone. Although helpful, it does have its limitations as well such as not being able to acknowledge and interpret regional languages and accents. Also, it is only able to answer a few specific queries with which it is equipped.
Rule-based chatbots follow preset steps while dealing with customers but they too have to route callers to human contact agents for complex problems. They do promise a futuristic approach by taking much lesser time than a human agent to provide a superior customer service experience. But the limitation is still there with queries that are more subjective and able to be solved by an intellectual being.
AI voice analytics can gather and interpret data from communicating and use sentiment analysis to provide qualitative insights. AI can help systems recognize tone, context, and other aspects. Although, it still is limited when it comes to emotions and context out of its scope.
Why Humans Will Continue to Reign Superior
So, with the limited scope of programmed AI, humans appear superior in terms of BPO company's agents. Particularly due to the following which humans reign superior and will continue to be for a long time as AI lacks critical aspects of human communication:
While AIs can be programmed to pick up on traits, they will forever lag behind humans as they are naturally gifted with the trait of empathy. The AIs cannot carry out an emotional exchange with the customers especially since real-time and unique situations cannot be predicted.
AI isn’t evolved enough to completely emulate a human voice. According to a 2018 Forester Study, 83% of callers prefer talking to a human agent as they are better able to understand caller needs thus drawing a comparison that is led by the humans.
Need for Entertainment
Humor is not AI’s expertise. Carrying out an informal, friendly conversation with a human can imbue light-heartedness which then helps shape a company’s image.
AI’s Inability to Work Unmanned
It still requires a human to ensure its proper functioning and programming. So, it cannot think or act on its own without any human input. Complete automation might exist in other fields but when it comes to BPOs, humans clearly have the upper hand.
This rounds back to the answer that AI is still in its early stages and humans are a better choice as call center agents to engage and interact with customers. Whenever a call center is providing customer service or closing a sale, creativity (which still is outside of AI’s abilities) will always be a necessity. As a matter of fact, as reported by a Treasure Data survey, only 1 in 5 consumers prefer electronic systems to human contact and this is reason enough to believe that humans are indeed better call center agents than AI chatbots due to their limitations.