Can AI rescue you from the Ninth Circle of Hell?

shutterstock_520575331Back in 2013, Janie Emaus described the nightmare she went through trying to reach her gas company through their automated answering system for the Huffington Post. She wasn’t the first to compare automated customer service systems to hell. In 2011 Time Magazine reported that the ninth circle of customer-service hell began with a phone call looped through an automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, and even Urban Dictionary has an entry for “Voice Mail Hell“.  It seems that people have been pining for the days of a real person answering their calls since IVR went mainstream in the 1990s. But today’s generation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) bots are on the cusp of changing everything we always felt about automated service.

The challenge for many of those early systems (and, in fact, many systems still in production today) was the lack of real-time intelligence or contextual understanding in the system. IVR relied on a pre-programmed loop, without taking into consideration the needs of the customer on the other end of the line. Ultimately, nearly all calls eventually needed to be handed over to a live human, who frequently asked for the same background information that was already given to the machine.

However, today’s cognitive intelligence has two advantages over those early systems. First, systems today have a far better understanding of natural language. Systems can not only understand what people are saying, but can interpret tone and sentiment as well, and quickly hand-off a frustrated customer to a live human being to handle their issue. Second, customers can frequently reach out to businesses through the channel of their choice, such as Facebook Messenger. Those customers can even type their issue on into their smartphone, which can often make for fast resolutions of issues.

Anthony Goonetilleke, Amdocs’ Head of Technology, recently described a situation on Amazing Business Radio with Shep Kyken. Imagine being on vacation when your kid loses his phone. Using Facebook Messenger, you can text your service provider that you lost a phone. Instantly, the bot running the channel will ask which phone number was lost. After selecting the number, the missing phone will be taken offline, and you’ll be asked if you want to have a new phone shipped to his home, or if you’d like to pick one up from a local retail outlet. You’ll see a list of phones that you’re was eligible for, and in less than the time it took to read this paragraph, you’ll have reported the missing phone, disconnected the number, and ordered a replacement.

And so it seems that the days of bashing automated answering systems may be coming to an end. Or at least, we won’t be calling it the ninth circle of hell anymore.

Blogger: Roni Dvir

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